Sunday, April 01, 2012

Palm Sunday Archaeology - A Timely Discovery


Archaeologists working in the Holy Land are reported to have made an astounding discovery in a tiny village located in the Palestinian West Bank, not far from Jerusalem.

The scientists were investigating in the area and looking for evidence of early Christianity near the settlement of Alhmar Dhryh. Having excavated many metres down in the ground, they uncovered remains of what appeared to be an early first century Christian chapel. What they stumbled upon amazed them and has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of the way early Christians may have worshipped.

The excavation site in Alhmar Dhryh
Many of the walls have not been very well preserved, but on one it is clear to see that there would have once been a fresco covering the entire surface area. The recurring design appeared to be based on palm leaves which would have once been a vivid green, although the passage of time has caused them to fade and discolour.

Faded wall paintings of palm leaves.
The archaeologists worked their way to the rear of the derelict church and eventually found a broken altar and a focal area of worship. What they discovered next, proved to be the most curious and controversial find.

Hidden within a recess in the centre of the altar was an ossuary containing what appeared to be crushed skeletal remains. The ossuary was marked with the following Hebrew inscription:

פתי של האחד באפריל

It was clear that the remains of whoever was inside this container, were of great importance to the Christians of first century Alhmar Dhryh. Scientists took the bones away for chemical and genetic analysis and were astounded to discover that the remains were not human but in fact belonged to a species of Middle Eastern donkey. Subsequent carbon dating tests have confirmed that the donkey would have been alive some time in the first half of the 1st century AD.

It is thought that the church was abandoned and fell into disuse shortly before the Romans put down the Jewish Revolt.

The chief archaeologist Prof. Ol Ali explained in a press conference on Thursday: "Remarkably, the nature, location and dating of these finds puts them tantalisingly close to the Gospel account of Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem in the first century BCE. Could it be that early Christians held reverence for the beast that carried their master into Jerusalem? Perhaps... I don't know. For many people, tactile contact alters our perception of things. Touch can connect you to an object in a very personal way, make it seem more real. Perhaps having been touched by the Christ, the donkey became elevated in a way we can scarcely imagine happening today and was regarded as an object of worship."
Did early Christians feel a special connection to the donkey that carried Christ?
The release of these auspicious findings, timed almost perfectly to coincide with Palm Sunday (the festival which Christians commemorate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem), are sure to leave experts scratching their heads for many years.

Perhaps Jesus knew more than he was letting on when he chastised the Pharisees for silencing the crowds on that day:
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:40
After all... isn't making stones cry out unspoken history what archaeology is all about?


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