An ‘eye’ for antiquities

Largess offers official replicas of some of Israel’s ancient treasures

good shepherd311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
good shepherd311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s always fascinating to visit the home of an antiquities expert.
Mounted on tables and shelves, resting in alcoves and on window sills, Iddo Katz, an Israeli archeologist and veteran tour guide, has some of his favorite artifacts from a lifelong pursuit of his nation’s glorious past on display.
Amid the ancient clay jars and lamps, the forged iron weapons and tools, one piece stood out – a bronze wine decanter in the shape of a woman that would normally grace the masthead of a ship.
With a bright green hue and well-defined shape, it easily caught the eye. Katz said it came from a first-century Roman shipwreck off the coast of Caesarea.
This truly nautical gem belonged to the captain, no doubt.
Katz indeed has an ‘eye’ for antiquities, and is trying to put it to good use in the service of his country through the new Web-based venture “Largess” [].
Having enjoyed a long relationship with the Israel Antiquities Authority, Katz knew it has been trying to market replicas of important relics found in Israel, and offered to help broaden that effort. Two years ago, he formed Largess after signing an exclusive deal with the Antiquities Authority to produce and market replicas of significant artifacts found in the Holy Land.
To help in the effort, he brought in Yael Dvir-Perry, who has several degrees in design, culture and history, including a doctorate from the University of London in Comparative Cultures. Perry has been particularly focused on learning about ancient handcrafts which involve skills handed from one generation to the next, such as the work of Yemenite metal smiths, Armenian tile painters, and various styles of wood carving.
Besides web design and management, her roles at Largess include liaising with the Antiquities Authority to identify artifacts to be replicated and then locating artisans to carry out the work. Her unique creative talents and extensive knowledge of past cultures serve the new venture well.
Both Katz and Perry are driven by both religious and ideological c o n c e r n s , including a desire to see Jewish-Christian relations flourish.
“We want to allow Christians to take home a piece of their ‘roots’ here in the Land of Israel,” said Katz. “We have the same roots. We’re not digging up the Aztecs here; this is our shared biblical heritage. Whatever you unearth will be either Old Testament or New Testament.”
“I’m a Zionist and a believer in the Bible, and I joined this venture to promote the values of Scripture and love of the Land of Israel,” added Perry. “This is the idea behind our effort – to bring Christians and Israelis together.”
The Largess site offers an array of Judaica and Holy Land products for Christians interested in engaging with Israel and the Jewish people, including such familiar items as shofars, prayer shawls and mezuzahs. But it also offers something unique – replicas of archeological finds in the Land of Israel which have become the property of the State. A special committee of the IAA decides on both the historical items to be reproduced and the local artists and craftsmen assigned to make them, all with the input of Katz and Perry.
These replicas of select antiquities are then made by fine artists and craftsmen in Israel who are carrying on the traditional skills and styles handed down for generations. The results combine the best of ancient craftsmanship and modern creativity.
And each item comes with an official IAA certification.
In this way, the initiative advances a core goal of the Antiquities Authority: “We are but a point in time in the historical continuum, and it is our duty to continue and bequest this heritage to generations to come.”
Some of the items available from Largess include a replica of the statue of the Good Shepherd. Dating to the 4th Century CE, the original of this Byzantine-era marble statue was found in Gaza and is today exhibited at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
The image of a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders is one of the earliest Christian motifs, based on Jesus’ parable of the shepherd who searches for a lost sheep and “lays it on to his shoulder, rejoicing." (Luke 15:5) Another find selected for replication was a traditional pilgrim’s flask dating back to the 6th Century CE which depicts the Annunciation to Mary of Jesus’s birth. An inscription on this well-preserved flask quotes from the salutation of Luke 1:28: “Hail, thou art highly favored, the Lord is with thee.”
Such an ampullae would be given to Christian pilgrims at various holy sites to be worn around the neck, and contained either oil from lamps that burned in local shrines or water drawn from such revered sources as the Jordan River.
F i n a l l y , Largess has replicated an historic stone anchor measuring 22 by 18 inches which was discovered in the ancient anchorage of Yavneh. It was probably used on a small fishing or trading vessel in the 5th–6th centuries CE which was owned by a Christian. The engraved stone slab was originally part of a church iconostasis (a low wall decorated with Christian symbols) that separated the main assembly hall from the altar in the center of the church. After becoming redundant, it was modified by a local fisherman or trader to serve as an anchor.
There are two crosses engraved in the anchor, which itself is a well-known Christian symbol for hope and stability. The original anchor is on display at the National Maritime Museum in Haifa.