Biblical Archaeology Review 19:5, September/October 1993

Ancient Churches in the Holy Land

By Yoram Tsafrir

More ancient churches have been found in the Holy Land than in any area of comparable size in the world. About 330 different sites with ancient church remains have been identified in modern Israel, the West Bank and the Golan Heights east of the Sea of Galilee. At many of these sites, more than one ancient church stood. At Madaba in Transjordan (not included in our survey area), 14 turned up. In Jerusalem there were several dozen churches and chapels. In all, about 390 ancient churches at these 330 sites have been discovered.

Almost none, however, are earlier than the Byzantine period (324–640 C.E.). For our purposes, the Byzantine period in Israelinspired church begins in 324 C.E., when Constantine, the first Christian emperor, conquered the East. Two years later, his pious mother, Helena, made her pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which resulted in the discovery of Jesus’ tomb and Constantine’s initiative in building the first Byzantine churches. The Byzantine period ends in Israel with the Arab conquest of Palestine (630–640 C.E.).

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