BR 16:05, Oct 2000
Who defeated this Jewish art?
The delicate carving on the side of the sarcophagus depicts Zeus, in the guise of a swan, graphically forcing himself on the Spartan queen Leda. The scene is one of the best known in ancient Greek mythology, so its appearance on a sarcophagus should be no surprise. This particular sarcophagus, however, comes not from ancient Greece or Rome, but from the vast Jewish burial chambers at Beth Shearim, in Lower Galilee. Numerous rabbis and their relatives were buried here in the third and fourth centuries C.E. Even Rabbi Judah the Prince, the compiler of the great Jewish code of law, the Mishnah, is interred here. What is such a blatantly sexual image, featuring the head of the pagan pantheon, doing in this Jewish cemetery?