DRUSE SPIRITUAL LEADER Sheikh Muafek Tarif attends the ceremony honoring the divers on Monday..
(photo credit: AVI MIZRAHI)
The Israel Antiquities Authority hosted a ceremony at the Nabi Shu’ayb shrine in the Galilee on Monday honoring the six Israeli divers who last February in Caesarea found and turned in the largest cache of gold coins ever discovered in Israel.
The long-lost treasure was found on the seabed in the ancient harbor of Caesarea – today a national underwater archeological park – by a group of six divers: Tzvika Feuer, Kobi Tweena, Avivit Fishler, Shai Milner, Yoav Lavi, and Yoel Miller.
After finding numerous coins in the seabed they alerted the Antiquities Authority, which subsequently excavated the site they mapped out and uncovered 2,600 perfectly preserved coins from the Fatimid period, making international headlines.
According to Feuer, finding the glistening treasure was a surreal, once-in-a-lifetime moment for the unsuspecting divers.
“The dive, which began like dozens of our previous dives in the area, quickly turned into an adventure from the creator of Indiana Jones,” he said. “Nothing can describe the exhilaration of discovering hundreds of gold coins, which despite the poor lighting conditions gleamed as golden as the day they were minted.”
Despite being overwhelmed by the discovery, Feuer said there was never any doubt that the group of divers would report the finding.
“From the outset it was clear we discovered a large, rare archeological treasure, and we were obliged to report it and turn it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority,” he said.
“We were later happy to find out that the origin of some of the coins was the Fatimid caliphate from the time associated with the establishment of the Druse religion.”
Indeed, Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Yoli Schwartz said that, for the Druse community, the discovery of the treasure was particularly dramatic, because most of the coins found bear the name of the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi Amr Allah, believed to be the founder the monotheistic Druse religion in 1017 CE.
“There is an aura of sanctity, dignity, and mystery surrounding al-Hakim,” said Schwartz.
“Among other things, there is a question about his mysterious disappearance a thousand years ago.”
While Schwartz noted that coins engraved with al-Hakim’s name have been found in the past, she said the concentration of gold coins in the treasure with his name “bears witness to the power of the caliph’s reign.”
“Many of the coins in the treasure were minted at a time when the Druse faith – Madhhab al-Tawid, a unique sect advocating absolute monotheism – was being spread in Cairo,” she explained.
The Druse faith, Schwartz continued, has deep roots in Eastern mysticism and was formulated from the wisdom of the monotheistic religions and different philosophical currents, from the time of ancient Greece until Islam.
During the ceremony – also attended by the spiritual head of the Druse community, Sheikh Muafek Tarif, the Antiquities Authority’s director Israel Hasson, and Caesarea Development Corporation head Michael Karasenti – the divers were awarded certificates of appreciation for their exemplary citizenship.
“The news of the discovery of gold coins from the Fatimid era caused great excitement among the Druse community,” said Tarif. “From the standpoint of the community, this discovery is of great historic and religious significance, which cannot be described in words.”
Meanwhile, Hasson praised the divers’ integrity and contribution to Israel’s ongoing archeological research.
“The history in this region proves that we are all intertwined,” he said. “I am glad the discovery, which is so important to the Druse community, is a result of exemplary citizenship; and as if an act of God, it reinforces the interdependency of the Druse community and the Jewish people in Israel.”
The six also received an enlarged replica of the one of the coins from the treasure, a gold dinar bearing the name of caliph al-Hakim.
“We are honored to take part in the ceremony and be a part of the chain that connects the Druse to their past,” said Feuer.