With Christmas a few days away, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem revealed a rare token that offers a twist on the Nativity scene.
The tokens are known as Eugolia tokens and are believed to have been used as small souvenirs that Christians collected during their pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Morag Wilhelm, Assistant Curator of Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine archeology at the Israel Museum explained to CBN News that one token likely belonged to an early Christian who traveled to Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born.
“I’m holding a tiny, miniature token that used to belong to a 6th or 7th-century pilgrim that came here [on] a journey. We have here a Nativity scene. So he probably visited Bethlehem,” Wilhelm explained.
She discovered the rare token, about the size of an American dime, in a large collection that was donated to the Israel Museum. Unlike the typical Nativity scene, the token depicted baby Jesus without Joseph and Mary.
Additionally, the scene was inside what is believed to be the cave under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem instead of the manger.
“We can see Jesus, baby Jesus, and also the ox and the ass but they are inside an architectural building,” Wilhelm noted. “And we think that this building is the church of the Nativity.”
The Church of the Nativity, or Basilica of the Nativity, is the oldest major church in the Holy Land that was built a few centuries after Jesus was born. The historical structure is believed to have been built on the traditional birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem.
“So this combination is very rare in the case of Bethlehem. We have it here in Jerusalem, from the Holy Sepulcher but not from Bethlehem,” Wilhelm told CBN News.
The ancient souvenirs were created from the earth that was taken from holy sites. For at least 1,700 years Christians have gone on pilgrimages to biblical locations.
In the historical writing by church father St. Jerome, St. Jerome he connects the story of a woman named Paula as she makes a pilgrimage from Rome.
“Then she entered the cave of the Savior…and saw the stable, where ‘the ox knew his Master, and the ass his Lord’s manger’… then she solemnly declared in my own hearing that, with the eyes of faith, she saw a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, weeping in the Lord’s manger,” the writer states.
“So, what we guess we are seeing here, it’s this special visualization or religious experience that you go to the Holy place and you actually see baby Jesus in the cave of Bethlehem,” Wilhelm explains.
The Nativity token will likely be part of the Museum’s Pilgrimage collection along with other tokens depicting biblical scenes from Jesus’ life, such as the crucifixion and resurrection. Other “souvenirs” presented at the museum include little vials for oil, crosses, pendants, and rings.