Impressive Byzantine Church Discovered in Tiberias


Impressive Byzantine Church Discovered in Tiberias

Impressive Byzantine Church Discovered in Tiberias
The Israel Antiquities Authority’s [IAA’s] excavations in Tiberias has exposed a Byzantine church paved with polychrome mosaics decorated with geometric patterns and dedicatory inscriptions. In one of the inscriptions is the text: “Our Lord, protect the soul of your servant…†(Our Lord=Jesus). The discovery, in the heart of the ancient Jewish city, refutes the theory that the Jews of Tiberias prevented Christians from establishing a church in the middle of their neighborhood.

In excavations carried out by the IAA in Tiberias, impressive and unique finds were uncovered that shed light on the history of the ancient city. The excavations were conducted over the last three months at the request of Mekorot, as part of a project that involves the installation of a sewage pipeline and the transfer of the waste water treatment facility from Tiberias to the southern part of the Sea of Galilee.

The finds date from the founding of Tiberias in the first century BC until the 11th century, when the city was abandoned due to an earthquake, wars, and dire economic and security conditions. In the lower part of the city, the Byzantine church (from the fourth to fifth centuries BC), paved with magnificent polychrome mosaics decorated with geometric patterns and crosses, was exposed.

Three dedicatory inscriptions written in ancient Greek are incorporated in the mosaics. In one of the inscriptions, which were deciphered by Dr. Leah Di Signi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the line: “Our Lord, protect the soul of your servant…†(Our Lord=Jesus). One of the mosaics is adorned with a medallion, in which there is a large cross flanked by the letters alpha and omega, which are one of the monograms for Jesus (alpha to omega means A to Z in Greek).

The church’s remains were discovered adjacent to ancient public buildings, among them a basilica, bathhouse, streets, and shops that were exposed at the site in the past. Dr. Moshe Hartal and Edna Amos, the directors of the excavation on behalf of the IAA, stated that this is the most ancient church to be uncovered in Tiberias and the only one that has been found in the center of the city.

According to Dr. Hartal, from 427 BC the Church issued a decree prohibiting the placement of crosses in mosaic floors in order to prevent them from being stepped on. “The presence of so many crosses in the floors of the church that was exposed here thus confirms the church dates to the period prior to the ban,†he said.

In addition, the remains of a Jewish neighborhood that dates to the 10th–11th centuries were discovered in the excavations. These remains extend up to the foot of the cliff in the high part of the city, in an area that was probably residential in nature.

“The discovery of the remains of the church in the middle of the ancient city, like that of the Jewish neighborhood and the magnificent city that existed in Tiberias more than 1,000 years ago, greatly contributes to our understanding of the town planning, its scope, and it structures,†archaeologists on behalf of the IAA said.

The discovery of the church in the heart of the Jewish quarter disproves the theory that Jews prevented Christians from establishing prayer halls in the middle of the city,†they added.

In the Holiday Inn hotel’s parking lot, in the southern part of the excavation, buildings replete with a wealth of impressive ceramic vessels that date to the Early Islamic period (8th–11th centuries BC) were uncovered and [also] installations for the manufacture of glass and pottery vessels.

These finds show that in this period the settlement of Hammat was included within the domain of the city of Tiberias, which had grown and expanded beyond the Byzantine city walls that had previously separated it from Hammat.

In addition, a settlement that dates to the Early Bronze Age (from 5,000 years ago) was discovered, thereby attesting to the fact that the region of Tiberias was inhabited in periods earlier than those mentioned in the historical sources.

(Israel Antiquities Authority, August 7, 2007)