Bible Archaeology

Ancient Church Mosaic With Symbol of Jesus Uncovered in Israel

Another magnificent archaeological discovery uncovered in the Holy Land:

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered intricate mosaics on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church, including one that bears a Christogram surrounded by birds.

The ruins were discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, a village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday (Jan. 22). Excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen said the team used an industrial digger to probe a mound at the site, and through a 10-foot (3 meters) hole, they could see the white tiles of an ancient mosaic.

Much of the church was revealed during excavations over the past month. The basilica was part of a local Byzantine settlement, but the archaeologists suspect it also served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities because it was next to the main road running between the ancient seaport city of Ashkelon in the west and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east. [See Images of a Byzantine Mosaic Discovered in Israel]

“Usually a Byzantine village had a church, but the size of this church and its placement on the road makes it more important,” Degen told LiveScience.

Remarkable finds

The excavators plan to keep working on the site for another week, but one of the most remarkable finds so far was a mosaic containing a Christogram, or a “type of monogram of the name of Jesus,” Degen said.

At the time, Byzantine Christians wouldn’t have put crosses on their mosaic floors so as to not step on the symbol of Christ, Degen explained. The Christogram in the mosaic may look like a cross, but it’s actually more like a “chi rho” symbol, which puts together the first two captial letters in the Greek word for Christ, and often looks like an X superimposed on a P. There is an alpha and omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) on either side of the chi rho, which is another Christian symbol, as Christ was often described as the “”the beginning and the end.” Four birds also decorate the mosaic, and two of them are holding up a wreath to the top of the chi rho.

Inside the 72-by-39-foot (22-by-12-meter) basilica, archaeologists also found marble pillars and an open courtyard paved with a white mosaic floor, said Daniel Varga, director of the IAA’s excavations.

Just off the courtyard, in the church’s narthex, or lobby area, there is “a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs” as well as a “twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” Varga said in a statement.

The mosaics in the main hall, or nave, meanwhile, are decorated with vine tendrils in the shape of 40 medallions, one of which contains the Christogram. Many of the other medallions contain botanical designs and animals such as a zebras, peacocks, leopards and wild boars, the excavators said. Three contain inscriptions commemorating two heads of the local regional church named Demetrios and Herakles.

Other discoveries

The archaeologists found traces of later occupation on top of the church, including early Islamic walls and Ottoman garbage pits. (Aluma is located near the Ottoman and later Palestinian village of Hatta.) The excavations also revealed Byzantine glass vessels and a pottery workshop for making amphoras, cooking pots, kraters, bowls and oil lamps, IAA officials said.

To avoid building over ancient sites, archaeologists are often brought in for salvage digs ahead of construction projects like this one, sometimes yielding stunning discoveries; for instance, a “cultic” temple and traces of a 10,000-year-old house were discovered at Eshtaol west of Jerusalem in preparation for the widening of a road. And during recent expansions of the main road connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, called Highway 1, excavators found a carving of a phallus from the Stone Age, a ritual building from the First Temple era and animal figurines dating back 9,500 years.

Regarding the new discoveries, the IAA plans to remove the mosaic for display at a regional museum or visitors’ center, and the rest of the site will be covered back up.

Haaretz also has the news with more pics:

Archaeological finds in Lachish

The IAA press release on the find is here.


Bible Archaeology

Samson Mosaic Discovered at Huqoq

Another one:

A Late Roman (fifth century) synagogue is being excavated at Huqoq a few miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee under the direction of Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The University of North Carolina News reports on the discovery here.

Last summer, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible’s Judges 15:4) was discovered in the synagogue’s east aisle. This summer, another mosaic was found that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Adjacent to Samson are riders with horses, apparently representing Philistines.Although he is not described as such in the Hebrew Bible, Samson is depicted as a giant in both scenes, reflecting later Jewish traditions that developed about the biblical judge and hero.

Samson carrying the gate of Gaza. Discovered at Huqoq.

Mosaic showing Samson carrying the gate of Gaza. Discovered at Huqoq. Photo by Jim Haberman, University of North Carolina.

The book of Judges records the visit of Samson to Gaza, one of the cities of the Philistines. Samson’s conduct is not exemplary. When the Gazites laid a plan to kill him, he carries out his own plan.

 But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron. (Judges 16:3 ESV)

The mosaics from Huqoq illustrate that the members of the synagogue there knew the exploits of Samson.


Bible Archaeology

Top 10 Israeli Ancient Mosaic Discoveries

A fantastic ancient floor found in the Negev is just the latest in a series of discoveries throughout the country.


The spectacular mosaic floor found in the Negev near Kibbutz Beit Kama is just the latest magnificent tiling discovery of ancient times in Israel.

There are dozens of these marvelous, meticulous creations, some almost 16 centuries old. Most of the mosaics were installed in ancient churches and synagogues. They tell Bible stories, extolled donors, beautified the experience of faith and even educated people.

The mosaics brim with human and animal figures…

When the first synagogue mosaic in the country was discovered (now on display at Beit Alpha National Park) in the 1920s, scholars were amazed to discover that it was full of human and animal images – ostensibly prohibited by the Second Commandment. But scholars now tell us that Jewish thought of the day allowed such depictions – as long as they were not going to be worshipped. Also, these images are part of a tradition stretching across the region in the Byzantine period, which spanned the fourth–seventh centuries.

You can arrange an entire tour of Israel centered on nothing but the mosaics. Here to help you out are ten of the best ever discovered in Israel…

Check them out here. There are photos and this video too:


Bible Archaeology

Ancient Mosaic Floor Found Near Kibbutz Bet Qamain, Israel

It’s Byzantine and it’s spectacular:

A magnificent 1,500-year-old mosaic floor has been uncovered by archeologists  near Kibbutz Beit Kama in the south, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced  Sunday.

The mosaic was the most outstanding find in a Byzantine-era village unearthed  in the Negev during a survey conducted prior to construction of a highway.

The village, which thrived from the 4th through 6th centuries C.E.,  encompassed about six dunams – or an acre and a half – and was discovered under  the fields of the kibbutz. Among the finds was a public building measuring 12  meters by 8.5 meters (about 40 feet by 26 feet) containing the mosaic floor.  Archaeologists assume the building was a public one due to its size and relative  opulence.

The colorful mosaic includes geometric motifs and features amphorae – wine  containers— in the corners, as well as a pair of peacocks and a pair of doves  pecking at grapes on grapevines. The combination of so many motifs in one mosaic  is unusual, say Israel Antiquities Authority officials.

The building also features a system of water channels, pipes and water pools.

The site, situated on an ancient road that led north from Be’er Sheva, apparently included a large estate with a church, residential buildings, storerooms, a large water cistern, a public building and agricultural fields equipped with irrigation pools. One building appears to have served as a hostel for travelers passing through the area, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority…

The official IAA press release with more photos is here.


Bible Archaeology

Samson Mosaic Excavated in Galilee Synagogue

Monumental synagogue building discovered in excavations in Galilee:

A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman period (ca. 4th-5th centuries C.E.) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel’s Galilee.

The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig.

Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). Thissecond season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15). In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refersto rewards for those who performgood deeds.

“This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq),” said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue’s walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly.”

Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2013.



Prison Makes Way for the Holy Land’s Oldest Church

The Biblical Archaeology Society reports:

Despite the great deal of fanfare surrounding its discovery, the third century C.E. Christian prayer hall discovered at Megiddo looks like anything but an archaeological tourist site. Likely the oldest church ever found in the Holy Land, it is located under the Megiddo prison, leading the spectacular discovery to be covered up again until the site can be developed properly. Plans have been made to relocate the prison just over a mile to the west, but the construction of a tourist site around the church has not yet begun. An international tender seeking out an investor to construct and manage the tourist site is expected this week, and will serve as a major step in making the site available to the public. Project manager Gad Yaakov expects 500,000 tourists to visit the site in the first year alone, and expects the numbers to rise over the following years. Bids on developing the site for tourists must be submitted by June 5.

The structure featured mosaics with Christian symbols such as fish and a dedicatory inscription “to God Jesus Christ.” Dated to around 230 C.E., the find was considered important enough to Israel President Moshe Katsav that when he visited Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in November 2005, he took pictures of the newly discovered mosaic floor with him to present to the pontiff.

This mosaic from the Megiddo Prison Church is one step closer to the public eye. This week’s expected tender for development bids is a major step in creating what will surely become a major Biblical and archaeological tourist site.

Read more about the tender for development.


Bible Archaeology

Largest Mosaic Discovered in Antioch

The largest mosaic discovered to date in Turkey has been unearthed in the ancient city of Antioch. The mosaic measures 9,150 square feet (850 sq m) and will be preserved within the hotel being constructed on the site. Antioch, located in southeastern Turkey today, was the home of a significant first-century church that sent Paul out on his three missionary journeys (cf. Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-3).

The construction of the hotel is still continuing under the protection and controls of museum officials, said Yastı. The officials constantly control the drilling process and preserve the new artifacts unearthed, she added. The 850-square-meter mosaic is not damaged and in very good condition, she said, adding that it is the first time a mosaic like this has been unearthed in Turkey.

There was also a 3,000-square-meter marble floor discovered during the drilling process, she said, adding that the construction process never damaged the artifacts.

Businessman Necmi Asfuroğlu who owns the construction project said they did not want to damage the artifacts discovered during construction. There will be a 17,000-square-meter museum to exhibit those artifacts, he added. The hotel, on the other hand, will have 200 rooms.

The full article is here