Israel: Ancient Vase Showing Greek Gods Discovered in Biblical Site Where Jesus May Have Performed Miracles

The Parthenon in Athens, built to honor the Greek goddess Athena. Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Archaeologists in northern Israel discovered an ancient Italian vase featuring an image originally found on the Parthenon in Athens. The location where it was unearthed was once the biblical kingdom of Geshur, according to Haaretz. The site might also correspond to a second biblical location—a mysterious town referenced in the New Testament.

The archaeologists discovered the ceramic artifact at e-Tell, which sits about a mile north of the Sea of Galilee. E-Tell is among the leading contenders to be the original site of the biblical town Bethsaida, purportedly the hometown of apostles Philip, Andrew and Peter, according to Haaretz.

Jesus was believed to have not only visited Bethsaida, but to have performed miracles there, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Researchers have claimed to have pinpointed Bethsaida's location for certain in the past, but have been dogged by claims of sensationalism, according to National Geographic. No one has yet proven the town's location beyond reasonable doubt.

Archaeologists uncover pottery with #Parthenon scene in #Biblical village "The myths represented...all allude to myths of Greek or Western victories over foreign or monstrous enemies such as the centaurs," says @DMendelsohn1960

— Philippe Bohstrom (@PhilippeBostrom) January 16, 2018

The vase itself is "richly decorated" and approximately 2,300 years old, according to Haaretz. It depicts the birth of Athena, the Greek goddess of war and wisdom for whom the city of Athens was named. The Parthenon was built in her honor.

In the scene, Greek deities watch Athena emerging, fully grown and fully armed, from the head of her father Zeus. According to Greek mythology, Zeus had swallowed her pregnant mother after an oracle warned him that the offspring might bring him harm. This resulted in Zeus getting a very bad headache; his son Hephaestus helpfully split his father's head open to relieve the pressure, whereupon Athena emerged. (In a similar story line, Zeus's son Dionysus, god of wine and generally having a good time, was born from Zeus's thigh).

The vase was discovered several years ago, but only recently were archaeologists able to finally distinguish the Parthenon scene with imaging software, according to Haaretz. It's unclear how such an artifact made its way to Geshur, and potentially to Bethsaida.

It's exceedingly rare to locate a surviving copy of artwork from the Parthenon. Finding southern Italian-style pottery (not widely manufactured and rarely decorated to begin with) on the shores of Israel depicting a scene from the Greek Parthenon is unprecedented, according to Haaretz. Before this discovery, the only other known surviving copy of a scene from the Parthenon was found in Greece, not far from Athens.

"Few buildings in the history of architecture have been as ferociously ideological in design and decoration as the Parthenon," Daniel Mendelsohn, a professor of humanities at Bard College, told Haaretz. "Everything about it...bespeaks a desire on the part of the builders to underscore Athenian political, military and ideological supremacy."