Jerusalem, March 7, 1999

Church of John the Baptist Discovered

(Communicated by Israel Antiquities Authority Spokesman)

The Israel Antiquities Authority today (Sunday), 7.3.99, announced that a sixth century Byzantine church dedicated to John the Baptist has been discovered at the Tel a-Shakef dig at an Israel military installation in the Gaza Strip.

The church, measuring 13×25 meters in area, is covered in marble floor tiles and multi-colored mosaics of geometric shapes and flora motifs, as well as three Greek inscriptions, translated by IAA Professor Vassilios Tzaperis as follows:

1. A line from Psalms 95:1, "O come, let us sing unto the Lord," mistakenly rendered as, "O come, let us become sanctified unto the Lord."

2. Deuteronomy 28:6: "Blessed will you be when you come in, and blessed will you be when you go out."

3. At the entrance to the church is a multi-colored mosaic of a medallion containing 11 lines that state that the church is dedicated to John the Baptist, was founded in 544 and completed in 550, and praise the church’s donors Victor and John.

Dig director Ya’akov Huster, on behalf of the IAA, stated that a previous excavation at the site revealed a magnificent bathhouse and fish pond in almost perfect condition, next to the church. "These discoveries show that this was a major church in a successful community in the mid-sixth century, during the reign of Justinian."

The site is located at a military installation in the northwest edge of the Gaza Strip, in an area under Israeli military and civilian control. The excavation is being conducted with the aid of the Employment Service as part of a public works project for the unemployed, the archeology officer for Judea and Samaria and the base commander.