Leu Numismatik
Leu Numismatik, Auction 7

Celtic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval and Islamic coins featuring the Aur...

Part 1: Sa, 24.10.2020, from 02:00 PM CEST
Part 2: Su, 25.10.2020, from 02:00 PM CET
The auction is closed.


UNCERTAIN EAST. Levantine region or Egypt, circa 3rd-4th centuries. Gnostic Amulet (Silver, 32 mm, 8.09 g, 12 h). Abrasax, double-winged, standing facing, his hands ending in four scorpions and his feet in serpents; he has two bearded heads of which the upper one has giant ears and wears a nimbus decorated with two crabs; to left, monogram of MIΘPAΣ (Mithras); to right, monogram of IAⲰ (Jahwe). Rev. Hebrew legend in nine lines. Unpublished and unique. A tremendously important piece and of the greatest religio-historical interest. Beautifully engraved and with a carefully placed and very well readable legend enhanced by deliberately uncleaned reddish deposits. Mount broken off at 12 o'clock and the flan slightly wavy near the edge, otherwise, nearly extremely fine.

From the collection of a British Antiques dealer, privately purchased in the 1970s.

Gnostic amulets of Abrasax were produced mostly in the form of hardstone gems and small lead pendants, the latter of which were undoubtedly worn by the lower classes, where the worship of the daimon enjoyed great popularity. This was certainly not the case with present piece, as it was carefully engraved into a large silver flan, which gave it considerable financial value. However, what makes this amulet really stand out is the complex obverse iconography and reverse legend! On the obverse, Abrasax is shown in the form of an Anguiped with the double-wings of a Cherub and with his feet ending in serpents like the giants of Greek mythology. His bearded double-head wears a nimbus decorated with two crabs (Gr. καρκίνοι ), the fourth astrological sign in the Zodiac, while his large ears characterize Abrasax as a listening god (Gr. ἐπήκοος ), who answers the prayers of his believers. The monograms to the left and right of the daimon, on the other hand, are those of Mithras, the eastern mystery sun god, and Jahwe, the biblical God of Israel.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this amulet, however, is the reverse legend, which cites the beginning of the Book of Genesis or Bereshit (Heb. בְּרֵאשִׁית ) in Hebrew, albeit leaving out the fourth verse ('And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness'): see image 2.

The appearance of the Genesis in ancient Hebrew on the reverse clearly is of the utmost religio-historical importance. It evidently places this amulet in the Jewish context and shows to what degree Gnosticism incorporated various contemporary ideas and belief systems. It was a multifaceted religion characterized by the syncretism of Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology and philosophy, Mithraism, Judaism and early Christianity. As with any secret mystery religion, we unfortunately have little understanding of its teachings, which were not revealed to outsiders and are hence shrouded in darkness. What we do know is that the various forms of Gnosticism in general and the worship of Abrasax in particular enjoyed great popularity in the eastern Roman provinces in the 2nd to 4th centuries. One of the most influential teachers of Gnosticism was Basilides of Alexandria (circa 85-145), to whom Abrasax was the 'great archon' and the first of the 365 Gnostic Aeons. It is indicative that the name Abrasax adds up to 365, the amount of days in a solar year, in Greek isopsephy (Α = 1, Β = 2, Ρ = 100, Α = 1, Σ = 200, Α = 1, Ξ = 60, thus: 1+2+100+1+200+1+60 = 365), thus revealing the daimon as an annual god of time. Basilides' followers believed, among other things, that Abrasax sent Christ as a ghost to the world, which lead to sharp refutations by Early Church Fathers such as Hippolytus of Rome, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea.

Having said that, the letter forms and the monograms on our amulet date it to a somewhat later era, i.e. to the 3rd-4th centuries, when the cult of Mithras was particularly widespread throughout the empire and rivaled with early Christianity. The appearance of the beginning of the Book of Genesis, in fluent Hebrew, on the reverse is a strong indication that it was produced for a member of the upper Jewish classes, most likely in Alexandria or one of the other cosmopolitan cities in the East harboring Jewish communities. Since the 2nd century CE, most Jews began abandoning the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, as it was deemed an improper interpretation of the original Hebrew Bible canon, which perhaps only now received its final form. Thus, the use of Hebrew rather than Greek on our amulet fits well into the overall Jewish traditionalist trend of late antiquity. Clearly its owner must have been multicultural, however, and mesmerized by the appeal of Gnosticism: the combination of a Gnostic daimon with the monograms of the sun god Mithras and the God of the Bible as well as with the beginning of the Genesis in Hebrew is a fascinating testimony to the unprejudiced, yet characteristic syncretism of Gnosticism. Perhaps this magnificent silver amulet was used in the initiation of a wealthy Jewish citizen into the secret mysteries of Abrasax, and later worn by that believer as his personal protective pendant.

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Price realized 22'000 CHF
Starting price 16'000 CHF
Estimate 20'000 CHF
The auction is closed.
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