Hidden Christian Cross at Hippos-Sussita

Bible and archaeology news


A brass weight that had concealed a Christian cross was discovered in a Byzantine church at the archaeological site of Hippos-Sussita. Photo: University of Haifa.

Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the site of Hippos-Sussita witnessed nearly a millennium of civilization (from the second century B.C.E. to the mid-eighth century C.E.). The recent discovery of a decorated brass weight sheds additional light on a complex chapter of the site’s history: the seventh century C.E., when its predominantly Christian inhabitants were under Islamic control.

In 2013, archaeologists found the weight in the remains of a Byzantine church at Hippos-Sussita. A large stain—thought at first to be dirt—covered its front. A recent analysis, however, shows that the stain was actually made of a metallic paste (of tin and lead), and had intentionally been placed over a silver cross.

Once the stain was removed, it was clear that the weight’s front had originally depicted a cross on Calvary (where Jesus was crucified) surrounded by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where he was buried). Two Greek letters—signifying its weight of 6 ounces—appear on its back.

Hippos-Sussita fell under control of the first Islamic caliphate of the Umayyad dynasty from the mid-seventh century C.E. until the site was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 and subsequently abandoned. The cross on the Byzantine weight had intentionally been obscured to ensure that the weight could be used even under the new administration. Part of the silver cross had been scratched out—to maintain the same weight—and a stain poured over it.

Under Islamic rule, there was a certain degree of religious tolerance, but this weight shows that there were limitations as well. According to Michael Eisenberg of the University of Haifa, who directs the Hippos-Sussita Excavations, a weight with an overt Christian symbol may have crossed a line—since a Muslim official could potentially have been forced to handle it. Nevertheless, Christians were allowed to continue worshiping. Hippos-Sussita’s many churches—adorned with large crosses—remained open until the city was destroyed.

This weight is currently on display at the Hecht Museum in Haifa, Israel, as part of the exhibit “Before the Earth Shook: The Ancient City of Hippos-Sussita Emerges.”

Many of the ancient places, people and events that populate Biblical history are also a part of the Islamic tradition. Our free eBook Islam in the Ancient World traces the Biblical roots of Islamic traditions and holy sites, bringing a new perspective to Biblical history and traditions. Learn how the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque both drew on earlier religious traditions, and how other important sites in Islam are tied to the Bible.


More on Hippos-Sussita in Bible History Daily:

Hippos-Sussita: The High Horse of the Decapolis

Face of the Greek God Pan
Pan mask uncovered at Hippos, Israel

The Fourth-Century Earthquake that Rocked Galilee

An Ancient Roman Gateway to Pan at Hippos-Sussita

Ancient Roman Theater and Bathhouse Found at Hippos-Sussita


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