The feeding of the five thousand was one of Jesus’ greatest miracles.
Of course, many secular scholars argue that it’s only a story.
But a recent archaeological discovery provides a stunning — and historically accurate — depiction of the miracle.
And in this case, a fire originally meant to destroy it instead preserved it for the future.
In 2005, an archaeological team from the University of Haifa in Israel discovered a site called “the Burnt Church of Hippos.”
Located in the northern part of Israel, Hippos was an ancient Greco-Roman city which overlooked the Sea of Galilee. Even though it was discovered in 2005, it has only recently been excavated by the university team.
Last fall, the archaeologists were thrilled to discover the remnants of a beautiful fifth-century church in what was once Hippos. The church was burned to the ground in approximately 700AD, but crucial parts of it still remain.
One of those parts is the floor of the church, which was remarkably well-preserved by a thick layer of ash from the fire that originally destroyed the building.
“The fire caused the church…floor to be conserved in an amazing way, since the roof was burnt down and collapsed on the floor of the church and covered it in a layer of ash, thus protecting it from being damaged over time,” said the team.
As they removed the layer of ash, the archaeological team was excited to discover an intricately designed mosaic floor depicting one of the most well-known New Testament stories: Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14).
The mosaic pattern, beautifully preserved in full color, shows fish, birds, loaves, and baskets, along with several decorative shapes and designs.
Dr. Michael Eisenburg, the head archaeologist at the dig site, was thrilled to uncover such a significant find.
“There can certainly be different explanations to the descriptions of loaves and fish in the mosaic,” Dr. Eisenburg admitted, “but you cannot ignore the similarity to the description in the New Testament.”
“For example,” he continued, “from the fact that the New Testament has a description of five loaves in a basket or the two fish depicted in the apse [the altar area of the ancient church], as we find in the mosaic.”
“In addition, the mosaic at the burnt church has a depiction of 12 baskets, and the New Testament also describes the disciples who, at the end of the miracle, were left with 12 baskets of bread and fish,” he concluded.
However, there are some differences between the mosaic and the Biblical account of the miracle. For example, some of the baskets depicted in the mosaic contain fruit (such as pomegranates and apples), which is not mentioned in Matthew 14.
Dr. Eisenburg also noted that the location of the church — and the mosaic — may lead to future reconsideration (within Biblical parameters) about the place where Jesus performed the miracle.
“Nowadays, we tend to regard…the north-west [coast] of the Sea of Galilee as the location of the miracle,” he said. “But with careful reading of the New Testament it is evident that it might have taken place north of Hippos within the city’s region.”
“According to the scripture, after the miracle Jesus crossed the water to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, to the area of Tabgha/Ginosar, so that the miracle had to take place at the place where he began the crossing rather than at the place he finished it.”
“There is no doubt that the local community was well familiar with the two miracles of Feeding the Multitude and perhaps knew their estimated locations better than us.”
He added, “The assumption that the artisan or the persons who ordered the work wanted to create an affinity to a miracle which took place nearby must be logical.”
The feeding of the five thousand was an important story for the early Christian Church, and whoever made the mosaic wanted to commemorate it for all to see. Dr. Eisenburg and his team believe that the mosaic was constructed by local Christians, not professional artisans.
Regardless of who created it, the mosaic is a beautiful tribute to Jesus’ time on earth and His love for the people around Him.