Archeology Always Discovers History... of Christianity

(Two more examples)

Mark Alessio

The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reports that a rare seal bearing a picture of Jesus has been discovered at an archeological dig in the old city of Tiberias by two volunteers, employees of the American and British embassies.

One side of the lead seal, believed to date from the 6th century, depicts Jesus Christ. The other side of the seal has a Cross with an abbreviation of the name “Christos.” This discovery marks the first time a seal with the image of Jesus has been discovered in excavations in Tiberias, although a number of similar seals have been found in Caesaria, which in ancient times was the capital of the province.

Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld of the Hebrew University, who is in charge of the dig, said the seal apparently belonged to a high-ranking church official. "The church here was stronger than we thought,” he said. “This also shows that Judaism and Christianity met here and lived together in harmony.”

In February of this year, a 10th century A.D. coin was discovered in the excavations in Tiberias that depicted Jesus on one side, and had the Greek inscription “Jesus the Messiah, King of Kings” on the other. Hirschfeld believes that this coin was issued in Istanbul in honor of the first millennium. He notes that the fact that the Jesus coin was found in a dig in Tiberias indicates that the Crusaders continued going to Tiberias even in the Muslim period (the 10th century A.D.).

Jewish Mosaics from Roman Empire on Display 

On February 17, 1883, French army Captain Ernest de Prudhomme ordered soldiers under his command in Hammam Lif, Tunisia (the ancient Punic city of Naro, later the Roman Aquae Persianae), to prepare his backyard for a garden. However, instead of planting vegetables, Prudhomme and his men unwittingly ushered in the birth of synagogue archaeology when they unearthed the first archaeological ruins of a Roman-period synagogue, dating from the 3rd-5th century A.D.

Among the ruins discovered by Prudhomme and his men were mosaic panels that had been part of the sanctuary floor of the Hammam Lif synagogue. The primary subjects of these mosaics were the Creation and Paradise. A Latin inscription, flanked by two menorahs, on the floor panels indicates that Julia of Naro donated the floor to the community. Included are depictions of a tree in Paradise, sea animals and birds in a scene portraying Creation, and symbolic birds and baskets that relate to the themes of Creation and the coming of the Messiah. Decorative motifs include birds and fruits.

Twelve mosaic panels from the Hammam Lif, Tunisia synagogue site are part of an exhibition entitled Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics from the Roman Empire, on view at the Brooklyn Museum in New York until June 4, 2006. An additional nine panels coming from other rooms in the building and other nearby buildings, which depict animals, a male figure and a female figure, are also part of the exhibit, as are related artifacts, such as contemporaneous textiles, marble statues, gold jewelry, and bronze ritual objects.

 The presentation also investigates the origins of synagogues, the development of Jewish art in the Roman period, female patronage in the ancient synagogue, the differences between early Christian and Jewish symbolism in art, and the relationship between ancient and modern synagogues. According to The Brooklyn Museum, modern scholars have recognized that the unrelentingly gloomy picture of Jewish life in the later Roman Empire portrayed in texts must be viewed alongside a decidedly different picture formed from archaeological evidence. Archaeological remains of ancient synagogues from Turkey to Spain and from Hungary to Tunisia indicate the prosperous nature of many Jewish communities. Other discoveries of ancient synagogues in modern Israel, Jordan, Syria, Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Italy reveal both the vitality of Jewish life around the Mediterranean Sea during the Roman Empire and the tolerance shown to Jewish residents from their non-Jewish neighbors.

“There must have been moments when people felt comfortable investing in their communities. A building like this synagogue represents Jewish confidence in the future,” explained Dr. Edward Bleiberg, Associate Curator of the Brooklyn Museum’s Department of Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art. “I would like people to come away from this exhibition with an understanding that there were also good times for Jews living in the Roman period.”