Aspects of the impact of Christian art and architecture on synagogues in Byzantine Palestine
This thesis examines the relationship between Jews and Christians in the Holy Land from the age of Constantine the Great to the conquest of the eastern provinces by the Arabs from an archaeological viewpoint. At stake is a better understanding of how Jews adapted to changing times, particularly during the rise of Christianity in Palestine. Whereas earlier scholars have viewed the growth of the Byzantine empire as time of persecution toward the Jews, a re-evaluation of the archaeological evidence indicates that Jews prospered along with their Christian neighbors. In scope, this dissertation aims first to re-evaluate how many ancient building remains can be classified as synagogues, and how many of those can be accurately dated. For only after a solid body of archaeological research is firmly established can further progress be made toward our better understanding of the ancient world. Diversity in contemporaneous synagogue layouts, rather than a linear development throughout this period is the norm. Yet, in the sixth-century, one-third of all known synagogues in Palestine bear similar features to early Byzantine churches: basilical layouts, mosaic floors, apses, and chancel screens. Since no single fourth-century synagogue had an apse or chancel screen in its repertoire of furnishings, a reform must have taken place, which ultimately enhanced the synagogue. It has long been held that this change had originated under the influence of the growing Christian population in the Holy Land. Examining the nature of early Christian liturgical practice throws light on these changes to synagogues. For the focal point of the early Christian basilica, the altar in the sanctuary, separated from the hall by a chancel screen, was adapted by these Jewish communities. By placing the Torah Shrine in the apse of synagogues, the sacred nature of the Five Books of Moses was glorified. In focusing on the apse and niche it is suggested that rather than a positive influence toward the Jews, the deeply-rooted rivalry between Christianity and Judaism was the main implement for change. Jewish leaders built synagogues with apses and chancel screens to amplify and venerate the most important object in the hall - the Torah Scrolls - kept in the Torah Ark. Unlike earlier buildings, the Torah Shrine was set in the same position as the altar in churches, in the apse. Renovating interiors, changes to entrances, and new types of furnishings in synagogues were the physical changes to this institution which reflect the impact of Christian art on synagogues.