Israel Prepares to Relocate Prison Sitting on Top of Earliest Mosaic Dedicated to Jesus
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JERUSALEM, Israel – It’s not every day that a prison is relocated to make room for an archaeological discovery. But according to the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), that is exactly what’s happening in the ancient ruins of Megiddo.
Between 2004-2008, excavators uncovered the earliest mosaic dedicated to Jesus beneath Megiddo Prison. Israeli archaeologist Dr. Yotam Tepper found the remains of a 3rd-century Christian prayer hall and a mosaic containing the Greek inscription: “to the God Jesus Christ.”
“This structure is interpreted as the oldest Christian prayer house in the world… and in fact, it tells the story of Christianity even before it became official,” according to the IAA’s Facebook page.
The “Jesus” mosaic. Photo Credit: IAA
The site’s location beneath a prison delayed further excavation for years.
“When the Christian prayer hall was first found beneath the prison, we were all excited for one minute,” Matthew Adams, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, who has spent years excavating at Megiddo, told Reuters.
“And then we realized, “Oh, it’s in a maximum-security prison, so we’ll never actually be able to do anything with it.”
For years, Israeli officials have proposed moving the prison to allow archaeologists to continue digging. The IAA announced on Sunday, that plans are finally underway to evacuate the detention center as early as June. On Thursday, representatives from the IAA, the Megiddo Regional Council, and the Israel Prisons Service toured Megiddo Prison to prepare for the relocation.
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According to the IAA’s website, the Christian prayer hall sits on an ancient Jewish village that was located next to a Roman army legion camp and a Roman-Byzantine city.
Excavators found a total of three ancient Greek inscriptions in the hall, which were deciphered by Dr. Leah De Signi.
The first inscription says the Christian mosaic was built with money donated by a Roman army officer. The second is dedicated to the memory of four women. The third inscription is the earliest mention of Jesus as God in Israel.
The mosaic also contains images of fish – a traditional Christian symbol.
“We have here archaeological evidence of an Early Christian community, whose members also included Roman army officers, from a period prior to the recognition of Christianity as a religion and years before it became the official religion of the empire,” the IAA says. “All these factors allow us to examine questions relating to the development of the Christian religion before the Emperor Constantine, as well as issues connected with the Roman army in the eastern part of the empire in general, and the Land of Israel in particular.”
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