The Palm Tree as a Symbol of the Jewish State

For the most part, I’m very happy to follow chapter 9 ‘Between Rome and Jerusalem: The Date Palm as a Jewish Symbol’ in Steven Fine’s 2005 book, Art and Judaism in the Greco Roman World.  It’s a broad and nuanced survey, but in the end concludes that the primary reason for the equation of Judaea with the Date Palm is because it was the most readily identifiable and desirable regional export, and could, on top of that, be given a symbolic meaning that did not offend the Jewish prohibitions against graven images.

However, two key pieces of early evidence aren’t illustrated by Fine, only discussed.  Hence, I thought I might put them up for the curious here.  [I do love connections between seals and coins!] These images are taken from ‘Two Bullae of Jonathan, King and High Priest’, p. 257-259 of Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (1994).  This summarizes and expands two previous publications.


Based on comparison with the legends of the coins of the Hasmonean kings, Avigad concludes that these two bullae are imprints of the seals of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE).





As Avigard says:



Note that originally in the first of the 1974 publications Avigard identified the High Priest Bulla as displaying a club; his opinion was revised on the discovery of the second bulla and the new identification as a palm tree was first made in his second 1974 article.

For later follow up:

A gem with a palm tree.

66 out of 410 days: Hairy Goats and My Notes


The last time I was in Oxford some 14 months ago, I think, I snapped this image with my camera phone in the Sackler Library.  I was so happy to find an example of the iconography of this coin in a published excavation report of site finds.  [Update 8/24/13:  The image above looks more like a sheep to me than a goat the longer I look at it here on the blog.  It’s the curly horns.  I think rest below are  really goats.] Something I stumbled upon on the new arrivals shelf.  An Italian publication I seem to recall.  What I can’t seem to find is any record at all of what the book was or from what site.


If I knew where it was I could say something about the context of the image, perhaps even a divinity associated with the area of the find.  Alas, what we have here is a failure of the information pack rat system.  What I’m very happy to say is that its a popular motif… you guessed it! … on SEAL rings.

A. Furtwängler, Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium, Königliche Museen Berlin (1896) Cat. no. 6811;  no. 7525; BM 1917,0501.513; Gold finger-ring with an engraved sard: Eros riding a goat.; BM 1923,0401.1121; Edinburgh Tassie 2258

Getty 83.AN.437.17

It is also popular on Lamps:

Mould-made pottery lamp decorated on the discus with a Cupid riding a goat. The nozzle has an air-slit, and is mainly missing. The handle is mainly missing. The lamp stands on a base-ring. Covered with a brown slip.

And the also this figurine from Cyprus:

Eros riding a goat

Crawford thinks its likely to be Dionysiac.  Perhaps.  Erotes are floating around with goats on many a Dionysiac sarcophagus, or Seasons sarcophagus.  But this might actually have more to do with the cult of Venus/Aphrodite:

Pausanias tells us that this is Aphrodite Pandemos, All Encompassing Aphrodite, usually translated Common or Vulgar Aphrodite:

Behind the portico built from the spoils of Corcyra is a temple of Aphrodite, the precinct being in the open, not far from the temple. The goddess in the temple they call Heavenly; she is of ivory and gold, the work of Pheidias, and she stands with one foot upon a tortoise. The precinct of the other Aphrodite is surrounded by a wall, and within the precinct has been made a basement, upon which sits a bronze image of Aphrodite upon a bronze he-goat. It is a work of Scopas, and the Aphrodite is named Common. The meaning of the tortoise and of the he-goat I leave to those who care to guess.  

What kind of connotations would “Pandemos” in the mids 80 BC? If that is, in fact, the reference. Certainly populist ones…

Update 8/23/13: Here’s a great study about what Pandemos might mean in a different community.  Those working on Cyprus have connected the Eros on Goat terracottas with the cult of Aphrodite/Astarte.  Muller took a different approach and associated this the ‘sport of Eros’ i.e. the motif of erotes playing with the attributes of other gods and other activities.  Thus he sees the coin as referring to the infancy of Zeus.  This is usually dismissed because the goat is male and Zeus’s goat was a nanny-goat.

A Real Gem


As you’ll know from my previous post on bullae (i.e. Hellenistic terracotta seals, the impressions of signet rings) I think that the connections between engraved gems and coins haven’t been adequately exploited. Gem collections are still far more under cataloged than coin collections, but in the digital revolution more and more are thankfully going online, sometimes pre-publication. This creates problems regarding how to search. What terms will bring up in the right results? I was looking to get a sense of how often trophies appear on seal rings and up popped the image above. Rudders as symbols of fortune are pretty common on seal rings, but that isn’t a trophy above it. The photo is poor but I definitely see Hercules’ club from the top of which emerges a caduceus. Those might be palm branches but ears of grain (corn for our British friends) are more (?) common on these types of seals and I’m going with poppies for fertility on either side and maybe a plow below the rudder. A real mash up of symbols, rich pickings for many a scholar, but not really find-able as it is currently listed. Google image and that major social media site we’re all addicted to now do image searches base on similarity and facial recognition. There is no marketability in such an academic application, but that type of search technology could revolutionize our visual databases. The computer-aided die-study, of course, being the most seductive allusive dream. As more and more visual data comes on line we’ll need to get better about how we can sort and access it.

At very least working more “wiki” functionality into our academic databases would allow random users to leave notes or comments that might aid the project as a whole.

Wider Contexts



I came across this image in my reading today and was immediately struck by the visual similarities with the Doson coin I posted about earlier.  How common is this image?  Not that common really.  Besides Doson, Magnetes of Thessaly has a similar type with Artemis:


And it is also a standard type of Histiaea in Euboia:


But that seems to be about it.  The publishers of the seal focus on the coins of Sidon, such as this:




OR this: 


Neither is really that close in design or style even if they show a figure on a ship. There might be a lost Sidonian type with a figure seated on just prow, but I suspect the inspiration for the design came from trade connections with the North.