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Visual Representation of the Afterlife

Six Roman and Early Byzantine Painted Tombs in Israel


Talila Michaeli


The material published here greatly contributes to the knowledge of the scarcely preserved painted tombs in Israel and elsewhere. The wish to attain “life after death” is expressed in the visual representations depicted in these monuments. The question that always arises is that of whether various pictures are intended to represent the imagined actual dwelling place of the deceased in their afterlife, or whether they pertain to a mythical, idealized and unattainable place. It is plausible that the most desirable aspects and objects that had comprised ordinary life would be translated to the eternal abode. However, the author believes that the various represented elements and objects gained additional meanings, suggesting the deceased’s hope or belief in an even better world. The widespread appearance of these motifs suggests, that it was the ancient written sources that might have provided the intellectual basis for the general concepts as well as the overall program of each individual tomb.

  Each tomb is here described and analysed separately, providing a comprehensive study of the respective motifs, and their association into a coherent iconographic program. In an attempt to establish the specific religious affiliation of the deceased and the accurate dating of the tombs, the ancient written sources are related to, and in addition to a comparative iconographic analysis of funerary monuments in different media – such as sarcophagi, mosaics and painted tombs – discovered around the Mediterranean basin and elsewhere in the late Antique and early Byzantine worlds.

  More than 250 illustrations in colour and several drawings illustrate the tombs in Israel and the comparative material

CONTENTS: Foreword, Introduction, A. The reading of the pagan tombs in context: I. An early Roman tomb in Caesarea Maritima. II. The tomb of the Nymphs in Ashkelon. B. Sepulchral imagery and perception in transition: I. A tomb with birds within vines (the bird’s cave) in Jerusalem. II. A tomb with imagines clipeatae (Or ha-Ner) in the Northern Negev. C. The Christian programs as reflecting tradition and innovation; I. A tomb with two busts in Beit Guvrin (Eleutheropolis) II. A tomb with a biblical scene (Lohamaey ha-Getaoth) in the Western Galilee. Conclusion, Literary sources, Bibliography, Index, List of Illustrations.


Bound, 24 x 17 cm., 368 pp. (224 pp. text, plus more than 250 illustrations in full colour and c. 100 in black and white)


2009     ISBN: 978-94-90387-01-3

Price: EUR 250




The patron of the tomb, Tomb of imagines clipeatae (Or ha-Ner), N. Negev

A wreath, Tomb with a biblical scene (Lohamaey ha-Getaoth) in the W. Galilee

Bust of a woman, Tomb of the Nymphs, Ashkelon