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1,500-year-old amulet used to ward off demons donated to IAA 40 years after discovered in northern Israel

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‘The amulet is part of a group of fifth–sixth-century CE amulets from the Levant that were probably produced in the Galilee and Lebanon’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

Forty years after it was discovered, an enchanting 1,500-year-old necklace with a pendant, believed to be used as a protective amulet, was donated to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

The amulet necklace, which dates back to the Byzantine period, was found in the northern Israeli village of Arbel by one of its first residents, the late Tova Haviv.

During this period, Arbel was a Jewish settlement, which is often mentioned in historical sources from the Talmudic period. 

The IAA highlighted that the village had a linen-production industry and many sages visited and taught there. 

The amulet’s researcher Dr Eitan Klein, Deputy Director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, said that “the amulet is part of a group of fifth–sixth-century CE amulets from the Levant that were probably produced in the Galilee and Lebanon.”
He pointed out that this group of amulets is sometimes referred to as “‘Solomon’s Seal’ and the rider is depicted overcoming the evil spirit – in this case, a female-identified with the mythological figure Gello/Gyllou.”

This mythological figure was believed to threaten women and children and is also associated with the evil eye. 

According to Klein and the IAA, the amulet “bears Greek inscriptions and engravings and was found [by Haviv] near Arbel’s ancient synagogue.”

“The bronze pendant attests to its owner’s beliefs and fear of the evil eye and harmful demons,” they explained. “The front side bears the figure of a rider on a galloping horse [and] the rider’s head is encircled with a halo and he thrusts a spear down toward a female figure lying on her back. Engraved in a semicircle above the rider is a Greek inscription that reads: ‘The One God who Conquers Evil’.”

Featured Image: Dr Eitan Klein with the amulet.
Above Image: A close-up of the amulet necklace.
(Featured and Above Photo Credit: Dafna Gazit, courtesy of the Israel antiquities authority)

Klein went on to  the horse’s legs are four Greek letters: “I A W Θ, which stand for the Jewish Divine Name (Yahweh, IHYH).” 

An eye depicted on the reverse is pierced by arrows and by a forked object. 

“The eye on the reverse is identifiable as the evil eye, being attacked and vanquished by various means,” Klein said. “The eye is also threatened from below by two lions, a snake, a scorpion and a bird. On the upper part of the same side is the abbreviated Greek inscription: ‘One God’.”

He added that the amulet was “probably used to guard against the evil eye, possibly to protect women and children.”

Klein emphasized that “the fact that the amulet was found within a Jewish settlement containing a synagogue in the fifth–sixth centuries CE may indicate that even Jews of the period wore amulets of this type for protection against the evil eye and demons” despite scholars generally identify the wearers of such amulets as Christians or Gnostics.

Concluding, Klein said that “objects of this kind tell the story of Israel’s history and heritage and they belong to all Israel’s citizens, both legally and in terms of their cultural value.”

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