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1,500-year-old mosaic at Ashdod-Yam, with an inscription in Greek mentioning a date - 292 according to the Georgian calendar - which is 539 AD.

Where a Mosaic May Mean A Lot More: Byzantine City Could Soon Return to Light in Israel

Archaeologists and world media are getting excited. A 1,500-year-old mosaic found in Ashdod, Israel may be the first element exposed of an ancient Roman-Byzantine city mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian New Testament. This is also the first known example of the Georgian calendar being found during an archaeological excavation in Israel.

According to The Times of Israel , the mosaic made up part of the floor of a Byzantine church in the ancient city of Ashdod-Yam (aka. Azotus or Azotos Paralios). The archaeologists said :

“Testimony to the presence of the actual Georgians in the Land of Israel as far back as the Byzantine period has been found dozens of kilometers from Ashdod – in Jerusalem and its surroundings. But this is the first time that a Georgian church or monastery has been discovered on the Israeli coast.”

An exposed part of the colorful mosaic.

An exposed part of the colorful mosaic. ( Anat Rasiuk, Israel Antiquities Authority )

The Jerusalem Post reports that there is a four-line Greek inscription included in the colored mosaic, which states “[By the grace of God (or Jesus)], this work was done from the foundation under Procopius, our most saintly and most holy bishop, in the month Dios of the 3rd indiction, year 292.”

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Dr. Leah Di Segni, who deciphered the inscription, said the date corresponds to the year 539 AD – meaning this is the oldest known example of the Georgian calendar being used in Israel.

Dr. Fantalkin, Dr. Bäbler and Ganor told the Jewish Press :

“As far as we know, Ashdod is now home to the largest community of Jews of Georgian origin in the world. Testimony to the presence of the actual Georgians in the Land of Israel as far back as the Byzantine period has been found dozens of kilometers from Ashdod – in Jerusalem and its surroundings. But this is the first time that a Georgian church or monastery has been discovered on the Israeli coast.”

But the real excitement has come from the possibility that the mosaic is the first element to the possible location of what Breaking Israel News calls on of “the most important coastal cities in Israel during the Byzantine period.” A 6th century map depicts the location as a booming town which had colonnade-flanked streets and several churches and other buildings.

Reproduction of the Madaba Map discovered in Saint George Church in Madaba, Jordan.

Reproduction of the Madaba Map discovered in Saint George Church in Madaba, Jordan. (Bernard Gagnon/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The city was mentioned in the Hebrew Bible several times, one example being 1 Maccabees. An English translation of 1 Maccabees 5:68 states, “But Judas turned aside to Azotus in the land of the Philistines. Judas tore down their altars, and he burned the carved images of their gods with fire.” The Christian New Testament makes note of Saint Philip the Evangelist preaching in the city as well.

Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Balbina Bäbler of the University of Göttingen, and Sa‘ar Ganor, Israel Antiquities Authority Ashkelon district archaeologist, believe that there is more of the ancient city waiting to be unearthed at the site:

“This public structure, which has only now begun to come to light, is part of an extensive archaeological complex in the southern part of modern Ashdod. We are now hard at work to raise additional funds to continue the archaeological excavation of Ashdod-Yam.”

Working on the 1,500-year-old mosaic at Ashdod-Yam.

Working on the 1,500-year-old mosaic at Ashdod-Yam. ( Anat Rasiuk, Israel Antiquities Authority )

Finally, the archaeologists have linked the site to the “Georgian philosopher prince” Peter the Iberian, who is said to have lived in Ashdod-Yam before he died. They say this is the first concrete evidence for Peter the Iberian having influenced the Byzantine city of Ashdod-Yam.

Time will tell what more will be unearthed in the sand dunes of the coastal city.

Top Image: 1,500-year-old mosaic at Ashdod-Yam, with an inscription in Greek mentioning a date - 292 according to the Georgian calendar - which is 539 AD. Source: Anat Rasyuk

By Alicia McDermott

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