New Discovery Near The Sea of Galilee Places Christian or Jewish Inhabitants In Settlements Long Before Khirbat al-Minya

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Recently, in Israel, an excavation team from Johannes Gutenberg University Mains (JGU) used geomagnetic surface surveys and hands-on digging to discover an ancient settlement near the caliph's palace Khirbat al-Minya. The palace is considered to be "one of the earliest mosques in Israel," built during the reign of the caliph, chief Muslim and religious ruler al-Walid I, dated 705-715 CE. [i]
Ruings of Umayyad palace Khirbat al-Minya.Bukvoed/Wikimedia Commons

Khirbat al-Minya served as an administrative center for Jund al-Urdunn (District of Jordan). It is reported that the 749 Galilee earthquake is likely responsible for damaging the building. The damage was never repaired. Following its abandonment, the site was resettled during the 14th to 15th century as a khan. [ii]

A khan was a "type of inn once found in the Middle East and parts of North Africa and Central Asia," functioning essentially as both a trading center and hostel. Khans were built within towns and intended primarily for people, although some stable spaces existed. This differentiates them from caravansaries built on the outskirts of towns and used to shelter caravans and other travelers. [iii]
Khan al-Umdan, Acre, Israel.Axc0505/Wikimedia Commons

Khans also provided shelter and food for traders and travelers. An example of one of the most notable khans is Khan al-Umdan, the largest preserved khan in Israel. It is located in the city of Acre. Acre was a Crusader city of Christian monastic soldiers whose mission was to protect the Holy Land from Muslim threat. Watch the video below for more details on Acre, Israel and the Crusaders. [iii]

From the excavations, researchers have discovered that the caliph commissioned the building of his palace, with an incorporated mosque, in the early 8th century. Previously, it was believed that the mosque was built on the unoccupied shore of the Sea of Galilee. Instead, researchers now say, that it was built "adjacent to and respectfully co-existing with a prior settlement." [iv]

Stone structures made of basalt were unearthed, in addition to colorful mosaic floors, plastered walls, and a water cistern used to store water for domestic use. Additional ceramic finds that date back to the 5th and 7th centuries indicate that the settlement was populated and thriving several centuries before the caliph's palace work commenced. [v]

Researchers believe that Christians or Jews inhabited the area and were joined by a small Islamic community. Additionally, the site discovery of "a stone built furnace used to process sugar cane," indicated that considerable revenue was earned as a result of "the cultivation of sugar cane, sadly causing lasting damage to the ecosystem." [vi]

Additionally, the mosaics depict "long, curved stems typical of those in Nile-scene mosaics created in the 5th and 6th centuries." This depiction of the Nile valley's flora and fauna symbolized the mighty river's life-giving power, "guaranteeing Egypt's agricultural fertility." [vii]
A Nile scene mosaic from the House of the Faun in PompeiiPublic Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Further, researchers believe that it provides an explanation for why late-antique churches and luxurious city dwellings were decorated with Nile-scene mosaics. The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is one great example of such a church. Located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, the church is the site where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. [viii]

The scripture referencing this event is found in Mark 6:30-46. Jesus and his disciples were followed by crowds of people. As night time approached, the multitudes had no food, and nowhere nearby to find any. Jesus performed a miracle using only two fish and five loaves to feed the five thousand people. Although the Bible does not specifically name Tabgha, it references "a remote place on the shores of Galilee." [ix]

View the video below for a look into the modern-day Church of Multiplication.


[i] Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, The neighbors of the caliph: Archaeologists uncover ancient mosaics on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, (Sep. 26, 2022)

[ii] 101 Israel, Khirbat al-Minya, (2022)

[iii] BeinHarim, Underground Crusader City Acre, (2022)

[iv] Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, The neighbors of the caliph: Archaeologists uncover ancient mosaics on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, (Sep. 26, 2022)

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] BeinHarim, Church of Multiplication - Tabgha, (2022)

[ix] Bible Gateway, Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand - Mark 6:30-46 NIV, (2022)

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