Does a Hercules sculpture point to ancient Jewish paganism?
They find the answer is not so simple. The story of Hercules’ labors was well known throughout the ancient Hellenistic world. In fact, one of them was the key to identifying the Hippos-Sussita Hercules sculpture. As the myth goes, the first of Hercules’ labors was to slay the vicious Nemean lion. After accomplishing that feat, Hercules skinned the lion and wore its hide as a cape in a signature knot. Seeing a cape tied at the neck of the stucco in this special Hercules knot alerted the experts that this was in fact a Hercules sculpture.
During the Hellenistic period, however, some Jews and pagans lived among each other—sometimes in neighboring villages or even together in the same city. Such was the case in some parts of Israel and the Galilee.
So, just a few miles from Tiberias, the center of the Sanhedrin and all things Jewish, paganism seems to have had a strong presence at Hippos-Sussita, reflected in the mythical imagery that decorated the local bathhouse.
Read more about this and another Hercules sculpture, Hercules’ labors and the possibility of Jewish paganism in Arthur Segal and Michael Eisenberg’s article “Hercules in Galilee,” Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2011.
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