The changing meanings of symbols : the case of the Good Shepherd ring found off the coast of Caesarea
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In December 2021, The Israeli Antiquity Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of a thick Roman-era gold ring with an octagonal blue-green gem bearing an image of a young figure dressed in a tunic and carrying a lamb on his shoulders, the so-called Good Shepherd. This ring is the most significant object discovered in recent underwater excavations off the coast of Caesarea Maritima. This thesis presents a study of this artefact, considering the general iconography of the Good Shepherd, the uses of gems and rings, and the archaeological context of the discovery. The research question asks what we can know about the ring’s owner based on its iconography and the archaeological context in which it was found. This thesis focuses on the symbol of the Good Shepherd and its engraving into gemstones. This thesis draws on insights from “material” approaches to studying religion. Material culture has come to be appreciated as a rich resource for a better understanding of lived experiences in all times and places, and no less so for Christianity’s complex and diverse practice in the Greco-Roman world. At the same time, art historians and Religion in Late Antiquity historians now recognise that Christianity emerged within pre-existing cultures with established artistic forms, iconographic prototypes, and manufacturing techniques that it drew upon, adapted, and transformed as it gradually developed its distinctive iconographic vocabulary. The Good Shepherd Ring from Caesarea will be a case study to explore the diverse meanings of a particular symbol to examine the historical role of art in recounting the past. Given what we can know about this ring, the religious identity of its owner appears to be Christian, but the evidence is not entirely certain.