Israeli archaeologists may be one step closer to solving a riddle that has vexed explorers for more than a century: the location of the tomb of the biblical Maccabees which they recognized by finding the signature of the Cross.
A worker for the Israel Antiquities Authority shows The Holy Cross designed on a mosaic floor at an archaeological site at Ben Shemen Forest near the Israeli city of Modiin
On Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, Amit Reem, an Israeli archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, said “the cross is a clue” as it appears on the floor of the only Byzantine-era site burial niche where a cross decorates the floor of a burial vault. Reem said that this indicates it may have marked the spot of an important Maccabean figure.
The Crusader cross was a rediscovery of French scholar Charles Clermont-Ganneau who first excavated it in the late 1800s and found a mosaic floor featuring a Byzantine Christian cross where he was drawn to a nearby tomb, where he announced that he found the remains of Mattathias. The site was then abandoned. This month, Israeli archaeologists and volunteers cleared away rubble and exposed the simple mosaic cross for the first time in more than 100 years.
Reem said the cross is a clue. It appears on the floor of a burial niche at the site. It is the only Byzantine-era site where a cross decorates the floor of a burial vault, he said, indicating that it may have marked the spot of an important figure. He thinks it is likely that the Byzantines — early Christians — identified this site as the Maccabees’ tomb. The Christians would have placed the Cross on the tomb since the Maccabees were important figures for Christendom, being the patron saints of the Christian warrior battling evil and paganism. The Maccabees were also the patron saints for the Crusaders of Medieval times.
Oren Tal, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University agreed with Reem about other characteristics that correspond to the biblical account and to an account by ancient historian Josephus Flavius. Both describe the Tomb of the Maccabees as a tall structure that could be seen from the Mediterranean Sea, featuring columns and seven pyramids.
The connect adds up since Biblical history tells us that is was in Modiin that the Maccabee family was buried, and the tomb near the West Bank village of Midya resembles the name Modiin.
As they went on their quest, villagers pointed one European explorer toward a hilltop dotted with rock-hewn graves known by locals as “the graves of the Jews” where today even Israeli road signs still label them as Maccabean and Hanukkah ceremonies are held there to honor the ancient rebels.
WHY THE MACCABEES ARE IMPORTANT FOR CHRISTIAN SALVATION
When it comes to the Maccabees, Mattathias, a symbol of Christ defeating Antichrist, is the center of their story. Yet their books and history were deemed non-canonical by both Jews and Protestants and are still upheld by denominations with apostolic succession. For the Jews, while their book (Maccabees) is a central theme to their history, to Protestants, the book is removed because it simply speaks of souls being purged in preparation for heaven.
But to the Cross the stones are crying out and now Israel’s government Antiquities Authority said Monday that an ancient structure it began excavating this month on the side of a highway appears to match ancient descriptions of the tomb of Jewish rebels who wrested control of Judea from Seleucid rule and established a Jewish kingdom in the 2nd century B.C.
Scholars in Israel’s quarrelsome archaeological community tend to agree that the site is a significant burial site but reserve judgment about its connection to the Maccabees. “We still don’t have the smoking gun,” said Amit Reem, a government archaeologist who helped lead the dig.
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