Skip to comments.Jordan archaeologists unearth 'world's first church'
Posted on 06/10/2008 7:40:38 AM PDT by Between the Lines
AMMAN (AFP) — Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed what they claim is the world's first church, dating back almost 2,000 years, The Jordan Times reported on Tuesday.
"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," the head of Jordan's Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said.
He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
"We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians -- the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ," Husan said.
These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine," are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.
He cited historical sources which suggest they both lived and practised religious rituals in the underground church and only left it after Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers.
The bishop deputy of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese, Archimandrite Nektarious, described the discovery as an "important milestone for Christians all around the world."
Researchers recovered pottery dating back to between the 3rd and 7th centuries, which they say suggests these first Christians and their followers lived in the area until late Roman rule.
Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse.
There is also a deep tunnel which is believed to have led to a water source, the archaeologist added.
Rihab is home to a total of 30 churches and Jesus and the Virgin Mary are believed to have passed through the area, Husan said.
I suspect that many other churches would find much older churches buried beneath/within them. In Augsburg GE, excavations beneath the main cathedral there (the Dom) uncovered a 3-4th century church.
In architecture, the apse (Latin absis “arch, vault”; sometimes written apsis; plural apses) is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault. In Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic Christian abbey, cathedral and church architecture, the term is applied to the semi-circular or polygonal section of the sanctuary at the liturgical east end beyond the altar. Geometrically speaking, an apse is either a half-cone or half-dome.
The epithet “apsidal” may be applied to the exedra of classical architecture, a feature of the secular Roman basilica, which provided some prototypes for Early Christian churches. The apse in the Roman basilica was often raised (as the sanctuary generally still is) as a hieratic feature that set apart the magistrates who deliberated within it.
A simple apse set into the east end of an English parish church, at Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.
The decorated apses of the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily.
Fresco within the apse of an Orthodox church.The apse as a semicircular projection (which may be polygonal on the exterior, or reveal the radiating projections of chapels) may be roofed with a half-dome or with radiating vaulting. A simple apse may be merely embedded within the wall of the east end. Eastern orthodox churches may have a triple apse, which is usually a mark of Byzantine influence when it is seen in Western churches.
Smaller subsidiary apses may be found around the choir or even at the ends of transepts. An exedra or apse may be reduced in scale to form a niche within the thickness of walling; a niche does not reveal its presence by projecting on the exterior. Where an apse contains an altar or throne it can be architecturally referred to as a tribune.
The interior of the apse is traditionally a focus of iconography, bearing the richest concentration of mosaics, or painting and sculpture, towards which all other decoration may tend.
This would make it an older established church than the ones in Macedonia and Rome who claim primacy.
I’m sure it will turn out it is a Muslim Church.
Even though Islam wasn’t invented for another 600-700 years.
Yes...although it might have been lost in translation.
A picture shows a cave under Saint Georgeous Church in Rihab near Mafraq, where early Christians are belived to have taken as a shelter from persecution in Jerusalem. Circular-shaped stone seats, supposedly for the clergymen can be seen in the cave
(Photo by Rula Samain)
I can't think of any other religion that calls its houses of worship "churches."
Perhaps they should have called it the first Christian ecclesia since kyriakon or church would not have been used until a century or so latter.
Your point is also non-applicable to the issue at hand, insofar as this church (if, in fact, it turns-out to have been a church at all) proves nothing one way or the other regarding issues of primacy. It would have been a "local church" where Christians gathered, nothing more. And, at any rate, this church would only be capable of forcing a "tie" for the oldest church building: there were doubtless several "churches" (ie: buildings where the Christians gathered) scattered around the Middle East in the first few years after the Church was established at Pentecost in AD 33. This one happens to have been found, there are certainly others just as old.
Thanks Hegemony Cricket.
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Good explanation, thanks.
From the article: "We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians -- the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ,"
If the seventy disciples were there this would be more than just a 'local' church.
I am not going to get into the argument of primacy, but you might note that the seventy are all considered clergy in the ecclesiastical hierchy of the RCC and are only below that of the eleven apostles and the One (Jesus). I use eleven apostles because Matthias was one of the seventy and later became an apostle.
Viewed from the perspective that this church housed the earliest clergy of the Church I would think that Catholics would be less inclined to trivalize this find.
It must have been an incredible experience seeing where the Apostle Paul preached and taught. I hope to go there some day.
And remember, the article gives a date range of AD 33 to AD 70. This means that, if the actual date of the church building is closer to AD 70, it would have nothing to do with The Seventy, as their travails would be close to 40 years earlier. Also, a date this late into the First Century would clearly remove it from "oldest church" status. By AD 70, there were hundreds of houses and other buildings that had ongoing use as churches. In that set of circumstances, this church might be the oldest one uncovered to date - and therefore quite important historically - but it is hardly the oldest one in absolute terms.
Finally, it is important to remember that the discoverers haven't disclosed their evidence to back up their claim yet. As an one-time archaeology major myself, I can tell you that 2000 year-old buildings have much to their makeup that is explained only by conjecture. Depending on what they actually found, layout-wise, the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate clearly that it was used as a church building. They have a much harder burden of proof demonstrating that the building was specifically used by The Seventy. Don't forget that major archaeological expeditions in the Holy land and environs are very competitive, have major funding sources behind them, and are very "results oriented." The motivation, under these circumstances, to (at least initially) overstate one's case is palpable. Witness the recent fiasco involving the alleged ossuary of "James, the brother of Jesus." Indeed, look at almost anything that Simcha Jacobovici has involved himself in; you'll see the temptation to embellish (at a minimum) the facts is often very strong.
Georgeous was martyred along with Saint Fabulous...
The part of my post 18 involving the comment above should have been directed to Resolute, not BtL. Sorry for the confusion.
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