Late Antique, Early Christian and Jewish gems: Old Testament scenes

Some Old Testament figures, notably Jonah and Daniel, enjoyed special popularity with Christians, who viewed them as symbols of salvation, prefiguring or alluding to Jesus. On a number of gems, the Good Shepherd is paired with Daniel, who typically is represented as standing in the pose of an orant (in prayer) between two lions. Other gems show the cycle of abbreviated images illustrating the story of Jonah: Jonah cast from the ship, swallowed by the great fish (always depicted as the classical ketos, or sea-monster), vomited out by the ketos, and lying asleep under the gourds. Less frequently represented on gems, and perhaps slightly later in date (4th century AD) are other Old Testament figures, including Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac. A further group of gems combines various images, such as the Good Shepherd, Jonah, Daniel, and Noah.

Gem image

Adam and Eve.

London, British Museum. Nicolo, 14.5 x 12 mm.

Gem image

The Jonah cycle.

Private collection. Cornelian, 20 x 14 mm.

Gem image

Jonah, the Good Shepherd, Daniel and lions, dove with olive branch, and Christian monograms.

London, British Museum. Cornelian, 17.5 x 11 mm.