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Oldest Christian Chapel in Israel - update

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    Oldest Christian Chapel in Israel - update IN HOLY LAND MAY CAUSE PRISON RELOCATION By Etgar Lefkovits Jerusalem Post January 25, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 30, 2006
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      Oldest Christian Chapel in Israel - update

      By Etgar Lefkovits
      Jerusalem Post
      January 25, 2006


      In an unprecedented move, Israel's top archaeological body is
      recommending that the Megiddo Prison be relocated due to the recent
      discovery of the most ancient Christian place of worship ever found
      in Israel on the grounds of the prison.

      The ruins of the Christian prayer hall, which was located inside a
      Roman villa, date back to the first half of the third century CE,
      making the chapel the earliest place of Christian worship ever
      unearthed in the Holy Land, excavation director and Israel
      Antiquities Authority archaeologist Yotam Tepper said Tuesday.

      The site in question, which is located between an ancient Jewish
      village dating back to the Roman period and what used to be a Roman
      Army camp, was uncovered last year after authorities sought to
      expand the prison grounds and prisoners stumbled upon the ruins
      during routine excavations.

      The building, which is thought to have belonged to a Roman officer,
      has a rectangular hall with a mosaic floor bearing geometric
      patterns, a medallion decorated with drawings of fish -- a symbol
      widely used in early Christianity -- and three Greek inscriptions.

      One inscription names an army officer who contributed toward the
      paving of the floor, the second is dedicated in memory of four
      women, and the third mentions a woman who contributed a table or
      altar to the God Jesus Christos.

      Pottery shards and coins found in the excavation date the mosaic to
      the first half of the third century, Tepper said during a visit by
      President Moshe Katsav and senior Christian religious leaders in the
      Holy Land.

      He noted that the Jesus inscription found on the mosaic was one of
      the first such epigraphic references ever unearthed.

      The prayer site, which unequivocally associates the Roman military
      officer with Christianity, is viewed as especially rare in that it
      precedes the recognition of Christianity as an official religion.

      Tepper said Tuesday that the "unique" discovery could shed new light
      on Early Christianity, which was banned by the Romans until the
      fourth century.

      The established view is that Christian churches did not begin to
      appear in the region until the fourth century following Emperor
      Constantine's edict in
      313 that Christians could worship freely in the Roman Empire.

      The Antiquities Authority said that the structure found at the site
      does not fit the accepted architectural definitions of a church, and
      so they deem it to be a Christian prayer hall, or chapel.

      The building was never used again after the third century, and was
      covered with dirt until the mosaic was discovered as the prison
      sought to expand, and the excavations were carried out, Tepper said.

      "We are talking about a unique and unprecedented find which is
      exciting the entire Christian world," said Antiquities Authority
      director Shuka Dorfman.

      "Any move which would disconnect the mosaic from its site would
      injure the cultural values this site represents," he added.

      President Moshe Katsav said that in light of the historical
      dimensions of the find he fully supports the recommendation of the
      Antiquities Authority to relocate the prison, noting that during his
      recent visit to the Vatican the Pope inquired if he may visit the
      site on his future visit to Israel.

      The prison, which is likely to be moved as a result of the find,
      currently holds about 1,200 prisoners, prison authority spokeswoman
      Orit Messer-Harel said Tuesday.

      Megiddo, also known as Armageddon, is the place where the New
      Testament says the ultimate battle of good and evil will be waged.

      Today the prison is located along a major thoroughfare in northern
      Israel and is surrounded primarily by fields.

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