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World?s oldest church?

Israeli archaeologists said Saturday 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.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2005 12:48 IST
PTI

Israeli archaeologists said Saturday 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.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the ruins are believed to date back to the third or fourth centuries and include references to Jesus and images of fish, an ancient Christian symbol.

'This is a very ancient structure, maybe the oldest in our area,' said Yotam Tepper, the head archaeologist on the dig. The dig took place over the past 18 months at the Megiddo prison in Israel’s northern Galilee region, with the most significant discoveries taking place in the past two weeks, Tepper said.

Scholars believe Megiddo to be the New Testament’s Armageddon, the site of a final war between good and evil. Tepper said the discovery could reveal more about an important period of Christianity, which was banned until the fourth century. 'Normally, we have from this period in our region historical evidence from literature, not archaeological evidence,' he said.

'In that case, this is a very unique find.' Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel, praised the find as a “great discovery.” 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 Christianity was outlawed until the time of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, and there were no churches before then.