JERUSALEM, Nov. 10 (JTA) – Construction on a
controversial neighborhood in Jerusalem has led to an important
archaeological discovery – and, perhaps, a boost to the Israeli tourist industry. While excavating near Har Homa, Israeli archaeologists said they discovered the rock upon which Christians believe Mary rested on her way to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. The rock was found in the center of a fifth-century Byzantine church on a site owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. The find was uncovered during recent excavations near the southeastern Jerusalem neighborhood – after contractors damaged some of the church while laying a water pipe for construction workers. The edge of the site was discovered earlier in the decade, but contractors were only allowed to return to the site last month. Archaeologists believe that octagonal churches, such as the one uncovered, served as the inspiration for the Dome of the Rock, a mosque located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. After the discovery was made, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced that it would try to raise funds to develop the site and turn it into a mecca for tourists and pilgrims by the year 2000. Construction at Har Homa has been a source of disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Peace talks were suspended for seven months in March after Israel decided to commence the Har Homa project.