Early Christian Symbol of Jesus Discovered

Discovery of ancient shipwrecks brings underwater treasures to light

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recently announced an incredible find—the discovery of not one but two ancient shipwrecks off the coast of the ancient port city of Caesarea. The earlier shipwreck dates to the Roman period (c. 300 C.E.), while the other was a vessel from the Mamluk period (c. 1400 C.E.). The ships had sunk at the same place in Caesarea’s harbor more than a millennium apart. Within the wrecks, the IAA discovered a treasure trove of ancient artifacts, including coins, statues, pottery, and jewelry. Most remarkable of all, however, was an octagonal gold ring set with a green gemstone carved with an image of the Good Shepherd, one of the earliest known Christian symbols for Jesus.


Both ships were discovered in shallow water near the ancient harbor. The archaeologists suggest the ships “may have been anchored offshore after getting into difficulty or fearing stormy weather.” Amongst the hoard of finds from the Roman ship were hundreds of bronze and silver coins, a small bronze Roman eagle, an intricately carved red gemstone, and the golden ring of the Good Shepherd. The green gem of the latter was masterfully worked with an image of a young shepherd wearing a tunic and holding a lamb on his shoulder.

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It is one of the earliest known Christian symbols associated with Jesus. This unique ring gives a hint as to its original owner, who was likely a wealthy Christian living in Caesarea, the same city where the Apostle Peter baptized the first gentile (Acts 10:10) and where Paul was put on trial (Acts 23–24). The red gemstone, which would also have originally been set in a ring, bore a carving of a lyre known in both Roman and Jewish traditions. From the Mamluk ship, the IAA uncovered nearly 600 coins and, between the two wrecks, archaeologists also found dozens of bronze bells, pottery vessels, nails, lead pipes, and a large iron anchor.

 

Hoard of Roman coins discovered off the coast of Caesarea Credit: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Over the years, the coastline of Israel and especially the area around Caesarea has revealed many incredible finds, such as gold coins,  Roman statuesCrusader swords, and even Phoenician statues associated with the practice of child sacrifice. According to IAA Director-General Eli Eskozido, “Israel’s coasts are rich in sites and finds that are immensely important national and international cultural heritage assets. They are extremely vulnerable, which is why the Israel Antiquities Authority conducts underwater surveys to locate, monitor and salvage any antiquities.”

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