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Colorful Mosaics Revealed at Hippos

November 11, 2019

by: Edgar Asher, Ashernet

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A well-preserved mosaic laden with decorations, including dedication inscriptions and descriptions of baskets with loaves and fish, was exposed in an excavation at the “Burnt Church” in Hippos overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

Hippos was the central city in the region around the eastern Sea of Galilee and the southern Golan during Roman and Byzantine times. The ancient city has been excavated over the past 20 years by an expedition on behalf of the Institute for Archaeology at the University of Haifa.

Lion-shaped door knocker unearthed

The Burnt Church, built in the second half of the fifth to early sixth century AD, was probably burned down during the Sasanian conquest in the beginning of the seventh century. The fire caused the church mosaic floor to be conserved because the burning roof collapsed on the floor of the church and covered it in a layer of ash, thus protecting it from being damaged over time.

During the excavation of the main portal, a pair of door knockers in bronze cast in the form of roaring lions was exposed. Much of the mosaic area was cleaned and preserved, and most of its decorations and two inscriptions in Greek were uncovered. The first one tells about the two fathers of the church, Theodoros and Petros, constructing a sanctuary for a martyr, while the second one, located inside a medallion at the center of the mosaic, reveals the name of the martyr—Theodoros.

According to Dr. Michael Eisenberg, head of the excavation team, the mosaic includes geometric patterns and depictions of birds, fish and fruit densely placed throughout the mosaic. In some of the baskets, the researchers have found five or more loaves in different colors, which, along with the fish, were associated with the Feeding of the Multitude miracle. According to the Writings of the Apostles (NT), Jesus (Yeshua) performed the miracle in an isolated area, probably in the northeast part of the Sea of Galilee, where He used five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men plus women and children. Later, He walked on water and reached the northwest Sea of Galilee. At this place—current-day Kibbutz Ginosar/Tabgha—the Church of the Multiplication was built in the fifth century, and this is where, according to the early Christian tradition, the miracle took place.

Mosaic birds holding a garland exposed

Dr. Eisenberg continues to be cautious about the interpretation of the new mosaic, however he states that there are a number of points worth paying attention to. “Nowadays, we tend to regard the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha…as the location of the miracle, but it might have taken place north of Hippos within the city’s region. According to Scripture, after the miracle, Jesus crossed the water to the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, to the area of Tabgha/Ginosar, so that the miracle had to take place at the location where he began the crossing rather than [where] he finished it. In addition, the mosaic at the Church of the Multiplication has a depiction of two fish and a basket with only four loaves, while in all places in the New Testament which tell of the miracle, there were five loaves of bread, as found in the mosaic in Hippos. In addition, the mosaic at the burnt church has a depiction of 12 baskets, and the New Testament also describes the disciples who, at the end of the miracle, were left with 12 baskets of bread and fish.”

Excerpt from an article by Edgar Asher, Ashernet

Photo Credit: Dr. Michael Eisenberg/IAA/Ashernet

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