Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Holy Land

The Shield of David in Lintel Ornamentation in the Holy Land

39. Akko. Lintel with David’s shield (left), six-petalled Lily (center), and Greek Cross (right) –from the old city. (From: B. Bagatti. Antichi Villagi Christiani di Galilea, Jerusalem 1971, fig. 126)

That the Star of David now, i.e. in the third to the sixth century is to be found in growing numbers in the official Church architecture we take as proof conclusive that the sign is of Judeo-Christian origin. It became now an ''official'' sign of the Church, in contrast to its ''private'' character till now. Yet, at the same time we find its decline by the growing importance of the Cross-, which replaces it finally.

This tendency becomes abundantly clear in Lintel decoration, which is, as a rule in most cases composed by three symbolic signs: David’s Star - the six partite Shoshan- the Cross. All three together seem to express the religious idea of the Shekhina - the presence of God, of which the signs on the Lintel above the entrance to the Church is the fitting symbolic expression.

2. Bagatti published a Lintel found at Akko by P.Gaetoni Pierrry in a house of the 0ld City in secondary use (Pl. 39 ). He published the Lintel without being able to identify its original location, more than to say that it certainly comes from one of the city’s ancient churches .

The three Symbols on the lintel, from left to right - Star of David - six-partite Lily or Shoshan - Greek Cross - are carved in flat relief, each in a thin circular, cable-like frame. Occupying the inner hexagon of the Star of David is a small disc incised within a larger plate-like roundel. The Shoshan, we have seen to be a constant companion of the Star of David is placed here at the center of the Lintel, between the Star and the Cross. The Cross, then, as third symbol is in combination with the Davidic sign, indicating that at the time of the Lintel’s erection the two Symbols possessed equal status in the eyes of Akko’s Judeo-Christian congregation.

The Lintel has been dated by Bagatti to the 4th century C.E. But, to our opinion, the plate belongs already to the second or third century for reason of equal presentation of David shield and the Cross which was no more possible in the 4th century.

We saw that the Cross took the ascendancy after Constantine’s great Milan Edict of 313 C.E. and that from then on the Star of David sank in disuse at the Constantinian Church.

That Akko had a Judeo-Christian community as early as the 1st century C.E. we know from the fact that Paul visited the town in 59 C.E. on his third missionary journey (Acts 21:7). Clarus, Bishop of Akko, attended a consillium in Caesarea in 198 and between then and the 6th century some eight bishops are known from documentary sources . (N. Schur A Histori of Acre, Tel Aviv, 1990, p. 42 (Hebrew) M. Makholi & N.C. Jones, A Guide to Acre, Jerusalem 1946, p. 16).

40. Khirbet er-Ribba, Lintel with Six-Petalled Lily, Greek Cross, and David’s Shield. (From M. Avi-Yonah, ‘Oriental elements in Palestinian art’ Quarterly of the Dep. of Antiquities Vol.I3, pp. 128-165).

The next lintel we report is that published by Avi-Yonah from Khirbet er-Ribba [32] (P1.). It has the same signs but in changed order – Shoshan - Greek Cross - Star of David. A second small six-partite Shoshan is placed at the center of the Davidic Star, as usual. All the three Symbols are touching each other, whereas in our first Lintel they are separated. From the fact that the Cross now takes central position, it seems, that it gained in importance, but the double occurrence of the Shoshan demonstrates the importance of that emblem too.

41. Khirbet Carmel near Hebron [33]. Chancel screen plate with David's star + inscribed Greek cross (upper left). Single example. From: Abel & Barrois, Revue Biblique (RB) 1929 p. 584

A solitary instance of the meeting between Greek Cross and Davidic Star is known from the left side of a chancel-screen from Khirbet Carmel (near Hebron) (Pl. 41). Here the hexagonal center of David's star is occupied by a Greek cross. Yet, such tight combination of Cross and Star is never found again. It seems to be unique.

42. Tell Tihin. Byzantine Lintel with Greek Cross, six-petalled Shoshan, trefoil Shoshan, quatrefoil Shoshan (from M. Avi-Yonah, ibid fig. 30, p. 74)

A Byzantine Lintel from Tell Tihin [34] (P1. 42), also published by Avi-Yonah has, instead of three Symbols, four - (from left to right) the Cross - six-petalled Shoshan, trefoil Shoshan, quatrefoil Shoshan - but no Star of David anymore. All four signs are bound together by an interlacing double cable line, forming, as it were, circular medallions for each sign. Six triangular ornaments are filling the outer angles of the interlacing cable design and four 90 degrees angle tools are filling the corners of the plate.

The triangular ornamentation seem to represent God's presence on earth and sky - the Shekhina- and the four cornerpieces- the four corners of the world (Arba Kanfot Ha'Aretz).

In contrast to the disappearance of the Davidic sign this Lintel shows clearly the continuation of the Lily sign, which became one of the dominating Symbols of Christianity.

43. Um al-Rasas. From M. Piccirillo, ‘il complesso di Santo Stephano a Um al-Rasas – Kastron Kafea in Giordania (1986-1991)\ Foto 44. La Chiesa del Cortile, Architrave rintilizzato per chiudere una tomba sottostrante. In: Liber Annus XLI, 1991, Jerusalem, pp. 26ff, fig. 24

A Lintel at Um al-Rasas . [36] (Pl. 43) The center at Um al-Rasas is occupied by the six-petalled Lily accompanied by two Greek Crosses, to the left and right. Also here David's shield does not appear anymore, yet the importance of the Cross, now, is shown by its duplication, and the continuation of the six-petalled Shoshan is shown by its central placement.

The culmination of the trend towards the elimination of David's Shield we find on a sarcophagus from Deir Dosi, also published by Avi-Yonah [35] (Pl. 44). The Cross is dominant at the center, supported to left and right by two almost identical six-petalled Lilies. All three Symbols are of equal size. The duplication of the Shoshan and the central dominance of the Cross leave no room for David’s Star, but show the continuation of the Lily sign beside the Cross most clearly.

44. Deir Dosi. Sarcophagus with two six-petalled Lilies on either side of a Greek Cross (from M. Avi-Yonah ibid fig. 10, p. 60.) The Davidic Sign exchanged by the Greek Cross


Yet, the suppression of David’s Shield by the sign of the Cross in its imperial Constantinian shape (since. 313, the Milan Edict) was not a final blow.

It was revived and made new appearances in the three cultures of the eastern Hemisphere:

A. in the late Byzantine Church architecture (6th-8th centuries CE)

B. In Islam (since 636 C.E) , and

C. finally, in Judaism in its “Massoretic Style” of Bible illuminations of the 9th and the 11th centuries C.E. (see later).

From then David's Shield became a pure Jewish religious Symbol, and was transferred historically through the centuries till, reinstalled by the Jewish Government 1948, at the foundation of the State, becoming the Symbol of the Israelian flag.


David’s Shield in interior Church Architecture between the fourth and the sixth centuries C.E. in the Holy Land


Increase of the occurrence of David's Star in the Holy Land

This blooming of David's Star in Italy in the first three centuries was answered now in the country, i.e. between the 4th and 6th centuries by a remarkable increase in its occurrence in the now invigorated Church-Architecture. But, at the same time, the Star was superseded by the Cross, which became, after the edition of the Constantinian Milan Edict from 313, the universal Symbol of the Imperial Constantinian Church.

Both tendencies have to be taken in account in our following observations:

El-Makr Mosaic Floor

45. El-Makr (near Akko) geometric Mosaic Floor with David's Star in upper left corner. Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 5th-6th C.E. Author’s photo

In the village of El-Makr (near Akko) Yehuda Ben-Josef of the Israel Department of Antiquities excavated in 1964 a Mosaic Floor, one of the finest of its kind (Pl. 45). Its iconography is wholly geometric-abstract and among the numerous symbols deployed David's Star appears in the upper left corner. By contrast, three almost identical Greek crosses, one above the other, dominate the center of the mosaic carpet. We have here certainly a product of the transitional 4th century C.E. style before us, when the Star of David was in decline in favour of the Cross.

The stylism of the El-Makr floor is singular. It shares no motives with the Jerusalemite Ossuary ornamentation, but, instead, certain of its geometric elements recall Antiochan Mosaic Floors.

Yet, what becomes overwhelmingly clear (by close control of the Floor's design) that also the El Makr Floor is of Samaritan origin: This is shown by the "krystalline" design of most of its ornament. The design is done by close parallel chains of small squares, giving the ornaments a kind of electrical tension, or by zig-zag ornamention.

All the filled circles of the Floor are set out in parallel oblique rows, but are not contiguous. Small hourglass shaped ornaments separate the motives of one row from those of the neighboring row - a common Antiochan concept. All these hourglass ornaments are occupied above and below by a small Disk ornament, creating by that an even network of them and the whole Floor. We are convinced that by this even distribution of the small Disks God's Shechina is meant, the even presence of God in the whole world.

The Disk ornamentation is very frequent in Neo-Christian art (and we have to deal with it later).

46. Roglit. In a frame composed of successive Squares and Lozenges - a Star of David inscribed in one of the Squares. The frame surrounds an octagon occupied by a Tree of Life and two enlarged leaves. 5th century C.E. From R. Ovadia & A. Ovadia, Hellenistic, Roman, and Early Byzantine Mosaic Pavements in Israel, 1987, No. 110.

Baggati has published the Church Mosaic Floor from Roglit, near Kibbuz Magen in the Negev, also featuring a Star of David. (Pl . 46) It is comparable to the Makr floor in the density of geometric-abstract elements and in its dependence on Antiochan prototypes. Its composition of squares, lozenges and triangles distributed around a central octagon is a typical Antiochan idea. Again, the Star of David is relegated to an outer square.

The Tree of Life may well be substituting David’s Star or the Cross or the Shoshan, since the Tree of Life is understood as transformation of the cross of Crucifixion developed in Christian thought. The Tree of life is a symbol of great antiquity, well known in Mesopotamian art of the third and second millennia B.C.E. In Jewish religious tradition it recurs as a key emblem, “Timura” - ornamental palm-tree: Kings 6:29, 32:55 in the interior ornamentation of the Solomonic Temple. It represents the Torah (similar to the Shoshan) and is still remembered so today in the Synagogue liturgy. After the Sabbath Torah reading the scroll is returned to the Ark with the prayer:

For I have given you good doctrine

My Torah, forsake it not

It is the tree of life for those lay hold on it

And they who uphold it are made happy

Its ways are ways of pleasantness

And all its paths are peace.

But also here the small Disk ornament is not missing. It appears regularly in Lozenge ornaments arround the central motive of the Tree of Life. Also here the Shechina ornament is meant.

As the Floor is much destroyed a dicision of its origin is difficult, but it seems to be Judeo-Christian.

The Magen David at Shilo


47. The Magen David discovered in the Mosaic Floor of the Basilica at Shilo

A single minded appearance of the Davidic Sign we find in Shilo, the ancient center of the Jewish tribes at the conquest of the country under Yoshua. Here was kept the Ark of the Covenant in the Tent of Meeting and here each tribe received its inheritance by decision of the Lot, cast by Yoshua. (Yosh. 18:1; 18:6) Shilo is situated some 30 km. north of Jerusalem (at the Arab village of Seyun). The Davidic Sign there was discovered in the Basilica by the Danish archaeological expedition in 1926-1929 under the direction of H. Kjaer and under the scientific advice of Albright.

The Mosaic Floor of the Basilica was partly excavated by the expedition. It is composed of 3 vertical Rows of the Scuta-Symbol and in between them appears the Davidic Star. [37] Yet, the Scuta-Symbol (shield) is a clear Sign of Samaritan origin (as we shall see later). But we have to make use of the results of our later investigations, and so, we have to anticipate them, in order to arrive at full results even in our present investigation.

The astounding fact is that we find here at Shilo David’s Sign together with the Samaritan ornamentation (the Scuta Symbol), as we know already, that David’s Star was not (and could not) been accepted by them. Our explanation is that the Davidic Sign there is a remainder from an earlier Floor, which belonged to the Judeo Christians. This first Synagogue was taken over by the Samaritans, who later repaired the first Floor, but left David’s Star untouched. When later in Byzantine times the Floor had to be repaired again, they did it according to their understanding: the Sign appears without any additional Signs like the six partite or tri-partite Lily Sign or the Pelta. Only some 6 small Flowers are surrounding it in the outer corners of the Star. Star and Flowers are surrounded by a simple cable line and an abstract simplified version of infinite Meander Ornament, and a somewhat broader cable line. It seems that the Samaritans did not want to suppress the Star out of devotion for the past. Their general spiritual approach to the past is much more liberal than that of the Jews themselves.