According to Israel Antiquities Authority, a recent excavation unearthed the first proof of ancient Christian life during the Byzantine era in the Jezreel Valley, which includes Nazareth. Prior to construction of a new road in northern Israel, archaeologists and local volunteers discovered a 1,500-year-old Greek inscription reading “Christ born of Mary.”
The inscription, which also mentions the early Christian bishop Theodosius, was on a stone portion of a doorway to a Byzantine church. Though archaeologists say discovery of a church in this area isn’t necessarily surprising, it “closed the circle” by providing evidence of Christians’ presence there.
Israel Antiquities Authority: A Blessing and a Charm
The entire inscription reads: “Christ born of Mary. This work of the most God-fearing and pious bishop [Theodo]sius and the miserable Th[omas] was built from the foundation – -. Whoever enters should pray for them.” Theodosius, a regional archbishop, encouraged the construction of churches and likely donated funds to that particular building, experts say.
Researchers discovered two rooms with geometric mosaics on the floors. They found the partially destroyed, seven-line inscription on a stone that had once served as a doorway lintel but was then repurposed as a wall.
“As a blessing, the inscription must have originally stood at the entrance of the church, where people could see it,” says archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre. “However, it was now found incorporated in the walls; therefore, we know that the stone was reused as construction material. Likely the building collapsed and was rebuilt.” Numerous earthquakes hit the region in the late fifth century.
“The inscription greets those who enter and blesses them,” says Leah Di-Segni of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “It is therefore clear that the building is a church, and not a monastery. Churches greeted believers at their entrance, while monasteries tended not to do this.” Di-Segni adds that the phrase “Christ born of Mary” served as a type of good luck charm, intended to ward off the so-called “evil eye.”
Why This Discovery Is So Important
The find is significant, say experts at the Israel Antiquities Authority, because it confirms Christianity’s presence during the early Byzantine era. “This is the first evidence of the Byzantine church’s existence in the village of et-Taiyiba,” says Dr Walid Atrash, “and it adds to other finds attesting to the activities of Christians who lived in the region.” Previously, remains of a church from the Crusader period had been uncovered at that site.
“Until now,” says Atrash, “we didn’t know for certain that there were churches from this period in this area.” The settlement in the town of Taibe isn’t mentioned in the New Testament, he adds, but it’s “unsurprising” that a Byzantine-era church was unearthed there. This “Christ born of Mary” inscription has “closed the circle, and now we know there were Christians in this area during this era,” Atrash says.
The Byzantine period occurred during the fifth to seven centuries, and Muslims invaded the Jezreel Valley region in the year 636. “The modern Arab village grew around [this structure], and some remains are still visible,” says Alexandre.