Lasers reveal long-hidden Roman frescoes with biblical themes

Technology, art, and faith come together.

Doorway arch fresco depicting Christ and the Apostles at the Domitilla catacombs in Rome. Frescoes dating back to the fourth century A.D. have been restored with laser technology in underground crypts. Photo courtesy of Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology

This was originally posted by Josephine McKenna on June 6, 2017 on the Religion News Service website. Additional images from the catacombs appear in the original post.

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ROME (RNS) Ancient frescoes have been rediscovered inside the 1,600-year-old Domitilla catacombs after Italian art experts used laser technology to remove centuries of grit and grime.

The catacombs, or underground cemeteries, are named after a Roman noble family and are considered the most extensive in the Italian capital, drawing thousands of tourists.

The painstaking seven-year restoration, backed by the Vatican, focused on two burial chambers commissioned by successful bakers working in ancient Rome in the fourth century.

The restoration revealed spectacular frescoes showing how wealthy Roman aristocrats abandoned their pagan mythology to embrace Christianity.

Archaeologist Fabrizio Bisconti, head of the Vatican body responsible for ancient archaeology, said many frescoes had been discovered in Rome’s catacombs over the past 25 years.

But he said the latest revelation is significant, as the rooms had been completely covered in a black patina and graffiti.

“With the use of laser, the decorative work of the two chambers is shown in all its splendor, offering us a real discovery, even though the two chambers have been known about for many centuries,” he said.

The Domitilla catacombs are close to the ancient Appian Way and contain an underground basilica and four levels of corridors, chambers and crypts where 150,000 Christians and martyrs were buried. They span more than 10 miles.

The frescoes that were brought to light had been hidden under layers of dirt, algae and smoke left behind by oil lamps.

Using lasers, restorers discovered frescoes of pagan figures as well as biblical figures such as Moses and Noah on the chambers’ surface.

One ceiling fresco features an image of Jesus on a throne and two men, believed to be saints or Christian martyrs, seated beside him.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, said the catacombs were a reminder of “the passage of conversion to the new faith” and the importance of Domitilla as a Christian burial site.

“Between the third and fourth centuries they welcomed both the common faithful and the martyrs,” Ravasi said in a statement.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, many of the catacombs were forgotten and later raided for their art treasures. They were rediscovered in the 16th century by Antonio Bosio, an archaeologist who loved to leave his name scribbled on the frescoes in charcoal.

A new museum featuring sarcophagi, busts and epitaphs is expected to open at the catacombs this month.

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More images: Lasers reveal long-hidden Roman frescoes with biblical themes

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

 

Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?

Jesus’ home in Nazareth

Excavation site in Nazareth

This essay originally appeared on Bible History Daily from the Biblical Archeology Society on March 17, 2017. It is an updated version of a 2015 posting.

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The childhood home of Jesus may have been found underneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel, according to archaeologist Ken Dark.

The excavation site located beneath the convent has been known since 1880, but it was never professionally excavated until the Nazareth Archaeological Project began its work in 2006. In “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” in the March/April 2015 issue of BAR, Ken Dark, the director of the Nazareth Archaeological Project, not only describes the remains of the home itself, but explores the evidence that suggests that this is the place where Jesus spent his formative years—or at least the place regarded in the Byzantine period as the childhood home of Jesus.

The excavation revealed a first-century “courtyard house” that was partially hewn from naturally occurring rock and partially constructed with rock-built walls. Many of the home’s original features are still intact, including doors and windows. Also found at the site were tombs, a cistern and, later, a Byzantine church.

The remains combined with the description found in the seventh-century pilgrim account De Locus Sanctis point to the courtyard house found beneath the convent as what may have been regarded as Jesus’ home in Nazareth. Archaeological and geographical evidence from the Church of the Annunciation, the International Marion Center and Mary’s Well come together to suggest that this location may be where Jesus transitioned from boy to man.

Ken Dark also discusses the relationship between the childhood home of Jesus, Nazareth and the important site of Sepphoris. It has been thought that Sepphoris would have provided Joseph with work and Jesus many important cultural experiences. However, Ken Dark believes that Nazareth was a larger town than traditionally understood and was particularly Jewish in its identity—as opposed to the Roman-influenced Sepphoris. This is partially based on the result of his survey of the Nahal Zippori region that separates Sepphoris and Nazareth geographically.

For more on the childhood home of Jesus, read the full article “Has Jesus’ Nazareth House Been Found?” by Ken Dark in the March/April 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Image: Bible History Daily. Description: “This very well could be the childhood home of Jesus. It doesn’t look inviting, but this rock-hewn courtyard house was quite likely Jesus’ home in Nazareth. The recent excavation by Ken Dark and the Nazareth Archaeological Project revealed evidence suggesting this is where Jesus was raised—or at the least the place venerated as such by the Byzantine period. Photo: Ken Dark.”

The Antonine Plague and the Spread of Christianity

Did a plague influence the spread of Christianity?

This post originally appeared in the “Classical Corner” column of the Bible History Daily

Quote . . .The year was 166 C.E., and the Roman Empire was at the zenith of its power. The triumphant Roman legions, under the command of Emperor Lucius Verrus, returned to Rome victorious after having defeated their Parthian enemies on the eastern border of the Roman Empire. As they marched west toward Rome, they carried with them more than the spoils of plundered Parthian temples; they also carried an epidemic that would ravage the Roman Empire over the course of the next two decades, an event that would inexorably alter the landscape of the Roman world. The Antonine Plague, as it came to be known, would reach every corner of the empire and is what most likely claimed the life of Lucius Verrus himself in 169—and possibly that of his co-emperor Marcus Aurelius in 180. Read the entire post on Bible History Daily

Archaeologist Says the Bible’s King Hezekiah Is Real

An interesting read for those whose study of the Bible includes the archeology of the ancient world, modern archeological science and methods, and current politics. Read the entire essay as you “keep learning”

From the Daily Beast, 12/03/15:

A recent find from Israel
A clay imprint, known as a bulla, which was unearthed from excavations near Jerusalem’s Old City

Israeli archeologists have discovered a mark from a seal of the biblical King Hezekiah—and the discovery is being touted in some circles as proof of the authenticity of the biblical record.

The small circular inscription was found as part of excavations of a refuse dump at the foot of the southern wall that surrounds Jerusalem’s Old City. The clay imprint, known to archeologists as a bulla, contains ancient Hebrew script and a symbol of a two-winged sun.

In the end, the discovery of the bulla may tell us as much about the politics of the present as it does the archeology of the past.

According to the Bible, Hezekiah ruled around 700 B.C. and, along with King Josiah, was one of the few good kings dedicated to eliminating idolatry. 2 Kings 18:5 implies that he was without equal: “there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”

Read the entire essay here

 

Is Israel’s Big New Find for Real?

A look at the difficulties of assessing the authenticity of ancient artifacts.

A piece of recently found papyrus is said to prove that Jerusalem was the center of a kingdom thousands of years ago. But the timing of its discovery has cast some doubt on it.

Source: Is Israel’s Big New Find for Real? – The Daily Beast

What do hear?

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Catholic scholars drive a new wave on the New Testament (via Crux)

A new generation of scholars—many of them Catholic—are at last coming at the subject of New Testament scholarship with some humility and common sense.

The turning point in the scholarship has been the increased understanding of the relevance of the first century Jewish context  of the New Testament. As scholars and archeologists have uncovered an increasing amount of information about first century Jewish culture, beliefs and writings, they have come to understand more deeply the meaning and historicity of the gospels.

Put simply, a deeper understanding of first century Judaism has illuminated the New Testament, not only revealing new depths of meaning, but also affirming its early date and historical authenticity.

I encourage you to read the whole post on the Crux website. Let it inspire you to continue to do your own research and decision-making as you keep learning. ~Dan

Image: Page from Codex Vaticanus; ending of 2 Thes and beginning of Heb on Wikipedia

Biblical Archeology: Keep Learning

Judean Pillar Figurines
Judean Pillar Figurines

Were you aware that the Biblical Archeology Society has a website? If yes, I hope you use it often. If no, then a visit is in order: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/

Among other pages you will find a page for Free eBooks. Also, you will have the opportunity to create an account (for free) in order to receive their daily or weekly emails exploring the world of biblical archeology.

Judean Pillar Figurines is one of their current stories (8/21/14). Check it out.