Archaeologists recently discovered a stone marked with a 1,500-year-old inscription reading, in Greek, “Christ born of Mary,” at a site in Israel’s Jezreel Valley.
The engraved stone was part of a lintel from a Late Byzantine period (late fifth century) church entrance.
Recovered at the et-Taiyiba village excavation site, on the northeast side of Jezreel Valley between the modern cities of Afula and Beit Shean, during a salvage dig prior to the building of a road on the site, the inscription was found incorporated into the wall of a later period building.
Archaeologists term the recycling or reuse of an object, like the inscribed stone in this case, in another structure “secondary use.”
“This is a special find because the inscription enables us to recognize it came from a church and not a monastery from that period,” Yardenna Alexandre, an archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority told The Media Line.
Churches greeted and blessed believers at their entrance, whereas monasteries did not, so it is clear that the inscription comes from a church.
“This is a village church, rather than a monastery church, which in general were not open to the public during that period,” Alexandre said.
She noted that the discovery of a mosaic floor inside the building “decorated with Christian culture symbols such as crosses, also identifies the structure as a church.”
The formula “Christ born of Mary” was intended to protect its readers from the evil eye and was commonly used at the beginning of inscriptions and documents of the time, according to Dr. Leah Di Segni, a senior researcher at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who translated the lintel. “Christ” – Christos in Greek – means “anointed one” or “Messiah” and is a reference to Jesus of Nazareth.
The church’s dedicatory inscription also referred to Theodosius, the building’s founder and an early Christian bishop. He served as the regional archbishop, the supreme religious authority for the metropolis of Beit Shean in which the village sits.
The importance of this inscription also shows that et-Taiyiba was a Christian village in the Late Byzantine period.
“The population in the Jezreel Valley was mixed,” said Alexandre. “We know there were Samaritan settlements, Jewish settlements and Christian ones like et-Taiyiba. The excavations help us better envision the demographic patterns of the area and thus its rich history.”
Today’s modern village of et-Taiyiba, inhabited by a Muslim population, is also known for the remains of a fort built in the Crusader period visible in the village’s center. Archaeologists have identified it as Forbelet, a small fort built to protect the western approach to the major Crusader fortress of Belvoir (Kokhav Hayarden), which controlled the central Jordan Valley.