Dura-Europos was a border city adjacent to Salihiyah village in present-day Syria. It was established around 300 B.C. by the Seleucid Empire of the Hellenistic period. It was initially known as “Europos” but was later referred to as “Dura” by the locals. The city is significant as an early site of Christian art. The architectural remnants and the artifacts found at the excavated site indicate a complex culture with evidence of Palmyrene, Christian, Jewish, Greek, and Roman religions. Therefore, the site is crucial in understanding its inhabitants’ life and religious activities in the ancient world.
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Christian art never existed before the 3rd century, with the earliest pieces of art being found in Dura-Europos and Catacomb of Priscilla in the said period. The reason for the lack of art was that Christianity prohibited the making of graven images in the second commandment of its holy book (Smarthistory 2014). Also, image-making of individuals and gods was common in the Roman Empire, and the Christians probably wanted to distance themselves from such a practice which they considered paganism.
The subject of the good shepherd dates back to ancient Greece. The good shepherd was depicted by images of figures carrying sheep or goats on their shoulders to offer sacrifices to the gods. The theme finds its way in Roman art and then even into early Christian art, in which the meaning of the images changes with time. The previous traditions were recast into a Christian context, and, as such, certain art elements were adopted as Christianity was legalized after 313 C.E. in the Roman Empire. In Christianity, the good shepherd represented Christ, and the sheep on his shoulders was humankind. Christians believed that Christ would care for them just as a good shepherd looks after his flock.
Smarthistory. 2014. “Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome.” YouTube video, 11:03. Web.