Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jews, Gladiators and Graffiti

Well, we now know that graffiti messages engraved at Aphrodisias, in modern-day Turkey, reveal something of Jewish life there over 1,500 years ago, in addition to portrayals of gladiator combat, chariot racing, religious fighting and sex.

Aphrodisias also boasted a sizable Jewish population. Many Jewish traders set up shop in an abandoned temple complex known as the Sebasteion.

Among the graffiti found there is a depiction of a Hanukkah menorah, a nine-candle lamp that would be lit during the Jewish festival. "This may be one of the earliest representations of a Hanukkah menorah that we know from ancient times," said Chaniotis.


Most of the graffiti Chaniotis recorded dates between roughly A.D. 350 and A.D. 500, appearing to decline around the time Justinian became emperor of the Byzantine Empire, in A.D. 527.  In the decades that followed, Justinian restricted or banned polytheistic and Jewish practices. Aphrodisias, which had been named after the goddess Aphrodite, was renamed Stauropolis. Polytheistic and Jewish imagery, including some of the graffiti, was destroyed.

But while the city was abandoned in the seventh century, the graffiti left by the people remains today. "Through the graffiti, the petrified voices and feelings of the Aphrodisians still reach us, and they still matter," Chaniotis said.

(thanks to EH) 


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