When archaeologists first found remnants of a long-lost town, Shivta, in southern Israel’s Negev Desert, they believed it showed signs of Muslim tolerance of Christians during the town’s lifetime, more than 1,000 years ago.
The researchers pointed to remains of a mosque that had been erected adjacent to the remains of a Christian church, and there were some features of the church that were undamaged.
However, Global Christian News reports new research shows the mosque was, in fact, partially constructed out of dismantled building material from the church.
The church appears to have been deliberately desecrated.
One researcher explained that a step in the main entrance and another in the mosque was carved with Christian symbols.
“People entering these structures in the Early Islamic period were actually stepping on them. That’s a clear statement, and not one of coexistence,” the researcher said.
In Islam, to step on something usually is considered a sign of utter contempt.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz explained the find in more detail.
While the village probably had survived for 700 or 800 years, sometime after the Byzantine era, it vanished. It had been a Christian town that was taken over by Muslims.
“Apparently, theories of coexistence over the years at Shivta were wishful thinking,” the report said.
It explained how the town, some 25 miles southwest of Be’er Sheva, probably was settled in the first century B.C. and was a power from the fifth to seventh centuries.
The town declined after being taken over by Muslims, apparently.
“What caused the desert settlement’s ultimate demise is not clear. It could have been a combination of factors, including intensifying drought, disease, earthquake. Certainly, massive sociocultural change ensued when Christian control ceded to Islamic hegemony. The heavy tax Muslims imposed on non-Muslims could well have led the majority of Christians to leave the site. It could also have depressed Christian pilgrimage traffic through the Negev, depressing the economy,” the report said.
It originally was excavated in 1933 and now is the subject of more research.
The evidence for the coexistence of Muslims and Christians was that the Muslim prayer niche facing Mecca was built into the church, but an adjacent baptistry was found not to have been damaged.
However, one researcher now believes otherwise, Haaretz reported.
“Praise for coexistence in Shivta seems to have been undeserved,” the researcher said. “The mosque, and a dwelling known as the Pool House, were built using spolia [dismantled remnants] from the church.”
The stepping stone that was carved with Christian symbols was significant.
The report said pottery and coins show both Shivta’s changeover from Christian to Muslim and its decline. Pottery vessels and coins, which are indicators of the extent of commerce and wealth, are abundant during the Byzantine period, but peter out in the early Islamic period.