They haven’t found a church yet, but the size, construction, and layout of a compound in the hills south of Beit Shemesh suggests a Byzantine-era monastery of the 6th century.
The discovery was made a few weeks ago during surveys conducted in advance of a construction project.
“Blocked cisterns, a cave opening and the tops of several walls were visible on the surface,” the archeologists said. “These clues to the world hidden underground resulted in an extensive archaeological excavation there that exposed prosperous life dating to the Byzantine period, which was previously unknown.”
Zilberbod and Libman said the compound is surrounded by an outer wall and is divided on the inside into two regions, including an industrial area and an activity and residential area.
Additionally, an “unusually large press in a rare state of preservation that was used to produce olive oil was exposed in the industrial area, as well as a large winepress revealed outside the built compound consisted of two treading floors from which the grape must flowed to a large collecting vat.”
Despite not finding a church or inscription of any kind indicating religious worship, the excavation’s co-directors said they still believe the site served as a monastery.
“It is true we did not find a church at the site… or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship; nevertheless, the impressive construction, the dating to the Byzantine period, the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts, as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound, are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries,” they said. Based on that criterion, the archeologists noted it is possible to reconstruct a scenario in which monks resided in a monastery that they established, made their living from the agricultural installations, and dwelled in the rooms and carried out their religious activities.
“At some point, which we date to the beginning of the Islamic period (7th century CE), the compound ceased to function, and was subsequently occupied by new resident,” they said. “These people changed the plan of the compound and adapted it for their needs.”