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The World's Oldest ChurchBible, Art, and Ritual at Dura-Europos, Syria$
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Michael Peppard

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780300213997

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300213997.001.0001

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A Woman at a Well

A Woman at a Well

(p.155) Five A Woman at a Well
The World's Oldest Church

Michael Peppard

Yale University Press

This chapter concludes a procession around the baptistery at the southwest corner, arguing that the female figure drawing water from a well is not the Samaritan Woman, an infamously sinful convert, but more likely the Virgin Mary, the famously holy mother of Jesus. Through detailed analysis of textual sources and an original, extensive survey of artistic depictions of the Annunciation in late ancient and Byzantine art, this chapter proposes that the earliest depiction of Mary outside of the Roman catacombs likely resides now at the Dura-Europos Collection. Sources from Syria and its environs corroborate the ritualization of spiritual pregnancy and new birth in Christian initiation. Like Mary, these initiates have a divine encounter at a water source and receive the illumination and incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Yet just as in chapter 4, polysemic interpretations may be appropriate in the end. Ancient authors blended their analyses of various virgins, brides, and water-well seekers from biblical narratives, such that the threads of purity, marriage, birth, and death were not often easy to separate.

Keywords:   Annunciation, Art History, Incarnation, Samaritan Woman, Virgin Mary

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