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1,700-year-old ring bearing the image of the Good Shepherd found at the bottom of the sea

BON PASTEUR

© AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

Caroline Becker - published on 12/26/21

Hundreds of archaeological objects discovered in recent months during marine excavations in the Mediterranean were unveiled by Israel this week. Among them, a 1,700-year-old gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd, an allegory of Jesus Christ.

Israeli archaeologists have made a rare and exceptional find in recent months! While excavating off Caesarea, between Tel Aviv and Haifa, where two ships sank some 1,700 years ago, researchers found a multitude of various artifacts, including an octagonal gold ring decorated with a green gemstone. But the most incredible part of this ring is the image engraved on the stone: a young shepherd in a tunic carrying a ram or a sheep on his shoulder. The ring’s iconography casts no doubt about the identity of the subject: it is a depiction of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd!

Helena Sokolov, the curator in charge of the pieces at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), confirms that it is indeed the image of the Good Shepherd. The image is rare iconography for a ring, but otherwise widespread in the early centuries of Christianity. The catacombs of Priscilla in Rome demonstrate the extensive use of the image (they preserve one of the oldest images of Christ portrayed as the Good Shepherd). Because of its small size, the jewel certainly belonged to a woman. Its discovery off the coast of Caesarea is not surprising, as the city was once the local capital of the Roman Empire in the third century. This was a time when Christianity was greatly expanding, “especially in mixed cities like Caesarea,” said the curator.

The Good Shepherd, a Christ-like figure

The title given to Christ—the “Good Shepherd”—alludes to the words of Christ in the Gospel of John (Jn 10:11): “I am the good shepherd, the true shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.” It also recalls Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…” During a time when Christians were still severely persecuted, these allegories allowed the apostles of Christ to recognize themselves and to testify to their faith while remaining discreet. Indeed, the Romans already used this image of the good shepherd in their funeral rites by decorating their tombs with a young shepherd among his sheep. This bucolic image symbolized an afterlife filled with peace.

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ArchaeologyIsrael
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