The plastered installation is rectangular (Fig. 1) and hewn along an east–west axis (2.5–3.0 × 6.85 m, height to the top of the silt covering the floor c. 3 m, presumed volume c. 60 m3). Its upper part is covered with a barrel vault built of medium-sized ashlars. An entrance (width 0.8 m, height 0.9 m) was set in the vault in the installation’s southern wall, near the southeastern corner. The walls of the installation and the inside of the stone vault are coated with a thick layer of light pink-cream-colored plaster. A layer of gray plaster was applied to the pink plaster on the installation’s walls, from the bottom of the vault downward. The gray layer of plaster is modern, indicating that the installation was renovated in recent decades and was used as a water reservoir by local inhabitants. A section of an ancient terracotta pipe is carefully incorporated into the lower layer of plaster where the vault meets the western wall. The pipe supplied the installation with water when it functioned as a reservoir in antiquity (Fig. 2).
A finger-incised scribble made in the ancient plaster while it was still wet was discovered on the eastern wall of the installation (Figs. 3, 4). It depicts a figure with its arms lifted upward on either side of its body in the orans position, which is an Early Christian symbol of a believer praying (Finnery 1997
). The lower portion of the body, from the waist down, was not preserved due to the modern plaster covering the wall. The figure is 0.5 m high from the head to the waist and the torso is 0.17 m wide. The hair on either side of the head reaches down to the ears, and the hairstyle suggests that this is a female figure. The facial features—eyes, nostrils and mouth—are represented by circular depressions formed by the artist’s thumb impressions on the wet plaster. The neck is extremely long and disproportionate to the other body parts. Three lines on the neck may possibly depict the folds of a garment’s collar: the upper line has a sharp angle and the lower ones are curved. A horizontal line across the lower part of the stomach probably indicates the hem of the tunic. Above and below it are two parallel, vertical stripes that seem to indicate the tunic’s texture (clavi
). The elbows are depicted schematically, at a sharp, unnatural angle. The figure’s right hand is grasping a bouquet of flowers that is only vaguely discernible on the plaster; its left hand is holding a palm frond. The figure is portrayed frontally, lacking symmetry and proportion, with several body parts emphasized and sharp outlines. The engraving was done by an unskilled artisan in the eastern artistic tradition, distinguished by pronounced schematism and anatomical inaccuracy.
The incised figure is consistent with the folk art that was common in Israel at the end of the Late Roman and Byzantine periods (Avi-Yonah 1961
). Only a few artistic depictions of an orans have been discovered to date in Israel. A remarkable fresco from a Christian burial cave in Kibbutz Lohamē Ha-Geta’ot, c. 10 km west of
Khirbet el-Waziya, portrays Daniel in the lions’ den assuming this prayer posture. Although the artistic style in the Lohamē Ha-Geta’ot tomb is freer and more refined than at
Khirbet el-Waziya, both depict the figure dressed in a short tunic and seems to be typical of the orans figure in the East (Foerster 1986
). Two figures, male and female, portrayed in the eastern artistic style and standing in a similar orans posture are found in a decorated tomb from the Early Byzantine period in the Bet Guvrin necropolis. The left hand of the male figure is grasping the end of a garland, which was a funerary symbol during this period (Michaeli 2008
The orans scene generally appears in burial contexts or contexts of Christian worship. The scene symbolizes the faith of the believer and his devotion to God. The two accompanying elements in the hands of the figure—the flowers, and particularly the palm frond—represent in Christian iconography the victory of Christianity, and often appear in a funerary context. The palm frond is a symbol of victory in athletic contests of the Greek and Roman world. This is a common attribute of Nike, the goddess of victory, symbolizing military victory, which was also interpreted during this period as symbolizing a moral and spiritual victory; thus, in burial contexts it denotes triumph over death. Among Christians, who considered the palm frond a symbol of justice and integrity, the motif symbolized the victory of the holy martyrs and the triumph of Christianity, and that is how it appears in Christian funerary art (Michaeli 2009
It seems that the reservoir was part of a Byzantine-period ecclesiastical compound at Khirbat el-Waziya. Its opening is not high enough to allow a person to enter it standing upright, a characteristic of contemporary reservoirs that were discovered in many ecclesiastical compounds in the Galilee (e.g., the reservoir at H
eshek: Aviam 2002
:165–166). The orans incision corroborates the Byzantine-period date of the installation, and allows a glimpse of the religious beliefs of the local residents during this period.