Archaeologists have discovered a 1,500-year-old painting of Jesus in a Byzantine church in the Negev desert of Israel.
“His face is right there, looking at us,” said art historian Emma Maayan-Fanar, according to Haaretz.
Although the painting was first noted in the 1920s, according to Fox News, it was not until the past few years that any attempt was made to see what lay beneath centuries of grime.
Although a sixth century A.D. painting of what experts believe was the transfiguration of Jesus recounted in the gospels was discovered at the Shivta church, damage was so severe that experts could not produce an image of how the painter at the time made Jesus appear.
Maayan-Fanar said the painting was unusually high up on the church wall, and that she had visited the site several times without seeing what was under dirt that had accumulated over the ages.
An extremely rare depiction of Jesus from the early Christian era has been found in the ruins of Shivta, a large Byzantine farming village in the heart of Israel’s Negev deserthttps://t.co/nP9kAv4BFV
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) November 12, 2018
“I was there at the right time, at the right place with the right angle of light and, suddenly, I saw eyes,” Maayan-Fanar said. “It was the face of Jesus at his baptism, looking at us.”
The painting depicts Jesus as a young man with short, curly hair next to a much larger image, presumed to be John the Baptist.
“Christ’s face in this painting is an important discovery in itself,” Maayan-Fanar and her team wrote in their paper.
“It belongs to the iconographic scheme of a short-haired Christ, which was especially widespread in Egypt and Syro-Palestine, but gone from later Byzantine art.”
Drawings of Jesus in Rome as late as the fourth century show Jesus with short hair, Maayan-Fanar said.
A Fox video helps explain the find:
At the Shivta church, which experts guess was built at some time in the fourth century, the paintings show a different image from the standard image of Jesus found in Western art.
“The figure has short curly hair, a prolonged face, large eyes and an elongated nose. The neck and upper portion are also observable. To the left of the figure, another, much larger face surrounded by a halo is visible,” said the writeup in the journal Antiquity.
“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,” the study concluded.
“Christ’s depiction as a youth corresponds to the symbolic notion of baptism as a rebirth,” the study noted.
Maayan-Faran said other images painted on Holy Land churches that showed a similar figure likely succumbed to the ravages of time and wars.
It gives archaeologists a hint of what religious art looked like before the religious iconogography of the Orthodox Christian world, Fox reported.
“The discovery of this painting is extremely important. Thus far, it is the only in situ baptism-of-Christ scene to date confidently to the pre-iconoclastic Holy Land. Therefore, it can illuminate Byzantine Shivta’s Christian community and Early Christian art across the region,” the study noted.
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