Shipwreck Ring Belonged to One of the First Christians

Ring inscribed with 'Good Shepherd' among Roman-era treasures found off Israel
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2021 10:10 AM CST
Shipwreck Gives Up a Roman-Era Treasure Trove
A Roman-era gold ring, its green gemstone carved with the figure of a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, is on display with coins that where found near the ancient city of Caesarea, dated to the Roman and Mamluk periods, is seen in Jerusalem on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A gold ring belonging to one of the first Christians is among the treasures pulled from a Roman-era shipwreck off Israel, researchers say. Also discovered in the wreck off the ancient port of Caesarea is a bronze eagle figurine, bells meant to keep evil spirits at bay, various pottery, and hundreds of Roman coins from the third century, the Israel Antiquities Authority says in a Wednesday statement. A recent underwater survey initially turned up "many metal parts belonging to a wooden ship body ... including dozens of large bronze signs, lead pipes belonging to a water pump, and a large iron anchor, which was broken," the authority says, per CBS News. The group suggests the anchor was broken, and the ship ultimately sank, during a powerful storm.

The wreck was actually one of two found just 13 feet underwater during the survey, per the Times of Israel. A second wreck dating to the 14th century was accompanied by 560 Mamluk-era silver coins. But the Roman-era wreck and its treasures appear more impressive. IAA curator Helena Sokolov notes the rarity of the gold ring with the early Christian symbol of the "Good Shepherd"—an image of a young shepherd boy carrying a sheep or ram on his shoulders, representing Jesus as a merciful shepherd of mankind—inscribed in its green gemstone. "This was a period when Christianity was just in its beginning, but definitely growing and developing, especially in mixed cities like Caesarea," she tells AFP.

Caesarea was the local capital of the Roman Empire in the third century and one of Christianity's earliest centers. Indeed, the person who carried the thick octagonal ring "was one of the first Christians," the IAA says. As the ring is small in size, Sokolov suggests it may have belonged to a woman of wealth. Another artifact from the Roman-era wreck points to the mixing of religions to which Sokolov refers. A red gemstone, probably once set into a ring, features a carving of a lyre, which is "known in the Jewish tradition as 'David's Harp' and in Greek mythology as 'Apollo's Lyre,'" per the Times. In the Hebrew Bible's Book of Samuel, future king David plays the lyre to rid King Saul of evil spirits. (More shipwreck stories.)

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