Biblical Archaeology Review 32:1, January/February 2006

Strata: Earliest Church in Holy Land?

Prisoners working on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inside a proposed new wing of the high-security prison at Megiddo (Biblical Armageddon) have uncovered what may have been one of the earliest Christian places of worship in ancient Israel. The structure may date to the third century A.D. and contains a floor with two mosaics and three inscriptions. One of the mosaics depicts two fish, an early Christian symbol. If the structure does date to the third century, it would predate Emperor Constantine’s 313 edict that allowed Christians to worship freely in the Roman Empire.

The floor measures 30 by 15 feet and has a raised base at its center that may have supported a structure used in worship services. A nearby inscription reads, “The God-loving Aketous has offered this table to the God Jesus Christ as a memorial.”

A second inscription mentions Gaianus, a Roman military officer, who, “having sought honor, from his own money has made the mosaic.”

Some archaeologists were skeptical that the Megiddo structure dates as early as the third century or that it was used as a church. Zeev Weiss, who is excavating Sepphoris, an important Jewish and early Christian site in Galilee, told the Washington Post, “To my mind, they don’t really know what they have.”

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