A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


Saturday, November 05, 2005

A Very Ancient Structure

AP: Archaeologists Discover Ancient Church---

JERUSALEM - Israeli archaeologists on Saturday said they have discovered what may be the oldest Christian church in the Holy Land on the grounds of a prison near the biblical site of Armageddon.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the ruins are believed to date back to the third or fourth centuries, and include references to Jesus and images of fish, an ancient Christian symbol.

"This is a very ancient structure, maybe the oldest in our area," said Yotam Tepper, the head archaeologist on the dig.

The dig took place over the past 18 months at the Megiddo prison in northern Israel, with the most significant discoveries taking place in the past two weeks, Tepper said. Scholars believe Megiddo to be the New Testament's Armageddon, the site of a final war between good and evil.

Tepper said the discovery could shed new light on an important period of Christianity, which was banned by the Romans until the fourth century.

"Normally we have from this period in our region historical evidence from literature, not archaeological evidence," he said. "There is no structure you can compare it to, it is a very unique find."

Channel Two television, which broke the story Saturday evening, broadcast pictures of a detailed and well-preserved mosaic bearing the name of Jesus Christ in ancient Greek and images of fish.

Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to Israel, praised the find as a "great discovery."

"Of course, all the Christians are convinced of the history of Jesus Christ," he told Channel Two. "But is it extremely important to have archaeological proof of a church dedicated to him? Certainly."

Joe Zias, an anthropologist and a former curator with the Israeli Antiquities Authorities, said the discovery was significant but unlikely to be the world's oldest church. He said there were no churches until Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century.

"The earliest it could be is fourth century and we have other fourth-century churches. I think what is important here is the size, the inscription and the mosaics," he said. "I think it is an important find as far as early Christianity but I wouldn't say it was the oldest church in the world."