Archaeologists announced the discovery of a small “prayer box” in Jerusalem. It dates to the early Byzantine period in the 6th or 7th century A.D. It is quite small – less than 1 inch long – with gold leaf and paintings of a man and woman on the inside. Arutz Sheva has an article with photos of the prayer box.
Aren Maeir also reports on a recent conference that included a report on this find. At this point scholars believe the man and woman depicted in the prayer box are Jesus and Mary.
The Byzantines do not receive the same attention in the U.S. as other great empires of antiquity. Here are a few bullet points.
- The Byzantines were the eastern half of the Roman Empire. The western half (Rome, Gaul, etc.) declined and fell. The eastern half declined… and recovered.
- Constantinople, their capital city, was originally called Byzantium. Constantine renamed it for himself in the early 4th century A.D.
- We call them Byzantines, but they called themselves Romans all the way up to the fall of their civilization to the Ottoman Turks in A.D. 1453. They existed as a distinct polity for 1000 years after the fall of Rome and the western territories. (We see that “Romans” existed from antiquity until just 39 years before Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.)
- The Byzantines controlled Palestine until the Islamic conquests of the 7th century A.D. The Byzantines never regained the Holy Land, though Western European Crusaders conquered it for a time.
- Byzantine libraries preserved Greco-Roman learning while Europe foundered in a Dark Age. When Venice-backed Europeans temporarily captured Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade, the manuscripts they looted and carried to Italy helped ignite the Renaissance.
There is so much more to tell about the Byzantines. History classes in the U.S. usually pass over this long-enduring civilization with direct Roman roots. The prayer box discovery is a reminder that many traditionally Islamic territories were strongholds of Christianity for many hundreds of years. My, how things can change in time.