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The Holy Rider and Other Amulets


The image of the Holy Rider is an outstanding example of the syncretism that prevailed in the first centuries of the Common Era, when concepts and beliefs originating in disparate cultures were fused together and absorbed by different faiths. The image of a man on horseback, his head encircled by a halo, stabbing a female demon (Lilith) with a lance was familiar to people of many faiths. When this image was adopted by Christianity, a cross was added to the tip of the lance, and the image began to appear with scenes of a clearly Christian nature.

The motif of the Holy Rider was popular in Byzantine times on bronze pendants and finger rings, sometimes appearing together with the Greek inscription: "One God Who Conquers Evil." Occasionally the rider is identified by name: Solomon, St. Sissinios, or in rare instances St. George, the martyr associated with the city of Lod, whose depiction as man on horseback killing a dragon is familiar until today.

The Holy Rider on a steatite mold used for casting metal tokens
The second scene portrays Mary and the infant Jesus, with an angel opposite them.
Provenance unknown, 6th century
Collection of Shlomo Moussaieff, Herzlya
Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/ by Avraham Hay


Words of Salvation

Words or simply the letters of the alphabet were believed to contain blessings. The power of the written word is evident in the fixed formulas of blessings, wishes, and requests for aid that accompany the gifts to the various religious institutions and objects with magical significance. Like the visual images, the written words also attest to variety of sources from which Christianity drew its symbols.

Certain biblical verses, which the Christians interpreted as prefigurations of the appearance of Jesus and the events of his life, were extensively quoted on amulets. The first verses of Psalm 91 (Psalm 90 in the Septuagint), which deal with salvation, were particularly common: "O you who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the protection of Shaddai... He will save you from the fowler's trap... A thousand may fall at your left side, ten thousand at your right, but it shall not reach you..."

Metal pendant-amulet bearing the first letters of Psalm 91
The other side has a depiction of the Holy Rider.
Tomb at Gush Halav, Upper Galilee, 6th-5th century
Israel Antiquities Authority, M.1028
Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/ by Avraham Hay

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