THE BAPTISTERY IN THE CHRISTIAN HOUSE, DURA-EUROPOS, SYRIA.
"The forties of the third century" (Kraeling: 38).
Dura-Europos was situated on the west bank of the upper Euphrates controlling both traffic north and south along its valley and also the east and west desert caravans connecting to Palmyra and the Mediterranean coast (Perkins: Fig-ures 1-2 on pages 3 & 12; Plates 1 & 8). The Romans held the city for a short period (115-117) under Trajan but it was soon reconquered by the Parthians, then re-conquered by the Romans under Lucius Verus in 165. In 210, after the Parthian fell to the Sassanian Empire, the Roman garrison of Dura was greatly strength-ened against this new threat. Temples were erected for army deities such as Mith-ras and Jupiter Dolichenus but older private homes were also adapted to form a Jewish synagogue and a Christian house-church. Despite newly strengthened walls, the city fell to Shapur I around 256, its population was evacuated and the city deserted.
A private home with rooms around a large central courtyard, built around 232 was converted, probably around 240, into a Christian house-church (NW corner of Block M8 in City Plan; Kraeling: Frontispiece; Figure 1 on page 4; Plans II-VIII; Perkins: Figure 7 on page 30). Two major structural changes were: (1) a dividing wall was removed between two rooms on the south side to create a larger assembly room with a podium at the east end (Room 4); and (2) a baptistery was created in the north-west corner room with the bath-like font set on and slightly in the floor of the west wall, a step up to it, and a vaulted canopy over it supported by a pillar on either side. There was also a bench along the east wall. Doorways in the south wall led, towards the west end, to Room 5 and, towards the east end, to the open central courtyard. Between these doors was a large round-headed niche above a ledge or table (Room 6; Kraeling: 3-5; Figure 1 on page 4 & Plates IX-XIII, XXIII-XXIV).
(a) West Wall. On the west wall of the Baptistery, above the font, is a large Good Shepherd and several rams. The Shepherd is at left, beardless and in short tunic (exomis), facing frontally with a huge ram facing to right on his shoulders. The flock, composed of maybe twelve other rams (Kraeling: Figure 4 on page 54), are standing or grazing, but all facing to right away from the Shepherd [F1.1]. Below and to left of the Shepherd's right leg is a quite small Adam and Eve scene, added compositionally as an afterthought and possibly to criticize that original East-Syrian scene from a West-Syrian emphasis (Kraeling: 57 & 202-203). They are on each side of the tree, she to right and he to left, she with her left and he with his right hand holding the fig-leaves in place, she with her right hand hand he with his left reaching towards two fruit quite separate on either side of the trunk among the branches. They are framed to left and right by two other trees. The snake is below the ground-line of the trees, moving to left, with the forebody raised from the ground and there was possibly an earlier attempt to draw the serpent left unobliterated further to left [F1.2].
(b) North Wall: upper register. This wall is divided into an upper and lower register. The upper register is extant for only about one third at the left (west) end next to the font and has a top and bottom zone. The upper register, if continued from the north wall onto the east wall could have given room for about ten scenes. But all that is now extant, possibly of a cycle of miracles, is two scenes. There is, first and at left, the healing of the paralytic. Jesus stands at top center, facing front and with his right hand gesturing towards the right. Below him to right is the paralytic on his bed, lying to left, and to left of that is the now-healed paralytic carrying his bed, moving to right, and with his right hand in a gesture similar to that of Jesus above [F1.3]. Next, at right, is another scene, Jesus and Peter (not drowning) walking on the waters. At top is a large ship with only the back half extant. In the stern four people can be clearly seen sitting, a fifth is lost, but remnants of a sixth can still be seen. Below it Jesus (possibly bearded), to left and slightly lower, touches with his right hand the right hand of Peter, to right and slightly higher [F1.4].
(c) North and East Walls: lower register. This is a single and continuous composition from the south-east end of the east wall to the north-west end of the north wall. It represents, most plausibly, five women (from Tatian's Diatessaron?) coming to the tomb of Jesus, finding the doors open, and entering inside to the sarcophagus. Hence the total original composition would have had two balanced scenes, one outside and one inside the tomb; and each scene would have had two elements, the women and the opened door, the women and the closed sarcophagus. On the east wall only the feet and garment bottoms of five women are now extant and these show movement from right to left [F1.5a]. Next, on the right or eastern end of the north wall is the bottom of what look like two open doors, probably the best local imagination could do with a Palestinian rolled-stone door. There may originally have been a star-angel above it [F1.5b]. Finally, to left on the western half of the north wall, is the climax of the composition. Three women are still visible, two from the waist upwards and one only at the waist, the other two of the original five are presumably now lost between the opened doors and the first three towards the eastern end of the north wall. The extant three carry bowls in their left arms and large torches in their outstretched right hands (it is dark inside the tomb) [F1.5c]. To the left of the women, and towards which they are presumably approaching, is a huge sarcophagus shown gable-end to front. It is closed and two very large stars (angels) appear, to left and right, at either end [F1.5d].
(d) South Wall: lower register. This wall is also divided into an upper and lower register but the lower register is interrupted by two doorways leaving three areas for possible decoration On the lower register, at the west end between font area and the door to Room 5 is a woman leaning to left and drawing water from the well, more likely the Samaritan woman rather than Rebecca [F1.6]. Between the two doorways and below the arched niche is a badly damaged David and Goliath scene. David faces front in the center with right or possibly both arms raised, holding a sword. To left is the prostrate figure of Goliath with only back of his body extant, His neck is towards David's upraised sword. The name Goliath is written above his head and David is written on David's arm [F1.7].
(a) Kraeling: 50-88 & 180-203 (especially).
(b) Finney: 283-285
(c) Perkins: 52-55
(d) Snyder: 32.
(e) Weitzmann and Kessler, The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue, p. 84f.
and fig. 116
(a) Kraeling: Plates XVII, XXX-XXXII [F1.1-2]; XVIII, XXV [F1.3-4]; XXXIV-XXXV [F1.3]; XXXVI-XXXVII [F1.4]; XIX.1-2, XXVI [F1.5ab]; XLII [F1.5a]; XLIII [F1.5b]; XX, XXVII, XXVIII, XLIV-XLV [F1.5cd]; XLVI
[F1.5abcd]; XXI, XXIX.1, XL [F1.6]; XXII, XXIX.2, XLI.1-2 [F1.7].
(b) Perkins: Plate 17 [F1.1-2] ; Plate 18 [F1.3-4].