Archaeologists have discovered a painting depicting the face of a young Jesus Christ in the ruins of an ancient church in the Israeli desert, one of the oldest in existence.
The incredible find was discovered by archaeologists from the University of Haifa in the ancient Byzantine village of Shiva, now modern day Israel in the Negev desert. Exposed for centuries to the sun, only a few scant lines and hints of color remain of the painting on the walls of the Early Byzantine church.
The archaeologists published their results in the journal Antiquity, where they say the the reconstructed painting depicts an important religious figure with a long nose, absent beard, and short curly hair surrounded by a halo.
The image was found located above a crucifix-shaped baptismal font, leading archaeologists to believe the scene depicts the Baptism of Christ. If true it would be the first to show Christ’s baptism in the Holy Land, predating the destruction of religious imagery under Byzantine Iconoclasm.
“I was there at the right time, at the right place with the right angle of light and, suddenly, I saw eyes. It was the face of Jesus at his baptism, looking at us.”
The ruins were briefly noted in the 1920’s, but their significance never discovered until further analysis revealed the painting – one they believe is part of a larger image containing several figures, including John the Baptist.
“To the left of the figure, another, much larger face surrounded by a halo is visible. Paint traces throughout the apse suggest that these faces were part of a wider scene, which could contain additional figures. The location of the scene—above the crucifix-shaped Baptist font—suggests its identification as the baptism of Christ. Thus, this face portrays the youthful Christ, while the face on the left is most probably of John the Baptist.”
Stay tuned says the archaeologists studying the ruins, as they believe they may be more than meets the eye with the painting.
“Additional details of the painting at the scene’s center, surrounding Christ’s face, are hidden beneath an accumulation of dust and mud, which protects the underlying paint layers from further deterioration. We aim to continue studying the painting to ensure its future preservation.”