Biblical Archaeology Review 24:2, March/April 1998

Illuminating Byzantine Jerusalem

Oil lamps shed light on early Christian worship

By Jodi Magness

This is the story of how the puzzling inscriptions on some ancient oil lamps illuminate an entire era. These modest artifacts offer us a vivid picture of the spiritual life of the earliest Christian pilgrims.

The inscriptions appear on a particular sub-sub-subtype of ceramic oil lamp from a particular locale and a particular time. The time is the Byzantine period, which, as defined by scholars working in Israel, extends from 313, when Constantine legalized Christianity, to about 638, when the Arabs conquered Palestine. The locale is Palestine, especially the vicinity of Jerusalem. Though these lamps are found throughout the region, their concentration around the city suggests Jerusalem was a center for their manufacture and distribution.

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