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Ancient Eulogia Token Depicts An Unusual Nativity Scene

Ancient Eulogia Token Depicts An Unusual Nativity Scene

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An ancient stone token depicting a deeply religious scene, the Nativity, was discovered in the Holy Land. It’s being described as being “unlike all others,” because it doesn’t feature Mary and Joseph.

Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, we published an article about an Israeli researcher who has presented new evidence of the earliest Christian pilgrimage route ever discovered. Professor Ken Dark of England’s University of Reading believes Jesus’ birthplace and other biblical sites became important pilgrimage destinations “much earlier than is currently believed”.

According to Dark, the early fourth-century Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem was designed around a sacred cave, and the church and its altar were precisely positioned to harness the pre-existing religious importance of the cave. Now, on Christmas day, the sacred date associated with the birth of Jesus, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem have published information about an ancient “Eulogia token” depicting that same sacred cave. However, not everything is as should be with this ancient religious “souvenir”.

A Stone Snap Shot Of History’s Most Religious Moment

Eulogia tokens were small sacred objects used by Christians while pilgrimaging between sacred sites in the Holy Land. Morag Wilhelm, Assistant Curator of Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine archaeology at the Israel Museum , told CBN News that she discovered this rare artifact in a large collection that had been donated to the museum by Israeli archaeologist Dan Barag, a Hebrew University professor who died in 2009. Dating to 1,400 years old, the researcher thinks this token was most likely a memento of a Christian pilgrim’s trip to Bethlehem, where he “experienced” the birthplace of Jesus .

Israel Museum in Jerusalem revealed the existence of a rare token that was likely a memento of a Christian’s trip to Bethlehem. (CBN News)

Israel Museum in Jerusalem revealed the existence of a rare token that was likely a memento of a Christian’s trip to Bethlehem. ( CBN News )

It is believed that this miniature token once belonged to a 6th or 7th-century  pilgrim, and because it depicts the Nativity scene, the curator says “he probably visited Bethlehem.”

Made with compressed earth from different holy sites the ancient souvenir depicts baby Jesus, the ox and the ass, between two stone pillars, with an arch between and a large lamp hanging from the top. Wilhelm told CBN News that this is most likely the cave under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that features in Dr Dark’s new paper. However, “this one is unique,” because Mary and Joseph are not shown in the picture.

An ancient token once held by a Christian pilgrim in the 6th or 7th century, depicting baby Jesus watched over by a bull and donkey, in the Church of the Nativity, drawing by Michael Smelansky (Courtesy          Israel Museum)

An ancient token once held by a Christian pilgrim in the 6th or 7th century, depicting baby Jesus watched over by a bull and donkey, in the Church of the Nativity, drawing by Michael Smelansky (Courtesy  Israel Museum )

A Depiction Of The Pilgrims “Actual” Religious Experience

This depiction of the birth of Jesus against the scene of the Church of the Nativity indicates the token was “a souvenir for a special religious experience someone may have had at this sacred site,” Wilhelm said. And describing what the token might have represented to its owner, “it’s a special visualization or religious experience, you go to the Holy place and you actually see baby Jesus in the cave of Bethlehem.”

This token is deemed as being so rare because it brings together the Church of the Nativity with the event of the sacred birth, thus, the artifact illustrates the actual pilgrims’ experience when he visited the Church of the Nativity, “where visions of the infant Jesus are revealed to the devout.” However, it stands out from all other similar artifacts in that this one doesn’t feature Mary and Joseph, only the baby Jesus and animals.

Spiritual Medicines Were Bitter Pills To Swallow

According to a report about the token in the Times of Israel , it was made from earth collected at several sacred sites and for this reason these tokens “also held protective and remedial value.” The scrape marks that often appear on the token’s soft edges were often filled with dust, which was then mixed with liquid and ingested as a holy, or spiritual, medicine. In today’s world of science these stone tokens are no longer thought of as medicinal cures, but Wilhelm says the coin memento idea still exists today “in the form of gift shop medallions or pressed souvenir pennies popular at many US attractions.”

The rare pilgrim’s token, or spiritual souvenir, will eventually be displayed in the museum’s “ Pilgrimage collection ” along with other similar tokens depicting key biblical scenes from the life of Jesus. But this one, that fails to depict the Holy couple, Mary and Joseph, is “unique,” and the museum staff are hoping that this tiny piece of Christian history will be a major crowd puller when the museum reopens up next year.

Top image: An ancient token depicting the Nativity scene from the Israel Museum.          Source: Israel Museum

By Ashley Cowie

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