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Byzantine Mosaic May Hold Key to Hanukkah Heroes

12-28-2016
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MODIIN, Israel -- Israeli archaeologists may have discovered the tombs of ancient heroes known as the Maccabees. They say a Byzantine Christian gravesite may hold the key.

"There is a place of honor, of dignity, to the Maccabean [legacy] in Christianity, and we can conclude that ancient Christianity, like we archaeologists, search, seek the ancient tomb of the Maccabean," Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Amit Re'em told reporters.

While you won't find their story in the Bible, Matityahu the Hasmonean and his five sons led a revolt against the Syrian Greek rulers in Israel about 160 years before Jesus.

They defeated the foreigners and cleansed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem from idolatry and defilement. The festival of Hanukah commemorates their victory.

The latest discovery is about a mile from the modern Israeli city of Modiin in the area where the Maccabees would have lived.

"As you can see behind me there is a burial niche and at the bottom of it there is a mosaic floor with a cross on the mosaic floor," archaeologist Dan Shachar told CBN News. "The fact there is a cross on a mosaic floor is not something we're used to finding."

That's because of its significance to Byzantine Christians from the sixth century A.D. The question is why would they have chosen this site?

Shachar explained.

"The Maccabees were Jewish leaders, Jewish rebels," he said. "They removed the Greek empire, Greek presence, from what is now modern Israel, and they established an independent Jewish state, which makes it significant to both Judaism and Christianity."

"The actual books of the Maccabees were canonized to the Catholic Bible and the Greek Orthodox Bible version, not in our Jewish Bible," Shachar continued. "We have it. We never canonized it."

Re'em suggests Byzantine Christians found the Maccabees' original tomb and redecorated it with the mosaic.
 
"It will not worry me as an archaeologist to find [a] cross, [a] unique cross like this here. It's a symbol. It's a clue that unique persons, figures were buried here," Re'em explained.

Jewish historian Josephus Flavius wrote about the tombs of the Maccabees in two ancient texts. He described them as impressive structures made of fine stones surrounded by columns with pyramid-shaped roofs.

"All the circumstantial evidence, the geographic [evidence], answer the description of ancient historians like Josephus Flavius," Shachar continued. "There is a lot of evidence you could see plastered all over this rock, which tells us that very possibly there was something monumental on top of it, maybe something that answers the description of pyramids on top of it."

These archaeologists believe that once they determine the importance of the site to the Byzantines, the Jewish mystery of the whereabouts of the Maccabees' tombs may also be solved.

*Originally aired September 2015.

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