Israeli archaeologists on Christmas Eve unearthed an impressive marble statue of a ram they believe may have been meant to represent the faithful, or Jesus himself.
Found in the ancient port city of Caesarea near a Byzantine church, the well-preserved statue represents a rather common image in Christian art.
"In ancient Christianity Jesus was not portrayed as a person. Instead, symbols were used, one of which was the ram," Peter Gendelman and Mohammad Hater, directors of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.
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According to the archaeologists, the statue might have been part of the decoration of a Byzantine church from the sixth to seventh centuries AD.
"By the same token it could also be earlier, from the Roman period, and was incorporated in secondary use in the church structure," Gendelman and Hater said.
Appearing alongside the Greek gods Hermes and Mercury, the ram was often used in Roman art. It was also portrayed in Egyptian mythology as a representation of the god Amun.
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In Christian imagery, the animal is often depicted carried on the shoulders of the "Good Shepherd," that is, Jesus, and sometimes the animal is situated to the left or right of Jesus.
"It may or may not be a coincidence, but the statue was uncovered on Christmas Eve," Gendelman and Hater said.
Image: The ram statue. Credit: Vered Sarig, The Caesarea Development Corporation