The Medieval World, C. 400–1300
Early Jewish and Christian Art
What are important symbols in Jewish iconography?
Though idols are forbidden in the Jewish tradition, some images are frequently repeated, especially in the decoration of synagogues and the Jewish holy book, the Torah. Scenes from Jewish history, including the story of Moses, were common choices for synagogues, and can be seen in the decoration of Dura Europos. Important Jewish symbols include the following:
- Menorah—a sacred, seven-branched candelabrum
- Shofar—a ram’s horn used like a trumpet during ceremonies
- Etrogs—citrus fruit used to celebrate Sukkot, a harvest festival
- Lulav—a palm branch also associated with Sukkot
In a sixth-century synagogue located in ancient Menois (in modern-day Israel), the floors are decorated with Roman-style mosaics which feature the traditional Jewish symbols mentioned above, along with stylized birds, plants, and animals, which are thought to represent earth’s bounty and the unity of the Jewish people.