.- Early reports from the Israel Antiquities Authority are suggesting that remains of a building uncovered on the Megiddo prison grounds, near Jerusalem, may be part of the oldest church in Christendom--and the world.
Workers discovered structural remains, an ancient table, thought to have been used as an altar, and a mosaic, as they began an expansion of the prison facility over a year ago.
The excavation site is close to Tel Megiddo, which is believed by some to be Armageddon, the place of the worldâs final battle, mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation.
Archeologists are speculating that the newly-discovered mosaic, one of the most exciting of the discoveries, may date from as early as the third or forth century. It contains the ancient Christian fish symbol and references to Jesus Christ.
Hebrew University expert Professor Leah Di Segni, told Haaretz Daily that, "I was told these [mosaic symbols] were Byzantine, but they seem much earlier than anything I have seen so far from the Byzantine period.â
Likewise, Yotam Tepper, head archaeologist on the dig, told the Associated Press that the building "is a very ancient structure, maybe the oldest in our area."
The dig has been ongoing over the past 18 months, but many of the most intriguing discoveries have taken place over the last 2 weeks.
Christianity was banned in the region around Tel Megiddo--then part of the Roman Empire--up until the forth century when it was legalized by the Emperor Constantine.
Tepper added that, "Normally, we have from this period in our region historical evidence from literature, not archaeological evidenceâ¦There is no structure you can compare it to. It is a very unique find."
Channel Two television, which first reported the story, quoted Pietro Sambi, Vatican ambassador to Israel, who praised the find as a "great discovery."
He said that, "Of course, all the Christians are convinced of the history of Jesus Christâ¦But is it extremely important to have archaeological proof of a church dedicated to him? Certainly."