Photo courtesy Scala/Art Resource, NY

Pleading for her baby’s life, a woman kneels at the feet of King Solomon and relinquishes her claim to the contested child, thus identifying herself as the real mother of the infant in 1 Kings 3:16–28. Nearby a soldier prepares to follow the king’s order to cut the baby in two, while another woman, also claiming to be the mother, stands ready to take her half.

This Roman wall painting from the House of the Physician in Pompeii is the earliest known depiction of a Biblical scene—a surprising find in a city better known for its brothels and erotic art than its religious paintings. So who was the person that commissioned this painting: a Jew, a Christian or a gentile?