Saturday, February 5, 2011

One Tomb Destroyed...Another Discovered?

The picture to the left is one I took in an out-of-the-way site in the Judean foothills called Khirbet Midras. It was an amazing site that was rather difficult to reach. My wonderful bus driver, Munir, would ease his bus down a rutted dirt road snaking through a vineyard. The students and pastors with me would then walk the rest of the way to the tomb.

The tomb was the best example of a rolling-stone tomb in Israel. I say was because a few years ago I took a group to the tomb and discovered it had been ransacked by vandals. They tore down the facade and trashed the interior. Khirbet Midras became another example of an unprotected archaeological site falling victim to those who take pleasure in destroying precious national treasures.

This week I was pleasantly surprised to discover Khirbet Midras is back in the news. (Well, the news reports referred to it as Hirbet Madras, but it's the same site!) It seems that archaeologists have uncovered an ancient church at the site. The church could be one pictured on the Madaba map, a sixth-century mosaic discovered on a church floor in Madaba, Jordan, that is a visual map of the Holy Land. The map shows a church to the southwest of Jerusalem that it identifies as "Bethzachar[ia]...The [place] of Saint Zechariah." At about the same time as the Madaba map was made, a pilgrim named Theodosius visited the Holy Land and left an account of the sites he visited, including the distance between sites. Amazingly, he visited this church, and gave its distance from the city of Eleutheropolis--known to visitors today as Guvrin. "From Eleutheropolis to the place where St. Zachariah rests, 6 miles." (Khirbet Midras is six Roman miles from Guvrin!)

It appears that archaeologists have discovered the church pictured on the Madaba map. And both the map and other historical sources tell us that the church was built to commemorate the burial place of the Prophet Zachariah. This makes Khirbet Midras a major Christian site and a major Jewish site. Perhaps this will give the site enough significance to justify granting it national park status. It would be nice if previous discoveries--like the rolling stone tomb--could be restored and preserved...and if more protection could be provided to keep all the discoveries safe from vandals.

I would love to be able to take future groups to the site!

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