Comprising 75 of the most significant treasures from Dura-Europos, the exhibition tells the story of this vibrant multicultural city inhabiting a crossroad between major eastern and western civilizations. Between 1928 and 1937, archaeologists from Yale University and the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres uncovered buildings and made discoveries that fundamentally altered scholars’ understanding of religious practice in late antiquity, according to exhibition organizers.
Organized to draw visitors into different segments of the city and develop themes of contact and interaction, the range of material displayed reiterates a subtext explored throughout the exhibition—how the process of archaeology informs the past and the present. In the outside foyer, didactic panels with reproductions of archival photographs outline the history of Dura-Europos and its excavation.
Along a single street, excavators brought to light a synagogue with painted walls depicting Biblical scenes—something the world thought impossible given the prohibition against graven images in Jewish law; one of the earliest Christian house churches with the earliest-known baptistery; and a place of worship for the mystery religion of Mithraism. Many other religious buildings of Greek, Syrian, Mesopotamian and Roman deities surfaced, as did numerous cult reliefs and other sculptures, paintings, papyri, parchments, coins, well-preserved military equipment, and items of everyday use.
The exhibition presents partial to-scale reconstructions with wall paintings and computerized virtual reality spaces recreating the original settings of the art in the Baptistery, Synagogue and Mithraeum, the most well-known material from Dura-Europos. A display of sculpture and other artifacts relating to pagan religions of Dura examines the range of deities worshipped, and a room nicknamed the “talking heads” surrounds visitors with portraits and objects revealing the cacophony of languages written and spoken at Dura-Europos. Also explored are the numerous professions practiced in the city, and the identities of individuals and groups normally hidden or excluded from historical records—for example, slaves, women and children.
Organized by the Yale University Art Gallery and the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, this exhibition has been curated by Lisa Brody (Yale University Art Gallery) and Gail Hoffman (Boston College, Classics Department) with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Boston College, and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum. Additional support was provided by the Newton College class of 1965.