Byzantine church and mosaic floor uncovered in Israel

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Archaeologists working for the Israel Antiquities Authority have announced they have discovered the remains of a 1500-year-old Byzantine church that was believed to have been the final resting place of an ancient Jewish prophet.

A large and beautiful mosaic floor and a church were uncovered in excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Hirbet Madras, which lies southwest of Jerusalem. In recent months an archaeological excavation was conducted at Hirbet Madras in the wake of an antiquities theft during which robbers attempted to breach and plunder an ancient underground complex.

In the last two months, the archaeologists have excavated a small Byzantine basilica, which was used between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D.  It includes the remains of a mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks.

Amir Ganor, the excavation superviosr, told the Associated Press that the floor floor 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.”

Researchers who visited the site are of the opinion that the site is the residence and tomb of the prophet Zechariah. Ancient Christian sources identified the burial place of the prophet Zechariah in the village of Zechariah, and noted that his place of burial was discovered in 415 CE. The researchers believe that in light of an analysis of the Christian sources, including the Madaba Map, the church at Hirbet Madras is a memorial church designed to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah.

The site in which the church was discovered appears to have had a previous life as a Jewish settlement during the Roman period, and may have a secret base for Jewish rebels fighting Roman rule in the second century AD. The underground complex a large number of tunnels, rooms, water installations, traps and store rooms.

Among the artifacts discovered were coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various pottery vessels that are characteristic of the Jewish population from the community at that time.

The site will be recovered with soil in about a week, but officials might reopen it if funding emerges to establish it as a tourist site.

Sources: Government of Israel, NPR

Sharan Newman