Fifty Years Ago at PAS – Dr. Cecil Roth

Dr. Cecil Roth, Oxford historian and renowned scholar of Jewish history, spoke at PAS on Friday, February 17, 1967. Editor-in-chief of the Standard Jewish Encyclopedia and a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Roth described how 20th-century archaeological discoveries in Israel and the Middle East had revolutionized the whole story of Jewish art. In particular, scenes found in early synagogues turned on its head the long-held notion that figurative art was so stringently forbidden in Jewish tradition that it had no place in the synagogue.

Mosaics in a 6th-century synagogue in the Galilee and frescos from a structure determined to be a 3rd-century synagogue uncovered near the northern Syrian border revealed more than one hundred biblical images including the binding of Isaac, the finding of Moses in the bulrushes, the overthrow of the Egyptians, and the Purim story of Mordecai and Esther.

Roth posited that these discoveries changed our understanding of the use of figurative imagery in ancient Jewish texts and in the context of the synagogue.

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