JERUSALEM – A mosaic has been discovered that could open a debate over where the Feeding the Multitude miracle took place.
It was unearthed on a hill near the Sea of Galilee within the remains of the ancient city of Hippos, the place from where Christians are said to have witnessed Jesus walking on water.
The mosaic features decorations and inscriptions that describe baskets of bread loaves and fish, the foods that Jesus multiplied during the miracle outlined in the New Testament.
“There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic, but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament: for example, from the fact that the New Testament has a description of five loaves in a basket or the two fish depicted in the apse, as we find in the mosaic,” Michael Eisenberg, head of the excavation team in Hippos of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, Israel, said.
Hippos was a thriving urban hub that during the golden era of the Byzantine Empire had about 4,000 inhabitants and became the most important Christian city in Galilee, the archaeologist told Efe.
The site is very close to the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel, and is located within the Hippos National Park of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The ancient city, which was founded in the second century BC, was initially a pagan community that housed seven churches at its peak.
Inhabitants worked the lands and the sea and spoke Greek.
Several weeks ago, on the floor of one of the excavated temples which archaeologists call the Burnt Church, a mosaic that had been engulfed by the ashes of the fire that destroyed the building was discovered.
It is thought the church burnt down during the Sasanian conquest in the early seventh century and when the debris collapsed onto the mosaic it covered the artwork in a layer of ash that preserved it over time in excellent condition.
Excavations have revealed “beautiful and simple decorations” that give details about the religious symbolism of the time.
“The people who ordered the mosaic wanted to create an extremely prominent and dense colorfulness, which includes geometric patterns and depictions of birds, fish and fruit without any empty spaces,” according to Eisenberg.
“In some of the baskets, the researchers have found five or more loaves in different colors, which, along with the fish, were associated to the Feeding the Multitude miracle described four times in the New Testament.”
According to the New Testament, Jesus performed a miracle where he used five loaves and two fish to feed thousands of men in the Church of Tabgha built in the fifth century, currently in the Kibbutz Ginosar.
To this day droves of Christian pilgrims flock to the church which is one of the most visited locations.
However, Eisenberg said that a careful reading of the New Testament indicated that the place of the miracle could be located just north of Hippos, which had in its control an extensive territory on the shores of this freshwater lake that appears in myriad biblical references.
The newly discovered mosaic could corroborate this, although Eisenberg added that the theory, for now, cannot be confirmed.
“The mosaic at the Church of 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 are five loaves of bread, as found in the mosaic in Hippos,” Eisenberg said.
“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,” the expert added.
Further digs will be needed and parts of the mosaic still need to be cleaned.
“The fish themselves have a number of additional symbolical meaning in the Christian world, and their interpretation requires caution,” he concluded.
To ensure its protection, the mosaic will remain covered until next year, when its excavation will be resumed to obtain more details and shed light on the miracle of multiplication.