How ‘chance discovery’ uncovered the oldest church in Holy Land

How 'chance discovery' uncovered the oldest church in Holy Land

How ‘chance discovery’ uncovered the oldest church in Holy Land

The wonder of archaeology was discovered in the ancient city of Megiddo, one of Israel’s oldest and most popular biblical cities. At about 91 kilometres from Jerusalem, during the Bronze Age Megiddo became famous and later a royal city in the Kingdom of Israel. Today there are very few remains of the city and its remains are known as Tel Megiddo or Tell al-Mutesellim.

The church in Megiddo could be the oldest church in the Holy Land

In 2005, however, two remarkable findings were discovered by an accident, including the oldest church ever found in Holy Land. The second finding may also be the earliest recorded written mention of Jesus Christ, according to Professor Tom Meyer, an expert in theology at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California , US.

He told: “A chance discovery has brought to light the archaeological remains of not only the oldest church ever found in the Holy Land but also perhaps the earliest archaeological example of the written name of Jesus Christ.

“In 2005, construction crews were putting an addition onto a modern-day maximum-security prison located near the ancient and pivotal site of Megiddo in Israel when they accidentally came across a find of epic proportions: the remains of the earliest church ever found in the Holy Land.”

The church is believed to have been constructed in the third century BC. The date would place its construction roughly 200 years after the death and the believed resurrection of Christ.

The archaeological ruins of Tel Megiddo in Israel

It also means the church was constructed about 100 years before the Byzantine Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion.

Professor Meyer said: “It is quite possible that early Christians remodelled an existing Roman building at this ancient and key intersection and converted it into a church.

An ancient inscription in the Megiddo church mosaic

“One of the greatest discoveries found thus far is found within the large and beautiful mosaic that decorated the church floor.

“The mosaic contains beautiful geometric designs and early Christian symbols like fish. “But the pièce de résistance is a Greek inscription honouring a Christian named Akeptous who donated a sum of money for a – religious – table to be used in the honour of ‘God, Jesus Christ’.

“Excluding manuscripts, this is perhaps the earliest archaeological discovery mentioning the name and divinity of Jesus Christ.”

Israeli prisoners cleaning the Tel Megiddo church

At the time of the church’s discovery, lead archaeologist Yotam Tepper of Tel Aviv University said: “What’s clear today is that it’s the oldest archaeological remains of a church in Israel, maybe even in the entire region.

“Whether in the entire world, it’s still too early to say.”

The discovery was also welcomed by envoys from the Vatican. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican envoy to Jerusalem, said: “A discovery of this kind will make Israel more interesting to all Christians, for the church all over the world.

“If it’s true that the church and the beautiful mosaics are from the third century, it would be one of the most ancient churches in the Middle East.”

Following the discovery, Israeli authorities halted the expansion of the prison near Megiddo.

Professor Meyer said: “The Israeli government is actually relocating the entire maximum-security prison to another location starting next year so that more archaeological work can be done at the site and so pilgrims from around the world can come and visit the earliest church ever discovered in the Holy Land.”

However, as with most discoveries of such a nature, there has been some debate over the church’s age.

A reconstruction of Megiddo

Anthropologist Joe Zias, the former curator for the Israel Antiquities Authority, argued the church may have originally been a Roman building that was converted into a church.

Others have suggested the church was constructed towards the end of the third century or in the fourth century.

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