Gold ring bearing 'Good Shepherd' inscription found in Roman-era wreckage off Israel
As well as the ring, the Israel Antiquities Authority said it found bronze eagle figurines, bells for warding off evil spirits, pottery, and a Roman pantomimus figurine in a comic mask
Researchers from Israel on Wednesday displayed a golden ring bearing an early Christian symbol of Jesus engraved in its gemstone, which was found in a shipwreck off the ancient port of Caesarea.
On the thick octagonal gold ring was the figure of the "Good Shepherd" in the form of a young shepherd boy wearing a tunic and carrying a ram or sheep across his shoulders.
As well as the ring, the Israel Antiquities Authority said it found bronze eagle figurines, bells for warding off evil spirits, pottery, and a Roman pantomimus figurine in a comic mask.
A red gemstone along with a carving of a lyre and the wooden hull of the ship were also found in the relatively shallow waters, according to the authority.
The Good Shepherd ring was researched by Helena Sokolov, a curator in the IAA's coin department. According to her, the city of Cesarea during the third century was the capital of the Roman empire, and its harbour was an important hub for Roman trade and commerce.
Jesus is represented as a caring shepherd, guiding those in need and tending to his flock in early Christian symbolism. However, finding it on a ring was rare.
In the third century, when it was one of Christianity's earliest centres, Caesarea was ethnically and religiously heterogeneous, so the presence of such a symbol on a ring probably owned by a Roman operating in or around the port made sense.
"This was a period when Christianity was just in its beginning, but definitely growing and developing, especially in mixed cities like Caesarea," Sokolov told news agency AFP, adding that the ring was not large, suggesting it may have belonged to a female.
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While Christianity was being practised in "underground" forums at the time, she pointed out that the Roman empire was tolerant of new forms of worship, including that of Jesus, so that a wealthy citizen could wear such a ring.
In addition to the Roman-era treasures, IAA divers also discovered a trove of about 560 Mamluk-era coins from the fourteenth century in a second wreck nearby.
(With inputs from agencies)