The People That History Forgot
Over the past hundred years or so, many archaeological discoveries have been found which have caused grave concern to Jewish scholars. All around the Mediterranean basin (clockwise from Spain, through Southern France, Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and along the North African coast to Morocco) archaeologists have found the remains of what appear to be Jewish symbols from the Tabernacle combined with unmistakable Gentile themes. These are pagan depictions, designs or inscriptions carved or sketched on tombs, on dedication stones, or painted on walls of dwellings and even on the walls of synagogues. These have been found in abundance and have been catalogued by Professor Erwin R. Goodenough in twelve magnificent volumes (with an index volume) published between 1953 and 1968. Goodenough is to be praised for his indefatigable work in collecting this valuable archaeological evidence which basically originated from the 1st to the 6th century of our era. Thankfully Professor Jacob Neusner has recently (1988) brought out an abridged edition of the work. This mass of archaeological information was something quite unexpected by Jewish scholars. Most were dismayed at what Goodenough revealed in his remarkable volumes.
What was totally unexpected even by Professor Goodenough (when he was a young man beginning to study and collect this archaeological evidence) was the astonishing amount of pagan decorations that were intermingled with typical ornaments associated with the Tabernacle of Moses such as the seven branched lamp stand known as the Menorah, the Torah shrine for housing the Mosaic Law and other items connected, with the ceremonial services of the Tabernacle. The evidence of pagan intrusion in these artistic and architectural remains shows without doubt that these illustrated themes (depicting human figures, and pagan deities alongside items from the Tabernacle) were not manufactured by artists as mere decorations. The people who created them were incorporating these symbolic themes into their societal and religious beliefs and they were displaying them for religious reasons in their most sacred of sites — in synagogues and burial grounds.
Jewish authorities were astonished at the amount of this archaeological evidence. To any normal Jewish scholar who is acquainted with the fundamental teachings of Rabbinic Judaism over the past 2000 years, he would have called such usage as being the practice of idolatry. The Jewish Scriptures completely condemn such things and the teachings and written records of Rabbinic Judaism express an equal abhorrence.
So surprised were Jewish scholars at what the archaeologists were uncovering that they were (and some still are) in a state of shock at what they have seen with their own eyes. This shock became especially acute when in the year 1932 the ruins of a synagogue were found in Syria near the Euphrates at a place called Dura Europos which had paintings on its walls of Helios the pagan Sun god, Aphrodite (the pagan Venus) with Moses being taken out of the ark while three Nymphs look on. Also the heathen god Ares is shown supervising the Exodus from Egypt with Victories bringing crowns of adornment. But that did not end the matter. Jewish scholars were further amazed a few years later with some new archaeological discoveries of synagogues in Galilee in which were found mosaics of Helios the Sun god and astrological signs with pagan decorations that could only have been used in paganistic ways by the people who produced them. These pagan designs could not have been placed in those synagogues as mere decorations. What was especially shocking about these discoveries is that they were found in (of all places) Galilee — in the very heartland of Jewish Palestine where Jewish influence had come to be very strong after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
Many Jewish scholars could hardly believe their eyes at what these new archaeological discoveries were showing. If these pagan depictions had been made by Jews (and with the full approbation of the Rabbinic authorities), it showed an unknown side of Judaism which scholars had not realized before. It meant that the majority of the Jewish people were only giving lip-service to observing the Mosaic law and that they had in fact gone over to practicing a form of idolatry that was unheard of in the time of the Second Temple — the time when Jesus and the apostles were alive. These discoveries made the Jews from about the fourth to the sixth centuries of our era look like idolaters and that their religious activities were no different (or only marginally so) from the generality of people in the Gentile world.
What must be emphasized is the fact that the archaeological remains of these fourth and sixth centuries synagogues in Galilee (along with similar burial grounds) were located in the region where Rabbinic Judaism from the late 2nd century to the early 5th century had its origin and where it flourished. With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E., the Jewish authorities with their Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) moved to the coastal town of Jamnia, west of Jerusalem. The headquarters of Judaism was located in this area of Jamnia for about 60 years. But after the war with Hadrian in 135 C.E., the Jewish authorities were prohibited from residing in this region and they moved to a town named Usha in Galilee. And later, Rabbi Judah around 200 C.E. finally had the Oral Law codified (called the Mishnah). This literary endeavor was the catalyst around which Rabbinic Judaism developed and flourished, and it has been the basis for Jewish belief until our time today. This important piece of literature was produced in Galilee. And for the next two and a quarter centuries this is where the Patriarchate (the headquarters for Rabbinic Judaism) had its headquarters before it was forbidden by the Roman government to continue. It was also in this region of Galilee that all Jews in the world reckoned as the place of their Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court) and the area from which their religious and most of their social activities were then being governed. It was a very important religious center for the Jews.
This is a main reason why Jewish scholars were surprised at the archaeological discoveries of these synagogues in Galilee (along with the one in Dura Europos). It seemed to many scholars (at first) that this evidence showed the secret guilt of the Rabbis in allowing pagan idolatrous artifacts and paintings to exist in the very heartland of Rabbinic Judaism while supposedly condemning such practices in their literature. It made the Jewish authorities appear as blatant hypocrites. No wonder modern Jewish scholars were shocked about these discoveries.
After mature thinking on the matter over the past thirty years, some Jewish scholars have now tried to convince themselves that these were mere decorations that Jews were then allowing into their homes, burial grounds and synagogues. Mere decorations? If so, this would mean (as a modern parallel) that a person could go to Israel today (which happens to be where the modern Chief Rabbinates for Israel are resident) and be invited into the home of one of the Chief Rabbis. Upon entering his home one would see on the walls pictures or icons of the Madonna and Child (like in Greek Orthodox Churches), a painting of Jesus being crucified on a Latin cross, and a reproduction of the Last Supper by Leonardo de Vinci all positioned in prominent places. One would be amazed (indeed, shocked) to find such things in the home of the Chief Rabbi of Israel. But more than that, if the Chief Rabbi then invited the person to go to the main synagogue in Jerusalem and the same "decorations" would be found there, even greater shock would be expressed. Further amazement would be forthcoming when one would ask the Chief Rabbi and the authorities at the synagogue why they allow such scenes (which modern Judaism would consider idolatry) to exist in the home of the Chief Rabbi and the main synagogue and their answer would be: "They are so beautiful that we decided to use them because they are nothing more than mere decorations."
Now someone might say that this analogy is too severe and that it is not analogous to the pagan designs in the early Galilean synagogues and burial chambers. But the truth is, the comparison is quite proper and valid. All people with any sense know that the pagan images and designs in the Dura Europos synagogue and in those Galilean synagogues were not placed there as mere decorations. The people who put them there were plainly and simply practicing a form of idolatry alongside their worship of the God of Israel. And since there were Jewish people in Galilee at the time, it means that the Jewish authorities must have allowed those synagogues to be built (along with burial areas being used by the people).
Without doubt, the Jewish authorities allowed the artists to combine paganism with biblical teachings. True enough, these synagogues were being built and burial chambers being used mainly in the last hundred years of the Patriarchate (the court of the Chief Rabbi of the Jews) when it was in a much-weakened state of authority. But those synagogues with their pagan themes were being erected and honored by all who built them. The archaeological remains are there for all to see, and the Jews let them be built.
Yes, the Jewish authorities did indeed let them be built. But why? In this book it will be shown that the Jews let them be constructed because they had nothing to say in the matter. This is because, as we will reveal in this research study, those particular synagogues were not built by mainline Jews. They were mainly constructed and used by The People That History Forgot.
Click here to order the print version of: The People That History Forgot
© 1976-2017 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions