Archaeologists have discovered a 1500-year-old Greek inscription, which is the earliest evidence of Christianity’s presence in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel.
The inscription “Christ born of Mary” was unearthed during excavations in the the small Arab village of Taibe near Nazareth. It was found engraved in stone that had been repurposed for the walls of a grand building from the Byzantine or Early Islamic period (late fifth century CE).
The finding was announced on the Facebook page of Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which conducted the excavations. The inscription was originally part of the door frame of an entry way to a previously unknown 5th century church.
“According to Dr Leah Di-Segni, researcher at the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who deciphered the text – the formula ‘Christ born of Mary’ was intended to protect its readers from the evil eye and it was commonly used at the beginning of inscriptions and documents of the time. Christ (Christos in Greek, or ‘Messiah’) refers to Jesus,” says the IAA’s post.
“Di-Segni adds that ‘The inscription greets those who enter and blesses them. 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.'”
An IIA archaeologist, Walid Atrash, remarked on the significance of this finding to The Times of Israel: “The importance of the inscription is that until now we didn’t know for certain that there were churches from this period in this area.”
While ruins of a Crusader-period church had previously been discovered, Atrash said this was the first evidence of Christianity in the earlier Byzantine period.
“Now we know there were Christians in this area during this era,” he told the Times.
The Jezreel Valley plays a central part in biblical history, being bordered by the Nazareth mountains and Mount Tabor on the north, on the east by Mount Gilboa, on the south by the mountains of Samaria, and on the west by Mount Carmel – places which all appear in the biblical narrative.