The pursuit of a gang of grave robbers has led to the discovery of an ancient church outside Jerusalem that may contain the burial place of the biblical prophet Zechariah, Israeli authorities said Wednesday.
The hill-top church was destroyed by an earthquake some 1,300 years ago and lay partly buried until detectives from Israel's Antiquities Authority, pursuing a gang of antiquity thieves, noticed an elaborate doorpost poking through the earth. The robbers got away -- they were caught a few months later at a site nearby -- but after weeks of digging, archaeologists uncovered the remains of the church. It was about the size of a basketball court and contained fallen marble pillars and a nearly pristine 10-meter-long mosaic floor.
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.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Zechariah's tomb may have been discovered
As reported by Ari Rabinovitch of Reuters on February 2, 2011: