November 07, 2005

Ancient church found in Israel

Israeli archaeologists yesterday 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.

There were a few things that bothered me in the article however ...
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."
This is certainly true, however we have don't have archeological evidence for other people in antiquity ... yet we still believe they existed.
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 Zias is jumping the gun here a bit, why assume there were no churches until it was 'legal' we know this is patently untrue since we have found 'underground' churches as far as Rome (and earlier.)

Now what he might mean a ‘publicly known’ church, but even so, to say there were none of those before the 4th century is silly too. It’s a misunderstanding of what a ‘church’ was to the early Christians, and forcing modern meanings on the word. Churches were pretty much houses, and perhaps meeting halls before the 4th century. Who is to say that this wasn't a church that was later added on to?
The Antiquities Authority said more than 60 prison inmates took part in the dig in recent months.
Funny thing was that it was discovered by a prisoner, makes you think about how many of the early Christians were imprisoned --- and now its been rediscovered by a prisoner.

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