An ancient holy amulet dating back more than 1,500 years has been handed in to Israeli authorities.
The mysterious bronze pendant, which bears Greek etchings, is meant to have magical powers that ward off "demons" and "the evil eye".
Believed to be from the Byzantine period around the "fifth or sixth century", it features a man with a halo on galloping horse while thrusting a spear into what appears to be a woman lying on her back.
Greek inscriptions translates to "the one god who conquers evil" and the letters "I A W Θ", meaning Yahweh, the national god of Ancient Israel.
On the reverse it includes an eye pierced by arrows and a forked object, while two lions, a snake, a scorpion and a bird threaten it from below. The back also features the Greek words for "one god".
For the last 40 years, it had been guarded by late town leader Tova Haviv in Arbel – more than 110 miles north of Israeli capital Jerusalem.
But it was donated to the country's National Treasures Centre by Haviv's family after his death.
“The amulet is part of a group of fifth–sixth-century CE amulets from the Levant that were probably produced in the Galilee and Lebanon," said Dr Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit.
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"This group of amulets is sometimes called ‘Solomon’s Seal’ and the rider is depicted overcoming the evil spirit – in this case, a female identified with the mythological figure Gello/Gyllou, who threatens women and children and is associated with the evil eye.
"The eye on the reverse is identifiable as the evil eye, being attacked and vanquished by various means. The amulet was therefore probably used to guard against the evil eye, possibly to protect women and children.”
During the Byzantine period, Arbel was a Jewish settlement with a thriving linen-production industry. It has been cited in several religious Hebrew texts, with many sages visiting and teaching there.
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“Although scholars generally identify the wearers of such amulets as Christians or Gnostics, the fact that the amulet was found within a Jewish settlement containing a synagogue in the fifth–sixth centuries CE may indicate that even Jews of the period wore amulets of this type for protection against the evil eye and demons,” said Dr Klein.
“I wish to thank the amulet’s donor for demonstrating good citizenship and I appeal to anyone who has previously found ancient artefacts to hand them over to the National Treasures Center, since objects of this kind tell the story of Israel’s history and heritage and they belong to all Israel’s citizens, both legally and in terms of their cultural value.”
According to Hebrew folklore, Jews believed the evil eye from a person or supernatural being could bewitch or harm people just by looking at them.
The unveiling comes as Israel announced a ceasefire with Palestine militant group Hamas last week following 11 days of deadly conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Since fighting broke out on May 10, 254 Palestinians have been killed, including 66 children, while more than 1,900 have been wounded.
At least 12 Israelis, including two children, have died in rocket attacks by Hamas and other armed groups.
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