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1,600-Year-Old Mosaic with Rare Blessing Inscription Gives Insight into the Samaritans

1,600-Year-Old Mosaic with Rare Blessing Inscription Gives Insight into the Samaritans

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A rare inscription spelled out in a tile mosaic was found in the ruins of a 1,600-year-old estate that belonged to a wealthy Samaritan, at Zur Natan in central Israel. This find is helping experts to better understand a fascinating ethnoreligious group who are very important in the history of the Holy Land.

Archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, led by Dr. Hagit Torge were working at Zur Natan on the southern Sharon Plain’ reports the  Breaking Christian News  network. There have been several important Samaritan finds in the area in recent years including a Synagogue, that was later turned into a Byzantine Church. The experts are confident that they have found an agricultural estate that belonged to a prominent member of that community.

The history of the Samaritans

The Samaritans are a distinct ethnoreligious group that are closely related to the Jews. Their religion is very similar to mainstream Judaism. However, the Samaritans believe that they are practicing the true faith of Moses and King David. They hold that the prescribed place to worship Yahweh is not Jerusalem’s Temple Mount but Mount Gerizim. There are several references to the group in the New Testament, the best known is the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The archaeologists have found extensive remains and in particular, they unearthed a large winepress, suggesting that there were vineyards here in ancient times.  The archaeologists also found a small mosaic with a blessing inscription in Greek.  According to the  Fox News Network  the inscription reads  “Only God help the beautiful property of Master Adios, amen”.  This mosaic was designed to secure the protection of God for Adios, his family and estate.

The Good Samaritan by Jacob Jordaens (public domain)

The Good Samaritan by Jacob Jordaens (public domain)

Adios a wealthy 5 th century Samaritan

The location of the estate and the use of the word ‘master’ all strongly indicate that Adios was a Samaritan.  Most likely he was a wealthy member of the community and this meant that he also played a leading role in its religious affairs.  The  Greek City Times  states that ‘Adios is thought to have made his fortune selling wine from the Holy Land to Christians living in the Byzantine Empire’’. Nothing else is known about him and his family.

The estate once belonged to a man named "Adios." (Yitzhak Marmelstein, Israel Antiquities Authority)

The estate once belonged to a man named "Adios." (Yitzhak Marmelstein, Israel Antiquities Authority)

An academic translated the inscription and based on the Greek used he, dated it to the 5 th century AD. The inscription is only the second found that belonged to a member of the Samaritan religion. This find also is providing more evidence that the Samaritans were a very important and successful group in this area when it was part of the Eastern Roman Empire. They had flourished in the region especially after the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt in Judaea, around 135 AD which left them the dominant group in what is now central Israel. However, this state of affairs did not last.

The decline of the Samaritans

The Byzantine Empire succeeded the Roman Empire in the region, and it was militantly Christian, and they persecuted the Samaritans, for example, they seized their synagogues. This led to tensions between the Byzantines and the Samaritans and resulted in a series of wars in the late 5 th and 6 th centuries AD. These revolts devastated the Samaritan population and it led to the near collapse of their population.  It is possible that the estate of Adios was possibly abandoned or destroyed during the Romano-Samaritan wars. Today the group's numbers are very small and in decline, although a  ‘community of Samaritans still lives at Mount Gerizim on the West Bank and in the Israeli city of Holon’’ according to the  Fox News Network .

A group of Samaritans (c 1900 AD) by the Palestine Exploration Fund (public domain)

A group of Samaritans (c 1900 AD) by the Palestine Exploration Fund (public domain)

The find of the estate is expected to add to our knowledge of Samaritan social history and the development of the community before the disasters of the Byzantine era. It is hoped that the discovery will lead to more discoveries in the area from what has been called the ethnoreligious group’s golden age.  Moreover, it could lead to more interest in the Samaritans history and culture which is at present in danger of disappearing.

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By Ed Whelan

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