Friday, October 17, 2008

Solomon, Socrates, and Aristotle at Pompeii

I just saw this on Jim Davila's site, Paleojudaica, and had to see the fresco and the archaeological discussion for myself here.

Evidently there is a fresco found in the House of the Physician at Pompeii of the famous scene from the Bible in which two women come to Solomon, each claiming that a particular baby is hers. Solomon decides the case by ordering the baby to be cut in half and for each woman to take a half. The false mother is ok with this. But the true mother cries out that she would rather let the other woman take the baby than for it to die.

In the fresco in the lower left-hand corner are two figures. Theodore Feder, the author of the article, claims that these two figures are Socrates and Aristotle. Therefore, we would see a fusion of ancient wisdom, between Hebrew and Greek, the most famous Greek philosophers and the most famous wise king of Israel.

The fresco is now at the Museo Nazionale in Napoli (Naples).

Who commissioned this fresco? Probably not early Christians--the dating is too close. The fresco would have to date to before Pompei was destroyed in 79 CE. Perhaps Jews or some God-fearers or some educated Italian / Roman who was familiar with several traditions and found the story very insightful or wise in some way. Feder tends toward educated Roman familar with the tradition found in Greek and Latin sources that treat the Jews as a race of philosophers.

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