BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — When a revamped highway into Jerusalem fully opens in coming months, it will be just the latest makeover of a road that has served Holy Land travelers for centuries.
Almost as a testament to a path well-trodden, tractors and plows that made way for a new tunnel that is part of the project revealed a Christian village that provided refuge to weary pilgrims making their way into the holy city more than 2,000 years ago.
On Sunday, Israeli archaeologists announced the discovery at the site of a rare cache of Byzantine-era coins. They had lain hidden for some 1,400 years inside the stone walls of an old building in the unearthed village, which archaeologists now believe was called Einbikumakube.
At a time when the Christian presence across the Middle East is diminishing and believers often face persecution, archaeologists in Israel say that more than a third of the roughly 40,000 artifacts found in the country each year are linked in some way to Christianity.
It’s a potent point, offering proof of the Christian connection to the Holy Land and the Middle East, alongside that of Judaism and Islam.
The Israel Antiquities Authority gave journalists an up-close look at the coins on Sunday during a rare tour of its central warehouse, which is tucked away in a quiet industrial zone in the city of Beit Shemesh, about 40 minutes west of Jerusalem.
Tens of thousands of relics found across Israel since its creation in 1948 are kept at the site, though some go on display in museums. Many of the items are from the period that Jesus is believed to have lived or are evidence of his followers from the ensuing centuries.
Archaeologists say the excavated items might give an indication of how Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, but they aren’t physical evidence of his existence.
“He was one of more than a million people living here then, an ordinary Jew who had original ideas and attracted some followers,” said Gideon Avni, head of archaeology at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “His fame only really started after his death.”