When you tell your daughters that you collect images of Jonah and they send you one from a Basilica

Last Updated on August 4, 2019

Pretty cool kids…

When you tell your daughters that you collect images of Jonah and they send you one from a Basilica 1

It’s always been my conjecture that the Dura Europos Baptistry had images of Jonah present as a representation of the 3-day Resurrection event in a Jewish/Chritian context. There were depictions of Adam and Eve in the Baptistry area (along with Jesus as the Good Shepherd as well as other common representations from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in places such as the Catacombs in Rome).

Here’s an image of the Dura Baptistry from the original printing of Dura Europos and Its Art by Prof. M. Rostovtzeff (1938, Oxford Press)… one of my favorite books and possessions:

When you tell your daughters that you collect images of Jonah and they send you one from a Basilica 2

The top register includes a depiction of Jesus telling the disabled person by the Bethesda Pool to grab their cot and get up and walk off (John 5). It’s a terrific passage.

The amazing (and frustrating thing) is that the register literally flows the pool into a depiction of Jesus walking on water on the Sea of Galilee and getting Peter to hop out of the boat to walk towards him (Mark 6, Matthew 14, and John 6)… which doesn’t turn out well for Peter. The depiction here actually shows Peter sinking in the waves!

Here are the two panels we have with the earliest depictions of Jesus that we know of …

When you tell your daughters that you collect images of Jonah and they send you one from a Basilica 3
Dura Europos Baptistry Depictions of Jesus Healing the Paralytic and Walking on Water

While a grad student at Yale, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of years working at the incredible Yale Art Gallery with Prof. Susan Matheson and the talented staff there. One of my “jobs” (it was more like dream assignments) was working in the basement to catalog the Dura Europos collection with digital photography. I got to see this fresco on a pretty regular basis and we became good pals. If I knew then what I know now…

However, the frustrating part is that the water continues to flow to the next register… which has been lost to history after the sack of the (then) Roman Dura Europos in 256-257 CE by Sassanians and subsequent abandonment of the fort / town and eventual disappearance into history before the complete looting of the site by ISIS over the last decade. It’s a sad tale and I had always hoped to travel to Dura and participate in a dig where we’d uncover the other pieces of the top register in the Baptistry that would almost certainly have included Jonah being regurgitated from the fish and therefore seal my case about Jewish-Christianity extending well into the 3rd and 4th centuries. Alas.

Again, Jonah shows up quite often in early Christian artwork and imagery as a signifier of the Resurrection (the Catacombs especially), but I always wanted to see what those genius artists who designed the Dura Europos Baptistry did with the rest of the panels and the water theme as they perched between the edge of the desert and overlooking the Euphrates River.

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