The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the finding of an ancient church in Israel. The Byzantine church was discoverd 20 kms southwest of Jerusalem in the Judean Hills in a place known as Hirbet Madras.
Archaeologists discovered the ruins after looters disturbed the ground while looking for antiquities to sell in the black market. The area was already under going salvage excavation as developers planned to use the land to construct a new neighbourhood for Moshav Aluma.
It was initially thought the building (72′ by 40′) was a synagogue, but carved crosses began popping up on the stone work indicating a church. The size suggests it was the main Christian worship centre for the region.
The church was probably built between the fifth and sixth century and they suspect destroyed in the 8th century during an earthquake that hit the region.
The builders had constructed the church on top of an older building which they estimated was built 500 years earlier. The area was the site of a Jewish community centuries earlier.
Only parts of the original structure remain, but the floor featured an intact elaborate mosaic. The mosaic in the main hall features images of animals such as zebra, fox, boars, fish and chicken. It also had a dedicatory inscription that included the name of Jesus and Mary and the name of the benefactor who financed the church’s construction.
Amir Ganor of the IAA who is part of the dig said it was “one of the most beautiful mosaics to be uncovered in Israel in recent years. It is unique in its craftsmanship and level of preservation.”
But there were a couple of puzzling aspects about the church.
First there were the intricately carved marble columns imported from Turkey lining one wall. This suggested there was something more significant here than a church.
Secondly, they found an ancient tomb beneath the structure with steps leading down to it. The tomb was obviously included as part of the original church building. Archaeologists speculate that this was the tomb of the prophet Zechariah which explained the elaborate construction and mosaic above.
There was also an extensive tunnel system located below the church. Archaeologists believe the tunnels were part of the older Jewish building on which the church was built.
Jewish rebels may have used the tunnels in the second century rebellion against the Romans. It was this rebellion that led to the Romans destroying the Jewish temple in 70 AD.
A bit on Zechariah
Zechariah was a prophet during the rebuilding of the Temple under Haggai (Zechariah 1:1, Haggai 1:1).
His family was part of the group who King Cyrus of Persia allowed to return to Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple under Nehemiah and Ezra.
Zechariah — mentioned in both Ezra 5:1 and in Nehemiah 12:16 — was a prophet and priest. The Book of Zechariah features his unique visions. In many of them he provides a glimpse into the spiritual realm revealing what was actually taking place during this remarkable time in Israel’s history.
While significant events were occurring in the natural, equally powerful things were taking place in the spiritual which paved the way for the Jews successful return to the land of their ancestors.
I discussed one of his unique visions in my article What the Devil sees.