Archaeologists Find 'Earliest Church' in Holy Land

The Christian Century, November 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

Archaeologists Find 'Earliest Church' in Holy Land


Israeli archaeologists excavating the grounds of Megiddo Prison have discovered what they believe are the remnants of the earliest church ever discovered in the Holy Land. Yotam Tepper, the dig's chief archaeologist, said at a news briefing November 6 that the find "is certainly the earliest church in Israel that we know of."

The discovery was sparked by prisoner Ramil Razilo, who was removing rubble when his shovel uncovered the edge of a large mosaic floor.

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced November 3 that excavations at the high-security prison had unearthed "a rare Christian religious structure" from the third to fourth centuries. An inscription on the floor stated that a table there had been dedicated to "the God Jesus Christ."

The excavations were launched seven months ago after construction workers preparing to expand the prison discovered artifacts that, according to the antiquities agency, warranted further investigation. The excavation is one of several at Megiddo, the site of numerous battles and the place some Christians believe Armageddon will occur.

Antiquities officials said that three Greek inscriptions were discovered on the structure's elaborate mosaic floor, which also contains motifs of fish--a symbol often used by early Christians--and geometric patterns.

Professor Leah DiSegni of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who translated the inscriptions, said that one was dedicated by a military officer named Gaianus, who contributed to the construction of the mosaic floor from his own funds. Another inscription memorializes four women: Primilia, Kiraka, Dorothea and Crista. Another recalls "a certain god-loving Ekeptos [transliterated variously in news reports]," a woman who donated a centrally located table to "the God Jesus Christ as a memorial. …

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