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MS101

A rare Judaic Limestone Snake, ca 5th century AD

This rare and distinctive stone piece depicts a snake wrapped in a Herakles knot.  The Herakles knot (also recognizable today as a reef knot) is used as a symbol of strength and protection.  It is also associated with marriage and love, as Greek and Roman brides would often incorporate this knot into their wedding garments.

The discovery of this piece is described in Paul Ilton's book The Bible Was My Treasure Map.  According to Ilton, the snake was found in a cave in the vicinity of Gezer in the Judean mountains where local legend says a monstrous snake made its home.  The people tried to appease the snake by worshipping it until Muhammad came to Gezer, conquered the snake and locked it in a cave.

Ilton further notes this piece was part of an exhibition titled "From the Land of the Bible" - its international tour included in the Netherlands, The British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Smithsonian in 1954. 

Another example of a snake forming a Herakles knot is found on a stone of unknown provenance located in the Hospice of the Franciscan Fathers, Israel.  The knotted snake is wrapped around a wreath encircling an menorah. (Goodenough, Erwin R. Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, volume three, figure 592).

Herakles knots in stone are also found on the "Nikae sarcophagus" and the "menorah sarcophagus" excavated at Beth She'arim (Avigad, Nahman. Beth She'arim, volume III, The Excavations 1953-1958. figures 122 and 125).

Condition
: Small loss to top of left loop of snake that does not detract, otherwise in very good condition, custom mounted.

Dimensions:  length, 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) height 3.25 inches (8.25 centimeters)

Published: Ilton, Paul. The Bible Was My Treasure Map, Archaeological Adventures in the Holy Land. New York, Julian Messner Inc, 1958. pages 138-144.     

Provenance: Paul Ilton private collection.

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