ABR’s Excavation Of A Byzantine Church -- By: ABR. Staff
BSpade 24:1 (Winter 2011) p. 22
ABR’s Excavation Of A Byzantine Church
The Byzantines were prolific builders throughout Israel. They preserved the names and identities of many significant biblical sites, providing an important line of evidence for modern archaeological investigation. The Byzantine period (AD 324-640) represented Palestine’s greatest population density prior to the 19th century. This period was named after the Turkish city of Byzantium, capital of the eastern Roman Empire under Constantine. Byzantium was renamed Constantinople (today known as Istanbul) by Constantine. Palestine’s Byzantine period began with Constantine’s rule as the Roman Emperor (AD 324) and ended with the Moslem invasion of the region around AD 638.
Even though it is after the biblical period, and a time in which the Church became highly institutionalized, the Byzantine period is still important to biblical studies—especially in relation to geography and religious architecture. Religious structures helped identify and preserve the locations, names and traditions of many Old and New Testament sites.
During the Byzantine period, Christianity underwent a dramatic change. Now an official religion throughout the Roman Empire, and with special encouragement by Constantine, major religious architectural projects were undertaken around the Mediterranean. At least three churches were constructed in Rome, but church construction was particularly accelerated in the Holy Land.
Beginning in AD 326, under the auspices of Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena, four major churches were constructed in Palestine. Three were obvious choices from the life of Christ: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, and Eleona Church
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on the Mount of Olives (site of the ascension). The fourth church at Mamre (Hebron) was dedicated to Christ’s Old Testament manifestation there (Gn 18:1). With royal encouragement, additional churches commemorating Old and New Testament holy places were soon constructed all over the country.
Most Byzantine churches were built on the plan of the familiar Roman civic building. Used for public, private and sacred purposes, it was called “basilica” (from the Greek word “royal”). It included a rectangular central hall (nave) with rows of interior pillar roof supports, side aisles, and a raised platform (chancel) including an apse. Churches constructed in the basilical style regularly placed the apse on the east and a triple main entrance on the west. Later Byzantine basi...
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