Christian Archaeology in 2021: More Than Just the Four Horsemen

Ruth Schuster
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Jesus' miracle of the fish, the Burnt Church mosaic, Hippos-Sussita
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Biblical archaeology, once dedicated mainly to validating scripture, has taken a more fact-driven form, though sometimes archaeologists tap writings of faith to explain finds, such as in the case of the putative Bethsaida.

But sometimes the finds indicate just how much of what we assumed we got wrong, like when we learned about the rise of female deacons at a major basilica in Ashkelon.

Among the most intriguing discoveries in Christian archaeology in Israel in 2021, we find:

On the shores of the Sea of Galilee
The real Bethsaida – is this it?
Aerial of Area A with the southern, western and northern walls of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles together with the inundated squares of previous seasons with Roman period remains
Aerial of el-Araj showing the southern, western and northern walls of the Byzantine Church of the Apostles and inundated squares of previous seasons with Roman period remains Credit: Achia Kohn-Tavor

There are competing sites, but the recent discovery of a large early church by the shores of the Sea of Galilee may be a game changer. Yet something strange happened to that church.

Sacrilege, or serendipity
Dedicated by who?
Greek inscription from a church reused in a family home mentions 'Christ born of Mary'
Greek inscription from a church reused in a family home mentions 'Christ born of Mary'Credit: Tzachi Lang / Israel Antiquities Authority

A family built a home 1,500 years ago, repurposing an extraordinary dedication stone, which read: to “Christ born of Mary” from the “miserable Thomas.” And this was found how? When building a road, of course.

Lechaim
Fruity with hints of floral bouquet and cat pee?
The winemaking complex at Tel Yavneh
The winemaking complex at Tel YavnehCredit: Assaf Perez / IAA

This is not just a Byzantine wine factory. This was the Byzantine wine factory.

Cherchez les qui??
And what are mass burials doing in the older graves?
Aerial view of mosaics in the Byzantine basilica in Ashdod
Aerial view of mosaics in the Byzantine basilica in Ashdod Credit: Slava Pirsky and Sergey Alon

Mais oui, the Byzantine Church may not have been as male-dominated as is assumed.

Seek and ye shall find:
Byzantine remains in Tel Aviv suburb
The archaeological excavation in Ramat Hasharon.
Remains of an unknown Byzantine farm in Ramat Hasharon.Credit: Yoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

Jerusalem is all the rage and has been for centuries, millennia, but the fact is, the Byzantines were in greater Tel Aviv as well, not that anybody had looked there before.

Women, wine and -
For want of a nail, seriously
European-style horseshoe nail
European-style horseshoe nail Credit: Clara Amit / IAA

Moving on to the Middle Ages, we know there were Crusades devoted to the recapture of the Holy Land from the Muslims. Yet not one Crusader army camp had ever been found – and then at one key spot, an Israeli researcher noticed an odd abundance of horseshoe nails.

Attack!
Meanwhile, in a Crusader castle in central Israel
The inscribed ballista ball found at Arsuf with a detail of the text
The inscribed ballista ball found at Arsuf with a detail of the textCredit: Apollonia-Arsuf Excavation Project

And it came to pass that the Mamluks rained down ballista balls on the Crusader castle with a view of the Mediterranean Sea at Arsuf, and one of them had a message on board.

Or don't attack
Going, going … splash
Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority holds a sword that experts say dates back to the Crusaders, Today in Cesarea
Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority with the sword that experts say dates to the Crusaders.Credit: Ariel Schalit/ AP

A sword found a couple of hundred meters off the Israeli coast didn’t swim there on its own, and the Muslims didn’t sail to the Holy Land.

Good-bye
Armageddon, the tourism park
Night falls on Tell Megiddo
Night falls on Tell MegiddoCredit: Ariel David

And when the story is done, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will arrive, thundering on their divine steeds over the hills – presumably in the Galilee – and maybe at this spot. Unless Israel destroys it first.

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