Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Unique symbolic monuments with David's Shield

David's Shield as Pediment Ornamentation (Jerash-Gerasa)

A most unexpected use of the David's Shield occurs at Jerash in the southern Theatre, built at the end of the 1st - beginning of the 2nd century C.E. [38] The scaenae frons (the rear wall of the stage) is pierced by three doors. Between the doors are four niches, each framed by an aedicule, whose two columns support an architrave and pediment. Each pediment is decorated with two juxtaposed branches, which start and end in a David's Shield. So that each pediment displays four of these signs

51. Aaron's Rod, twice, on four pediments of the Southern Theatre at Jerash - Magen David appears at the beginning and the end of each Rod. Beginning of 2nd century C.E.


Such a use of the Shield is most unconventional and the question is how to explain it. The Rod has to be explained as Aaron's Rod, not in this case symbolized in the usual abbreviated form, that is, by the Lily flower alone, but depicted in full. The arrangement here recalls the combinations of signs we know well from lintels, mosaic floors and elsewhere, even if the specific arrangement here is singular. But this still leaves us with the mystery of the Neo-Christian symbols in a Roman theatre.

Bagatti, drawing on St Epiphanias, a 4th-century father of the Early Church, mentions a sect called the Messalians, who used to convene their congregations in theater buildings. Till now not a single find associated with them has turned up, but it seems highly probable that this sect is the source of the neo-Christian symbols in the Jerash theatre. According to the inscriptions on the site, the theatre was constructed with the help of donations [39] and the prominent location of the David's Stars indicates that the Messalians' use of the theatre for worship was granted them by dint of a sizeable monetary donation towards its construction. If this is so, then this little-known sect also took the David's Shield as the emblem of their faith.

This Jewish Theater representation of Aaron ’s Rod with two Davidic Stars is for us a kind of confirmation that the Star was used as a “pars pro toto” of the Rod becoming the main symbol for Aaron as high Priest and his successors and the Judeo Christian community altogether.
The Bir Chana hexagonal Mosaic Floor in Tunisia’s Bardo Museum

52. Picture of the center of the Bir- Chana, Tunisia Mosaic

53. Design of the Bir- Chana, Tunisia Mosaic structured as a large Star of David’s Shield inscribed with the divinities of time (at center), the signs of the Zodiac, and animals. From P. Gauckler, Inventaire des Mosaiques de la Gaule et de L'Afrique, Paris, 1911, Pl. 447, Musee Bardo

This floor is distinguished by its exceptional and unique design, which forms, as a matter of fact, the most complete realization of the topic of the single Davidic Star. The brilliant composition of the Floor has to be understood against the background of the time’s all-pervading theological-philosophical climate. We are in the first century C.E., a period of transition between Antiquity and Middle Ages. The predominance of Greek Mythology till now as an elevated and heroic world of idealized godlike beings in constant action, conceived under the knowledge of both the organic and spiritual life of mankind, is in decline. The figurative scenes of Greek Mythology, full of pulsating action, had to give way now to a more static, passive attitude. The full former active figures of Greek Mythology are represented now in half-length or as busts all together (Pls. ). Their former direct meaning is replaced now by their allegorical signification of theological-philosophical ideas.
This is the way we have to understand the Bir-Chana Mosaic: Its composition is dominated by the design of a large Davidic Shield, fitting precisely within the hexagonal frame of the floor (traced by a three-strand Guilloche). Under the dominance of David’s Shield the whole composition of the Floor is unfolding.
The hexagonal center of the Shield is occupied by seven busts, symbolizing the seven days of the week, arranged by six working days surrounding the Helios bust at their center. Each bust is framed by a double-line hexagon in tight contact with each other and forming the closed central unit of the whole composition of the Floor.
The six outer angles of this central unit are placed with rectangles containing six animals – the horse, the bull, the stag, the goat, the dove and the peacock – perhaps representing the “familiar” animal-world of mankind.
Having started from the center of the whole Floor-composition, we are arriving now at the six interior and the six exterior angles of the Davidic Star, which are filled with the 12 signs of the “Zodiac”, the monthly symbols of the year. The six signs of the interior angles of the Davidic Star are enclosed in a hexagonal double frame while the six signs of the outer angles are encircled by double lines.

While the six weekday-busts encircling the Helios bust at the center of the Star are symbolizing time for each one of us, as the fundamental life-condition (beside space), the monthly symbols of the Zodiac represent time-condition in its changing Seasons for all mankind all the year around.
Remaining in the overall design are 18 small triangles each one filled by a bird, representing open air space, as one of the fundamental conditions of human and animal life.
This Floor, then, forms a synthesis between Greek Mythology and Judeo-Christian belief. The elevated and heroic world of god-like beings, conceived under the knowledge of both the organic and spiritual life of humankind is replaced here by the allegoric representation of the time in the form of the seven busts of the week and the 12 Zodiac signs of the year, representing the fundamental life-conditions of human, animal, and bird-life and nature life in general.
Bir-Chana, then, arrived at a universal understanding of human and animal and nature life in its dependence from the eternal ground foundations of life – space and time. Yet, Bir-Chana did not satisfy itself with this Greek philosophical insight. The world in its infinity and unity is God’s creation (after the Jewish and Christian belief). God’s pre-existence is shown in the Bir-Chana Floor as a pure abstract line forming the geometrical figure of the hexagram (David’s Star). By this pure line the Symbol of God’s sovereign Rule is conceived and its maintenance is established for all mankind.

This sovereign Rule of God is an ancient Jewish religious concept. From it is derived God’s everlasting presence - the Shechina. But God’s presence was specially confined to places of religious importance – to the Ark of the Covenant with the “Kaporet” (mercy seat) above, between two “Cherubim” (Ex.25:17/18) – in the time of the desert wandering of the 12 tribes. And then, after David’s conquest of Jerusalem, “Zion” became the favorite place of God’s presence. But, with the loss of Jerusalem at the first Jewish revolt against Rome (66-70 C.E.), God’s presence there was lost. The Shekhina was revived now by God’s sovereign Rule in the whole world of the Diaspora. But God’s Rule is divided now in the God-father- God-son relationship as belief of the Judeo-Christian community, symbolized in the Hexagram as interrelation of two equilateral triangles, the upper one symbolizing God-father and the lower one- God’s son. Christ, now, became the mediator – the Messiah between God’s superior reign and mankind as such - fulfilling by that God’s Covenant from Sinai. In this way God’s sovereign Rule for all mankind was maintained. But the creators of this belief and the Symbolism were, by no doubt, the Italian congregations of the Judeo Christians. The Bir-Chana Mosaic Floor belongs, then, to the group of a single dominating Davidic Star, but is, on the other hand, a creation of such rich philosophical interpretation, which make out of it a work of extraordinary singularity.

Neo-Paphos Mosaic Floor with the Swastika sign

54. Neo-Paphos Mosaic Floor with the Swastika sign
Courtesy of Ken and Nyetta from Flickr

To our great surprise we find the Swastika sign in a group of five religious symbols belonging to a Mosaic Floor of Neo-Paphos, near the south west coast of Cyprus. (Pl. ) The town was founded by the Phoenicians in the 4th century B.C. [40]

It became the capital of Cyprus in the 3rd century under Ptolemaic rule. Only in the 4th century C.E. it was replaced as such by Salamis.

The Mosaic Floor is composed of a winding rope forming great Medallions, which are occupied by the main symbols of the religions of the time. The rope itself is formed by a two-strand Guilloche ornament changing with a running spiral one, both overriding the whole Floor design at top-level. Beside the great Medallions are also smaller supporting ornaments in the shape of squares with rounded inside turned sides.

The group of the five Symbols in the great Medallions has in its spherical octagonical center the Magen David, the main Judeo-Christian sign (a), accompanied by two medallions above and two medallions below. The right one, above, containing the Double Square, the symbolic sign of the Gentile Christians (b) and the Samaritans (as we saw); the left one has a Greek cross of the Imperial Roman Church (c), while, below, the right one has a Tri-Loop sign[41]

of the Neo-Samaritans (d), while the left one, below, has the Swastika sign (e) also with Samaritan origin.

What is astounding is the fact that the main religious signs of the Neo-Christians appear in Paphos on the island of Cyprus surrounding the Magen David Sign in their center. It can be explained only, to my opinion, by the known fact, that the Neo-Christians did not take part in the war against the Romans, and, therefore had to flee the country as the Jerusalem Christians did, in order to find refuge in Pella and other cities of the Decapolis. And so, it seems, that our group of Neo-Christians together with Samaritans fled to the island of Cyprus, in order to find refuge in Neo-Paphos, the capital.

But each one of the four religious movements of the time is related to the Magen David in the center of the group, revealing by that, that the flight from the Holy Land had been done under the guidance of the Jedeo-Christian movement (in the first years of the first revolt), and recognizing by that the leading role of the Davidic Star is playing in Neo-Christian religious Speculations (in spite of the fact that it was not accepted by the gentile-Christians..

Yet, in addition do we find, to our surprise, in the four corners of the Floor a great Lily sign[42]

, not contained in a Medallion, but free and turned inside, supporting by that the whole composition of the Floor, which represents all the religious Neo-Christian movements of the time.

We saw already before the important religious significance of the Lily sign (the Shoshan), as a sign of the Torah (the Eduth) and its constant relations to the Davidic sign.

It is obvious that behind the whole composition of the Neo-Paphos Floor, an astounding understanding of the historical inter-relations of the religious movements of the time is hidden.

The Monastery of St. Euthymius

The monastery of St. Euthymius in the industrial zone of Ma’ale Adumim – Mishor Adumim, near Jerusalem, the last monument of the country, we are dealing with, containing Davidic Signs.

The monastery was founded by St. Euthymius, a famous religious personality (of the 5th century) whose life was described in full by Cyril of Scytopolis [43] (Beit Shean)
The monastery is one of the greatest and most elaborate ones, situated near to the Jerusalem- Jericho highway.

Cyril lived there for some 10 years (445-455) and his biography of Euthymius is first hand experience. [44]

Further information on the monastery comes from archaeological excavations there. St. Euthymius was the first of the Judean monasteries to undergo full scale archaeological excavations [45]

Its first excavator at the end of the 1920’s was Dervas Chitty [46], whose excavations were dedicated to the church and the underground burial monument beside it [47]
In the years of 1970 the monastery was again excavated by Gyionnis Maimaris, a Greek Archaeologist, who found a Refectory beside the church. [48]

In 1987 the Archaeology Department of the Hebrew University renewed the excavations, handing them over to Yizhar Hirschfeld together with Rivka Burger-Kalderon [49]
All our details of the excavations of St. Euthymius are founded on his article in Liber Annus 43, 1993, 339-371.

St. Euthymius was born in 377 in Melitene, capital of Armenia [50]. He arrived in the Holy Land in 405, where he entered the Laura of Pharan (Wadi Quilt), near Jerusalem and remained there for five years. [51].

He then left Pharan together with his friend Theoctistus and after finding a cave in steep surrounding of Nahal Og they founded a coenobium there called after his friend Theoctistus. Euthymius lived there for ten years (411-421). [52]

He became acquainted with the tribe of Saracenes, who under Euthymius influence converted into Christianity. [53]

Yet, as Euthymius solitude was disturbed now he left the monastery of Theocticstus together with his pupil Domitian. On their wanderings they arrived at a mountain called Marda (Masada) and they stayed there for a certain time.

After their leaving they moved into the desert area east of Tell Ziph, and there they founded another coenobium-Capar Baricha (Bani Na’im) [54]. But now Euthymius decided to return to the area west of the Theocticstus Monastery and settled there in a small cave at Mishor Adumim, which became the starting point of the monastery.

“Aspabet, the chief of the Saracene tribe, whom Euthymius baptized and named Petrus, arrived at the spot and built whatever the two hermits required” [55]

Euthymius, on the other hand chose a location for the encampment of the tribe, nearby, and asked the archbishop of Jerusalem, Juvenal, “ to make Aspabet Peter bishop of the encampments”.

When Euthymius started his monastery as a Laura of three momks the membership grew fast and increased to 50. The church was dedicated in 428 under the presence of Juvenal Archbishop of Jerusalem and a number of other dignitaries.

The Empress Eudokia built a tower on the highest mountain of the Judean Hills, in order to have talks with Euthymius.

Two famous monks Elias and Martyrius came to St. Euthymius and stayed there for a certain time. Elias founded two Canopiae near Jericho and Martyrius became the founder of one of the the greatest monasteries at Ma’ale Adumim (near Jerusalem).

Euthymius became now the undisputed leader of the monastic movement. This found expression in a number of religious foundations around St. Euthymius: the monastery of Theocticstus, the Church of the encampment, the Tower of Eudokia, and another Saracin Church at the Jerusalem-Jericho road, called St. Peter after Aspabet, the leader of the Saracins and the monastery of St. Martyrius.

Euthymius died on the 20 of February 473, at the age of 94 .

The Jerusalem Patriarch soon arrived with his retenue, inter alia the Deacon Fidus, who was a gifted architect. After a provisional burial of Euthymius, Fidus started work beside the church at the small cave, where Euthymius and his pupil Domitian had settled the first time. The burial building was ready after three months and Euthymius was buried there. The tomb was completed 7 May 473.

“The death of Euthymius marked the end of the golden age of the monastery. The monastery started to decline, especially after it was transformed from a Laura to a Coenoebium”.

From 482 St. Euthymius was a communal monastery in every detail .

20 years after the Muslim conquest (659) a serious earthquake damaged two monasteries: John the Baptist (Qasr el Yahud) by the Jordan river and St. Euthymius.

Reconstruction of St. Euthymius with a fine Mosaic Floor followed.

Last mention of St. Euthymius: “it may well have been abandoned in the wake of Saladin's conquest of the country. However abandonment may have occurred later during the reign of the Mamluk Sultan Baybars (1260-1277)”.

St. Euthymius, now, became a road station under the name of Khan el Akhmar.

The Mosaic Floor of the Church of St. Euthymius

55. The Monastery of St. Euthymius

56. The Monastery of St. Euthymius Mosaic Floor. Courtesy of Dr. Asher Eder

57. The Monastery of St. Euthymius Mosaic Floor

The old Laura Church of 428 was demolished in 482, when the number of monks had grown to 50, forming a Coenoebium. A Refectory was built on top of it and a new church was erected.

In 659 this church was heavily damaged by an earthquake together with most of the other compounds of the monastery.

In the late 8th century security in the region deminished and many monasteries were attacked by the Saracin inhebitents of the area.

"later, in 809, the monastery of St. Euthymius was stormed by Saracins who plundered it as well as other desert monasteries" .

The Mosaic Pavement belongs to the Ommayad period i.e. after 659 (the year of the earthquake .

The two ails of the church were decorated, so it seems, symmetrically by a following of round and square decorative units, but the Floor of the Northern Ail is almost completely destroyed, while the Floor of the Southern one is almost completely preserved, yet covered wholly by soot. Inspite of that the Symbols of it are quite recognizable. A relative small Davidic star in the center is designed in the lower unit surrounded by a dense following of Lozenches and Tri-partite ornaments, all in white on the black background.

A second Mosaic unit of the ail has a great Magen David filling out the circumference of one line and inscribed by a six partite loop design with a small half-moon design in the center and small rounds at the top of the loops. A dense following of pear-like ornamentsis added to the circumference.

Both Mosaic units are often unmistakable Islamic Style.

58. Monastery of St. Euthymius - Plan

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