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Greco-Roman influences on Jewish art forms in Palestine and Transjordan 300 B.C. - A.D. 100

Greco-Roman influences on Jewish art forms in Palestine and Transjordan 300 B.C. - A.D. 100 Thumbnail


In order. to examine the impact of Greco-Roman art and architecture on Jewish Palestine from the early Hellenistic period until the Second Revolt an exhaustive corpus of material is presented. The earliest monuments are the palaces of Hyrcanus at Araq el-Emir, and the Tomb of the Bene Hezir, the Pyramid of Zachariah and the Tomb of Jason at Jerusalem. Nearly all other tombs, and the whole body of the ossuaries and sarcophagi can be confidently dated to the Herodian period. Arguments for dating used in the thesis are drawn from literature, onomastics, palaeography, general historical circumstances, pottery, coins, tomb-forms and architecture. A great deal of attention is applied to this important preliminary research. In addition comparisons are made with the tombs of a Sidonian colony of the 3rd -2nd centuries BC at Marisa (Beit Jibrin) and with the later Jewish catacombs at Beth Shearim. The other material for the corpus is provided by the Jewish coins of the period, and by the remains of Herod's palace-fortresses at Masada and Herodion, of a winter pleasure-palace of Herod or Archelaus at Jericho, of a Herodian theatre and fortified walls at Caesarea and of possible Herodian remains at Se baste. Exhaustive reference is made to the valuable passages of the Jewish historian Josephus which describe the building activities of Herod.

There emerges a clear picture of the acceptance of Greek architectural forms and decor, but the rejection in the Herodian period of all living representations. The older architectural traditions of the area, derived from Egypt, Persia and Phoenicia, are found to exert a continuing influ­ence in the earlier remains, but to be totally rejected in favour of Greco-Roman forms in the Herodian period. At the same time the ossuaries continue long-established popular traditions in the area, which were reinforced by Greco-Roman minor arts. As the Herodian period progresses a greater feeling of confidence emerges, which finds its expression in orientalising tendencies that disrupt Greek forms which may never have been properly understood. Alexandria is looked to as the pre-eminent influence in mediating late Hellenistic forms and styles to Palestine. The earliest forms are good Hellenistic ones. The disruption sets in in the Herodian period, when vegetal decor derived from late Hellenistic art is reformed according to the assertive orientalising tendencies of Jewish craftsmen. The tympanum of the Tomb of the Judges and the lower frieze of the Tomb of Helena may be regarded as the orientalising of the forms adopted from Alexandria on the tympanum of Jehosaphat c. 40 BC. Two 'Neo­Attic' sarcophagi are found; the rest exhibit the same developed Jewish vegetal style as the tomb-facades. The ossuaries mainly concern themselves with geometric traditions of decor, or highly stylised representations connected with the .After Life or the Temple. Coins form a contrast to the rest of' the material in being a means of propaganda - those of the Hasmonaeans and Herodians assert the strength and prosperity of the Jewish state, but those of the Revolts dissociate the Jews from their Hellenistic environment, and assert the demand for the independence of the Temple-State. The buildings of Herod reflect totally hellenised taste in a provincial late Hellenistic style - mosaics, 'Incrustation' stucco, plans of palaces, etc. And in Herod's buildings distinctively Roman influence is clear the Roman form of baths and of the theatre, and at Jericho opus reticulatuo and quadratum work with concrete bonding-techniques; The two polychrome mosaics of the Western palace of Masada are fine products of late Hellenistic form, but here too the dominance of the special Jewish vegetal style, developed from the late Hellenistic acanthus-and-scroll motif, is once more asserted in Herodian Jewish art.

Publication Date Oct 1, 1968


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