The Byzantine Era in the Bible might not seem as important to many than the time of David, Solomon or Jesus, but it is not to be under appreciated for its importance in the history of Israel and Christianity. The era lasted from the 4th century to 7th century AD.
Who Were the Byzantines in Israel
The Byzantine empire was was formed by Constantine I and named for a Greek colony. It was considered a “New Rome” after the fall of the Roman Empire. Constantine made the capital Constantinople (not Rome), which is modern day Instanbul, Turkey.
Constantine established Christianity as the main religion of the empire, which was rather shocking as at the time it was an obscure Jewish sect. During this time, Constantine’s mother, Helena, went on a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem and identified many of the sites still visited and acknowledged as the sites of Biblical stories of Christ today.
Byzantine Sites in Israel
Byzantine Church in Gethsemane
One more recently discovered site in the are of Gethsemane was a church discovered from the end of the Byzantine era. This church also had a Second Temple period mikveh at the site. This mikveh then would have been there at the time of Jesus. The law said that if you were making wine or oil you should purify yourself first. This mikveh is the first thing from the time of Jesus ever found in the area, helping to prove the area was important at the time.
The church floor has inscription written in greek that say “For the memory and repose of the lovers of Christ (cross) God who has received the sacrifice of Abraham, accept the offering of your servants and give them remission of sins. (cross) Amen’.”
Byzantine Wine Press and Coin
A massive wine press and community dating back 1500 years was discovered just outside of Tel Aviv. This wine press produced huge amounts of wine and was likely an agriculturally-based community.
Also found in the area was a 1400-year-old gold coin. The coin had not only an image of the Emperor at the time, Heraclius, who reigned from 610-641, but also a depiction of Golgatha on the back. This shows that the area had Christians living in it. The other name on the coin was likely the owner who minted it for himself.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the direct product of the work of the mother of Constantine, Helena. She went to Jerusalem and with the help of the Bishop of Cesearea and the Bishop of Jerusalem, she discovered what she believed was the spot of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. There they destroyed a shrine to Jupiter, that had been built at the site to dissuade Christians at the time from worshipping and quash the new Jewish sect.
The church has been destroyed and reconstructed in the past. While the church you will visit today is primarily not the original structure, the actual tomb was opened recently and carbon dated. The dating matched up with the story of the originally sealing of the area perfectly, and to some, surprisingly.
Church of the Nativity
Another product of the pilgrimage Helena took to the Holy Land was the Church of the Nativity. The original church was built in the 4th century thought was destroyed and rebuilt during the 7th century under the direction of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. So while this structure isn’t the original, it’s still a Byzantine era structure!
We hope you will join us soon for a tour of every era of Israel’s history very soon! Contact one of our helpful tour operators for your free, risk-free proposal!