Israeli archaeologists unveiled on Wednesday the remnants of a newly discovered Byzantine-era church they suspect is concealing the tomb of the biblical prophet Zechariah.
The church, with intricate and well-preserved mosaic floors, was discovered on the slopes of the Judaean hills at Horbat Midras, the site of a Jewish community in Roman times, southwest of Jerusalem.
Underneath is a second layer of mosaics dating from the Roman period, with a cave complex still further below which archaeologists think could be Zechariah's tomb.
"Researchers believe that in light of an analysis of the Christian sources ... the church at Horbet Madras is a memorial church designed to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah," the Israel Antiquities Authority said.
A statement noted, however, that more work is needed to confirm the hypothesis.Al Arabiya adds:
Beneath the church's altar is a burial chamber that the Antiquities Authority said may have been the tomb of the prophet Zechariah, known from the eponymous book in the Bible, written around 520 BC.
The claim, which a number of experts have based on Christian sources and an ancient diagram known as the Madaba Map, has not been proved and is still being studied, they said.
Like many ancient structures, it was built on even older foundations dating back to the Roman Empire and the period of the second Jewish Temple. It includes a subterranean complex of caves and tunnels used by Jewish rebels fighting the Romans in the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132 AD.
The AP photos are amazing (click to enlarge):
The Madaba Map is the earliest known map of the Holy Land. Its map of Jerusalem is famous:
recently found the main road shown on that map going through the center of the city.
But the Jerusalem map at is actually a detail of the much larger map:
This larger map covers places as far as Ashkelon.