The Earliest Biblical Painting?

Is this it?It comes from a house in Pompeii (buried by volcanic ash in 79 AD) and is believed to show Biblical scene of the Judgement of Solomon.

Bible History Daily has the whole story. Theodore Feder writes:

In the building known as the House of the Physician, excavators found a wall painting clearly depicting King Solomon seated on a raised tribunal and flanked by two counselors. As described in the Bible, two women have come to the Israelite monarch, each claiming to be the mother of the same infant. When Solomon orders the baby to be divided in half, the real mother, shown at the foot of the dais, pleads with him to spare the child and announces her willingness to relinquish her claim. The other woman is shown standing by the butcher block on which the infant has been placed. As a soldier raises an axe to do the king’s bidding, she seizes what she believes will be her portion, saying, according to the Biblical text, “Let it be neither mine, nor thine, but divide it.” It is obvious who the real mother is. The child is given to her unharmed as soldiers and observers look on, marveling at Solomon’s wisdom (1 Kings 3:16–28).

The wall painting has now been removed and is on exhibit at the Museo Nazionale in Naples. While it is therefore well known to scholars, it has not previously been noted that this is the earliest depiction of a full-fledged Biblical scene known to us!

Was the painting commissioned by a Jew, an early Christian, a so-called God-fearer (gentiles who adopted many Jewish customs and beliefs, but did not converta) or simply an educated Roman?

There is good evidence that Jews lived in Pompeii. Kosher brands of the locally popular fish sauces were packed there and appropriately labeled Kosher Garum and Kosher Muria (garum castum, muria casta).1 A two-word inscription, Sodoma Gomora, also survives from a house front in Pompeii and may have been written by a Jew or, less likely, by an early Christian, either before the eruption of Vesuvius or by a digger soon afterwards. It is perhaps more affecting to imagine its having been hastily written in the midst of the eruption by someone who analogized the town’s impending fate with that of the two doomed Biblical cities.

Almost as intriguing is the big-head-style Socrates and Aristotle at the lower lefthand corner, intended to draw a connection between the wisdom of Solomon and the Greek philosophers.

Socrates and Aristotle

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  • Joshua Tilghman

    Interesting. Does this hint to the fact that the Bible has more to do with ancient philosophies that we have been led to believe?

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    I’m really not sure what you mean. The influence of ANE texts on the Bible has been studied for over a century. The influence of the Greeks was never NOT known. It is clear from the deuterocanonicals onward, with clear Greek influence on books like Wisdom and Sirach, and always acknowledged from the time of the New Testament on. Both Jesus and Paul spoke to Greeks, and John shows the influence of Greek thought in the language he uses for his gospel. So, I’m not quite sure what you’ve been “led to believe” about the intersection of Jews/Christians and the surrounding civilizations, but we’ve more or less always known about it, from the time of Philo and the Church fathers, through the Middle Ages, and into modern times.