Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Hippos near the Sea of Galilee in Israel have reportedly found a large mosaic on the floor of a church that seems to depict the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes.
What did they find?
According to the Times of Israel, the so-called Burnt Church in Hippos was built in the late fifth and sixth centuries. It was most likely destroyed during an attack on the city by pre-Islamic Persian forces in the early seventh century. The city was burned during that attack but, ironically, this saved the mosaic by covering it with a blanket of ash.
Hippos is almost directly across the sea from the cities of Capernaum and Tabgha, the latter of which has been considered the traditional spot for the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Tabgha also contains a similar mosaic showing two fish flanking a basket of bread, in one of two ancient churches that sit underneath a modern Catholic church.
This tradition of building new buildings on top of older ones is not uncommon in Europe or the Middle East. The Basilica di San Clemente al Laterano in Rome is a famous example of that.
The archaeologist in charge of the dig, Dr. Michael Eisenberg, said there was good evidence that the images were a reference to the Biblical tale.
"The fish themselves have a number of additional symbolical meaning in the Christian world," he said, according to the Jerusalem Post. "There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic, but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament."
Of course, a mosaic from a few centuries later is not in itself evidence that Hippos was near the site of the miracle itself. And some experts are skeptical that it depicts the miracle at all.
Dr. Anat Avita, an archaeologist with experience working with ancient mosaics in the region, said she thought that the image others were interpreting as "loaves" was actually "fruit, on the size scale of apples." She said that she had "seen many other mosaics with almost exactly the same baskets, which usually contain fruit, sometimes flowers."
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In addition to the mosaic, the church contains several other mosaics with other symbols including additional fish, more baskets with varying amounts of what appear to be bread, fruit, and flowers and a peacock (which was also a frequent symbol in early Christian art), as well as two inscriptions telling the story of Theodoros and Petros, two of the founders of this church, building a sanctuary for a martyr who was also named Theodoros.