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Jewish mosaics, ancient insights
By Cate McQuaid Globe Correspondent
In 1883, a French army captain stationed in Tunisia, Ernest de Prudhomme, went outside to dig in his garden and happened upon a trove of mosaics. It was quite a find: The mosaics dated to the sixth century, the period known as Late Antiquity. They included images of two menorahs, and a Latin inscription between them read "Your servant, the girl Juliana, paved the holy synagogue of Naro for her own salvation out of her own resources."
They came from the floor of an ancient temple.
Rome ruled North Africa in the sixth century, and Roman law forbade Jews from building synagogues or repairing them. But scholars say the law was not strictly enforced; indeed, many synagogues thrived.
Twenty-one of Prudhomme's mosaics from the ancient city of Naro (now Hammam Lif, Tunisia) lie at the heart of "Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics From the Roman Empire," an intriguing exhibit at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College. The show was organized by the Brooklyn Museum, which acquired many of the mosaics in 1905.