Bible and archaeology news
At the mountaintop site of Hippos-Sussita overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Israel, an excavation team led by Dr. Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa has uncovered the ancient city’s theater and public bathhouse. Eisenberg believes the two buildings, which date to the Roman period, could have been associated with Asclepius (the god of medicine) or with Dionysus (the god of wine and the theater) and Pan (the god of mountain wilds, shepherds and flocks).
“Dionysus … is associated with change and the loss of identity, and accordingly with the masks used in the theater,” explained Eisenberg in a University of Haifa press release. “From the earliest days of the theater in the Greek world, the buildings served for the worship of Dionysus. In both Greek and Roman sites, we find a bathhouse as part of the sanctuary associated with healing and with Asclepius.”
The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.
In the Roman period, Hippos-Sussita was part of the Decapolis, a group of city-states in what is now Jordan, Israel and Syria that were centers of Greek culture. Excavated remains show that Hippos-Sussita was a well-planned Greco-Roman city. In 2015, archaeologists uncovered a large bronze mask of the god Pan in a complex outside of the city. The subsequent discovery of a monumental gateway has led the archaeologists to believe that this complex was a sanctuary to Pan. The recently excavated theater and bathhouse within the vicinity have deepened the archaeologists’ understanding of the function of these buildings.
“All these findings suggest that this was a large sanctuary outside the city—something that completely changes what we knew about Hippos and the surrounding area until now,” explained Eisenberg. “If our hypothesis is correct, it is quite possible that thousands of visitors to the theater came not to see the latest show in town, but to take part in rituals honoring one of the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon. They watched and listened to the priests here until they entered a state of ecstasy and catharsis.”
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