Biblical Archaeology Review 38:6, November/December 2012


Saida, Lebanon

This remarkably lifelike, 7-inch-tall bronze right hand dating to sometime in the first centuries C.E. was crafted to capture every detail of the human hand, from the slight curvatures of the palm and fingers to the delicate skin creases around the finger joints and wrist. According to the Greek inscription incised on the forearm, the hand was dedicated by “Zenon and Nikousa” who “made a vow” and “received satisfaction.”

Although the exact archaeological context of the find is unknown (it was discovered during a 19th-century French expedition to Saida [Biblical Sidon] in modern Lebanon), the inscription, together with the hand’s exceptional craftsmanship, suggest Zenon and Nikousa set up the hand, possibly in a temple or house of healing, as a votive offering to a deity who had answered their prayers.

Why the two chose a hand as an offering remains a mystery. In the Greco-Roman world, such “anatomical votives” were often given as offerings to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, for having cured an illness or injury to a particular body part. In the Biblical and Semitic traditions, however, the right hand had more solemn associations and was typically given to guarantee oaths and seal contracts.

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