Archaeologists digging in the Tzurim Valley National Park in Jerusalem, Israel, have found a small gem seal, dating from the first century CE, with a portrait of the ancient Greek deity Apollo.
“Although Apollo is an Olympian deity of the Greek and Roman cultures, it is highly probable that the person wearing the ring was a Jew,” said team members Dr. Eli Shukron, Professor Shua Amorai-Stark, and Dr. Malka Hershkovitz.
“It is rare to find seal remains bearing the image of Apollo at sites identified with the Jewish population,” Dr. Shukron added.
“To this day, two such seals have been found in Masada, another in Jerusalem inside an ossuary in a Jewish tomb on Mount Scopus, and the current gem that was discovered in close proximity to the Temple Mount.”
“When we found the gem, we asked: What is Apollo doing in Jerusalem? And why would a Jew wear a ring with the portrait of a foreign deity?”
“The answer to this, in our opinion, lies in the fact that the owner of the ring wore it not as a ritual act that expresses religious belief, but as a means of making use of the impact that Apollo’s figure represents: light, purity, health, and success.”
The 2,000-year-old seal measures 13 mm x 11 mm x 3 mm, has a shape of oval, and was likely part of a ring.
The object was cut from dark brown jasper, and has remnants of yellow-light, brown, and white layers.
“Its main function was as a stamp to be used on soft material, usually beeswax, for personal signatures on contracts, letters, wills, goods or bundles of money,” the archaeologists said.
The seal features an engraving of Apollo’s head in profile to the left, with long hair flowing over a wide, pillar-like neck, a large nose, thick lips, and a small prominent chin.
The hair is styled in a series of parallel lines directed to the apex, and surrounded by a braid above the forehead.
One line of hair marks a strand that covers the ear; long curls flow over part of the neck, reaching the left shoulder.
Thin diagonal lines at the base of the head mark the upper end of the garment and the body.
“At the end of the Second Temple period, Apollo was one of the most popular and revered deities in Eastern Mediterranean regions,” said team member Professor Amorai-Stark.
“Among Apollo’s spheres of responsibility, it is likely that association with the Sun and light — as well as with logic, reason, prophecy, and healing — fascinated some Jews, given that the element of light versus darkness was prominently present in Jewish worldview in those days.”
“The fact that the craftsman of this gem left the yellow-golden and light brown layers on Apollo’s hair probably indicates a desire to emphasize the aspect of light in Apollo’s persona, as well as in the aura that surrounded his head.”
“The choice of a dark stone with yellow coloring of hair suggests that the creator or owner of this intaglio sought to emphasize the dichotomous aspect of light and darkness and/or their connectedness.”