Byzantine era church discovered near Bet Shemesh

Beautiful mosaics, dedicatory inscription exposed at an Antiquities Authority excavation in the wake of plans to enlarge Moshav Ness Harim.

mosiac church archeology israel 248 88 (photo credit: Daniel Ein Mor / Antiquities Authority)
mosiac church archeology israel 248 88
(photo credit: Daniel Ein Mor / Antiquities Authority)
A church dating from the Byzantine period (sixth-seventh centuries CE) and paved with beautiful mosaics and a dedicatory inscription has been exposed at an Antiquities Authority excavation at Horvat a-Diri, 5 km. east of Bet Shemesh, in the wake of plans to enlarge the nearby Moshav Ness Harim. "The site was surrounded by a small forest of oak trees and is covered with farming terraces that were cultivated by the residents of Ness Harim. Prior to the excavation, we discerned unusually large quantities of pottery sherds from the Byzantine period and thousands of mosaic tesserae [mosaic cubes] that were scattered across the surface level," said archeologist Daniel Ein Mor, director of the excavation for the authority. The excavation seems to have revealed the very center of the site, which extends across approximately 15 dunams, or 1.5 hectares, along the slope of a spur that descends toward Nahal Dolev. During the first season of excavation (November 2008) the church's narthex (the broad entrance at the front of the church's nave) was exposed, and was found to contain a carpet of multicolored mosaics adorned with geometric patterns of intertwined parallelograms separated by flower bud motifs. A complex wine press was partly exposed. Unfortunately, at the conclusion of the excavation, this mosaic was almost completely destroyed by unidentified vandals. The mosaic includes a dedicatory inscription written in ancient Greek that was deciphered by Dr. Leah Di Signi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: "O Lord God of Saint Theodorus, protect Antonius and Theodosia the illustres [a title used to distinguish high nobility in the Byzantine period] - Theophylactus and John the priest [or priests]. [Remember o Lord] Mary and John who have offe[red - ] in the 6th indiction. Lord, have pity of Stephen." Various phases that were used after the church was abandoned in the later part of the Byzantine period were discerned elsewhere in the structure. The mosaic floor was completely destroyed in different places and the area inside the church was put to secondary use. Industrial installations that are ascribed to the same period were found which attest to the functional change the building underwent during the end of the Byzantine period-beginning of the Early Islamic period (seventh century CE). "We know of other Byzantine churches and sites that are believed to be Byzantine monasteries, which are located in the surrounding region. The excavation at Ness Harim supplements our knowledge about the nature of the Christian-Byzantine settlement in the rural areas between the main cities in this part of the country during the Byzantine period, among them Bet Guvrin, Emmaus and Jerusalem," Ein Mor said.