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Gaianos   (Word document)

Nederlandse versie Megiddo inscripties









Excavation of

an early christian building

in Megiddo,

with floor mosaics (fish)

and three inscriptions



[For more and better information: buy the IAA excavation report (Tepper & Di Segni 2006 “A Christian prayer hall”) online.]


(version: june 2007)

Bouke Slofstra, Netherlands

(Trefwoorden: Megiddo, kerk, opgraving, inscripties)

Nederlandse versie over inscripties Megiddo wordt spoedig weer bijgewerkt



 (Please click here for reactions, questions, corrections etc. I will be glad to respond.)



0.         (Preface):


A Megiddo prison detainee discovered the ruins of an early christian building in Megiddo (Israel), October 30 2005.

This discovery was made in the context of an archaeological routine research preceding a planned extension of the prison complex.  The digging activities had been going on for some 18 months and the experts had almost lost their hope to find something interesting.

More than sixty prisoners cooperated with these digging activities.


The excavation leader, mr Yotan Tepper, claims his team  might have discovered the oldest christian site of the holy land. According to his estimation the building might date from the late third or early forth century AD. This could even mean that the church was in use in a period when Christianity was still outlawed. (The Roman emperor Constantine legitimised the Christian religion in the eastern part of the Roman world in 313.)


Of the building only a ruin is left. It's a quadrangular room measuring approximately  9 x 6 meters.  The excavation hasn't finished yet. Experts estimated that only ten percent of the site has been uncovered.


Part of the find are two spectacular mosaics, one of which shows two fishes. The fish is a well-known early Christian symbol.

Moreover there are three inscriptions, written in ancient Greek. One of these inscriptions speaks about a 'table' being donated to the community. This 'table' might have been used in the Eucharist ceremony  and some scholars believe this fact may add to our knowledge of Early Christianity.


Voor Nederlandstalige informatie over de vondst van de kerk in Megiddo en de ontdekking van de inscripties van Akeptous, Gaianos en anderen, zie de Nederlandse site "Megiddo inscripties Nederlands", hier.



Table of contents:


1          The inscriptions.

1.1      The four women

1.2      Akeptous and the table

1.3      Gaianos the centurio

2          Information from the newspapers

2.1      The building

2.2      The table

2.3      The fishes

2.4      About the inscriptions


3          Background information

3.1      The dating of the site (according to the excavation team)

3.2      The dating of the site (according to others)

3.3      Epigraphy: the letter forms

3.4      A note on proper names [now ready]

            3.5      A note on mosaics [now ready]

            3.6      Historical context [now ready]


4          Sources (the newspapers)


5          Literature

            6          [Concluding remarks,  soon]

7          Disclaimer


1.         The inscriptions



Note: more information on the inscriptions (from the newspapers) is to be found in  2.4 "inscriptions".

It seems there are two rectangular floor mosaics in the room, lying next to each other. The first mosaic (call it A) is filled with ornamental patterns. At both ends we see an inscription. These are 1.1 "the four ladies" and 1.2 "Akeptous and the table". The second mosaic (B) contains a central panel showing two fishes. Along one of the long sides there is a third inscription, being 1.3 "Gaianos the officer".

Between both mosaics (A and B) there is a square relict of a "base" or the like. This so-called "base" is situated near by inscription 1.2 "Akeptous and the table", which leads some scholars to presume that the base was part of a Christian altar. 


Back to contents



1.1      The four ladies







·        Translation: Remember / Primillê and Kuri- / -akê ("The Lord's") and Dôrothea ("God's gift") / and also Khrêstê ("The kind one"). (See also Henrickson in FR and 2.4.1.)

  • Transcription: MNÊMONEUSATE / PRIMILLÊS  KAI  KYRI- / AKÊS  KAI DÔROTHEAS / ETI DE  KAI  KHRÊSTÊS. (See  "Megiddo pictures").


  1. Mnemoneuô in a Christian context means: 'to remember in prayer' (°Sophocles).  Approximately: to read or sing the names of [living or] dead people, in liturgy, by a priest (Stephanos, Lampe). The person "remembered" may be a martyr (Sophocles, Lampe), but this certainly doesn't have to be the case. Compare the related word mnêmosunon in 1.2.
  2. Primilla is common Roman name (for example °CIL 09.04150) which is also attested in Greek epigraphic inscriptions (e.g. SEG xxvi 1551); it is probably a diminuative of prima, 'the first').  (This doesn't have to imply she was a first born daughter, see °McLean). There was a Christian saint (?)  Prima, who died in 304 (°Smith).  We don't know whether she was meant here.
  3. Kuriakê is clearly a (Greek) Christian proper name. There was a Saint Cyriaca (May 19) who was burnt to death in Nicomedia (now NW Turkey) in 307, with five other unknown women (according to °Catholic Forum). Another Saint Cyriaca (August 21) would have died in Rome in 249 (see here and here). We don't know whether one of these saints is meant here.  The name was very frequent in Antiquity (Solin 412, 1364).

4.      Dôrothea is also a (Greek) Christian proper name (though not exclusively Christian, Ilan 317). A Saint Dorothy (February 6) died in the district of Cappadocia, now Turkey , in the year 313, (°Smith, °Farmer). The story says that Dorothea was a very religious Christian woman and that a local ruler was jealous of her; the ruler sent two sisters, called Christa and Callista ("the most beautiful"), to Dorothy in order to persuade her to give up her faith. But the opposite thing happened. Dorothy converted both girls (in some versions collapsed to one girl) to Christianity. All three (or two) women were persecuted to death and became Christian martyrs.  See CE. We don't know whether this Dorothy is meant; we don't know either whether Christa is the same person as Chrêstê, below. (The name was rather frequent in Antiquity, Solin 45, Ilan 317.)

  1. The name Khrêstê is in itself a common Greek woman's name meaning "the kind one" or "the good one (in character)" (SEG xxix 240 etc., Bechtel (512), McLean 101 on "character" names, Pape (accent!)), so we do not need another 'explanation' for het name. But the name might possibly also be 'interpreted' to refer – in this period or later -- to the name Christ. From the earliest days there has been confusion about the name Christos ("Christ"), which was frequently rendered as Khrêstos ("the kind/good one (m)").  This has to do with two factors. First iotacism, a kind of Great Vowel Shift in Ancient Greek . In later antiquity the letters  <ei> en <h> sound like <i> (°Grammond 250, °Kaufmann 33). The second factor is the obvious fact that ordinary Greek people didn't understand the meaning or symbolism of the Jewish expression "The Anointed One" (the Greek translation of Hebrew "Messiah"). See °CE sv Christ (names),  °Sophocles sv Khristos 2b and epigraphical examples like "ancilla Cresti" ('servant of Christ'), °AE 1912-0009.)  (Mind: there is clear evidence about Khristos/Khrêstos and khristianos/khrêstianos, [McLean 281, SEG 43.1264], but this is only a guess!) As we just saw above, there was a (saint) Christa (February 1), connected to the story of St. Dorothy. We don't know whether she was meant here. The name Khrêstê was very frequent, cf. Solin 931, Bechtel 512.
  2. We know nothing for sure about the identity of the four women (IAA, VK, see 2.4.1). There are some theories, though.  Some people believe the women were Christian martyrs (e.g. CF).  Others guess that the four ladies were members of the community (e.g. Religion Newsblog). Both theories are of course compatible with each other. As we saw above, all four ladies could be (relatively) well known Christians martyrs from the period of the Diocletian persecutions. But if the ladies were well known, they weren't local (and vice versa). We should notice that the names do neither occur in Meimaris (see 3.6) nor in Eusebios' Palestinian martyrs!
  3. No one seems to believe that these four ladies had really been buried in this church, though tomb mosaics did exist (Dunbabin 189). But the text of the inscription doesn't look like a common grave inscription (cf. McLean ans elsewhere).
  4. Epigraphy. On the letter forms and their relevance for the dating of the site, see 3.3.
  5. Examples: Picture 1 ; Picture 2; Picture 3  (from Kölner Stadt Anzeiger); Picture 4  (from Glaube Aktuell), and of course "Megiddo pictures".
  6.  As dr Jan Sanders rightly points out, the text reads XRHCTHN (Chrêstên), not XRHCTHC (Chrêstês). Instead of the expected, grammatical genitive form we see the accusative.  The left leg of the N is the right leg of the H; the right leg is part of the box around the text, so we only ‘see’ the stroke \ .


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1.2      Akeptous and her 'table':







  • Translation: Akeptous (a woman), the God-loving, offered this table for (the) god Jesus Christ, as a remembrance.


  • Transcription: PROSÊNIKEN / AKEPTOUS / HÊ  PHILOTHEOS / TÊN  TRAPE- / -ZAN  TH(E)Ô(I) I(ÊSO)U KH(RIST)Ô(I) / MNÊMOSUNON. (See  "Megiddo pictures").



  1. Akeptous (of maybe Hakeptous) is an unknown woman. (On women in the early church, see e.g. this  site  referring to 1 Cor. 1:1, Acts 12:12. Acts 16: 14-15 etc.). Her name is neither (recognisably) Greek nor (recognisably) Biblical-Hebrew. We know she was a woman because of the feminine article ("the").
  2. The adjective philo-theos (god-loving) also occurs in the New Testament: 2 Tim. 3.4., but is originally not an exclusively Christian word (L&S). It is a well-known fact that in classical Greek the adjective has only masculine and neuter case-endings, because it's a composed adjective (e.g. Nuchelmans 14). This holds for New Testament Greek as well (Brooks 89ff). But in Byzantine Greek all adjectives tend to show masculine, feminine and neuter case endings. (Horrocks 221). It is unclear when this development started (Horrocks 205).
  3. The name Akeptous may be related to the Latin proper name Ac(c)eptus ('Accepted' (m), but also 'Friendly' (m)), which is originally a name of slaves and lower class men. The form with one C is not uncommon. (°Forcellini, °TLL.)  But there is a problem. You would have expected  Ak(k)eptê (f), not (e.g.) Ak(k)eptos (m) and certainly not Ak(k)eptous (McLean 131-2, Reinach 516f).  [Things would be much different if H would mean "or/sive" (ê), cf. "Theodôros ê Dôrotheos" and "Kalapodios ê Kalopodios" (Meimaris); a formula (??) which is not in McLean, so without further confirmation this is a wild guess. See  Note on Akeptous.  Possibly we have a "foreign" name here, maybe partly "grecified" (cf. McLean 100).]
  4. A nice theory (once found on the internet) associates Akeptous to the word Coptic.  But this is problematic. Copts and Coptic are in fact seventh century Arab words, derived from Greek (!) Aiguptikos, meant to denote non-muslim Egyptians. The Ancient Egyptians called their country Kemet (or the like) and the contemporary Egyptians say Msar (which resembles the Hebrew name of Egypt). So why not simply Aiguptikê, as you would have expected? (Thanks to Bas ter Haar Romeny.)
  5. The hyphetation sign after "Akeptous" is normal. It goes with the Roman imperial period (Reinach 216). For more on epigraphy: see 3.3. 
  6. There are some attested examples of (non-Greek) female names ending in –ous, e.g. Sambathous (gen. –outos), Leontarous, Ischurous and Korous in SEG xl 1568 (from Leontopolis in Hellenistic Egypt); also [male?] Satabous, Sentôous, Quaegebeur 412, 418. (On foreign names and adaptation to Greek, see McLean 100).  Originally Greek woman names in –ous seem to be rare or non-existent, cf. Bechtel 621. (On Egyptian names, see  Prosopographia Ptolemaica and Quaegebeur on methodological problems [wrong transcriptions, different degrees of hellenization]. Thanks to Jacco Dieleman; we haven't been able to 'identify' an Egyptian name.  See also Blümel on Carian [male?] names: Thous, Glous, Plous (gen. Thou etc.). )
  7. The verb form prosêniken is a variant of prosênenken, the aorist of prospherô (°L&S, °Stephanos sv pherô). The verb means "to offer, sacrifice, contribute"; it can even mean "to celebrate the eucharist (°Sophocles, °Lampe).
  8. There is a lot of discussion about the word trapeza ('table'), see also 2.2. ("the table and the base"). There seems to be a consensus that this so-called  trapeza was used in the celebration of the Eucharist. It also seems be the case that some physical 'evidences' were found,  like (pieces of) a broken wine jug. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that a real table was found,  in the contrary: the base between the two mosaics A and B looks more like an altar (but: see °CNS in 2.2).
  9. The expert  °Leah di Segni states that the use of the word "table" could lead to a breakthrough of our knowledge of early Christianity (see 2.2).  Nonetheless this is not obvious, because there are sources that suggest the issue might be less complicated. According to °Ferguson the place where the Eucharist took place was called "trapeza" ('table') in the Greek speaking east and 'altar' in the Latin west. The early Christians normally used altars (made of wood or stone) for that purpose, sometimes also tombs of martyrs; but Lampe seems to suggest that a real table was used  (°Lampe sv trapeza, °Ferguson sv altar). Maybe the point is that the find of the broken jar would prove that the Eucharist wasn't perceived as a sacrifice but as a meal (see Cranach and others in 2.2). (See also CE on altars, thanks to Philip Harland.)
  10. Of course, there is a lot of discussion as well about the expression (the) god Jesus Christ.  Mr. Tepper dates the site back to the late 3rd and early 4th century, partly as a consequence of the 'language use' of the inscriptions. It seems rather likely that this expression is one of the factors meant. It is a well-known fact that the Early Christians had widely different views about the 'nature' of Jesus and that many ancient sources did not differentiate clearly between the concepts "Jesus" and "God" (Ferguson sv God, Naerebout & Singor 409-419). The Councils of Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451) were meant to permanently settle the issue: Jesus is one person with two natures (human and divine). But even after these councils, the orthodox view was never accepted generally. The expression "the God Jesus Christ" may very well be an indication that we are dealing with pre-Nicean Christians, but this is not a proof beyond any doubt.
  11. Some contemporary readers obviously interpret this inscription according to their own theological view. °Cranach for example says:  "Again, we see the early confession of the deity of Christ." Another source states: "This discovery puts a wrinkle in Dan Brown's church "history" timeline right before the Da Vinci movie's opening, doesn't it? Christians existed, and thought of Jesus as God, long before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea." (WMB.) The website called "°Islamcity" reacts in a rather fierce way; they reject the "monophysite" views of these early Christians, whose "sect (...) was so extreme that even the Christians rejected it themselves". 
  12. Note that the definite article (tôi) is missing, no matter whether it is important or not.. "Ho theos Kaisar" means: 'the divine (divus) Caesar'. °Lampe (sv theos F1-3) speaks about "Christ as theos, rather than ho theos". See also °Hurtado 642 en °Bauer sv theos 2.
  13. Standard abbreviations like th(e)ô(i) i(êso)u khr(ist)ô(i) in this inscription are called nomina sacra ('holy names'). The horizontal bars above the names use to accompany the abbreviations (°Ferguson sv nomina sacra, °Larfeld 280, McLean 56 etcetera). Nomina sacra are an old tradition, dating from the period of the catacombs to many centuries later. °Philip Harland in RIAM has more on nomina sacra in relation to these inscriptions.
  14. The form ihcoy is a common dative of ihcoyc (Liddell & Scott, McLean 53). 
  15. The word mnêmosunon in a Christian context often means: 'a requiem for the repose of the soul of a person' (Sophocles).
  16. Epigraphic notes. Note the mirror image Z (zêta) in the word trapeza, like a child's handwriting. Note the round and edgy O's and C's (sigma). Note the two variants of the upsilon (Y, V). Hyphenation signs are a relatively recent invention, so the absence of it in trape/ za is normal. For more on epigraphy, see 3.3. And see this note by William Warren.
  17. Pictures. See "Megiddo, pictures", Terra Antiqua de New York Times .  Picture.


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1. 3     Gaianos the centurio:







·        Translation: <palm(?)> Gaianos, also called Porphyris ('purple cloak') <khi-rho: CENTURIO(?)>, our brother,  / "having obtained honour for himself",  from his own money, / < leaf (?)> had this mosaic made. (Broutis carried out the work.)


  1. Transcriptie: GAIANOS  HO KA[I] PORPHURI<o?>S  <KH-R>  ADELPHOS HÊMÔN philos / TEIMÊSAMENOS  EK  TÔN  IDIÔN EPSÊPHOLOGÊSEN. brouti<o?>s êrgas(ato). [See  "Megiddo pictures".]


  1. The translation is a bit problematic, as we will see below.
  2. The palm branch occurring in a (Christian) mosaic doesn't have to mean very much, as a symbol (Dunbabin 190). The palm is traditionally a symbol of victory. In later christianity it is also associated with martyrdom, but there is no evidence that  this was already the case in early Christianity, CE, sv palm and Urech 138-9. Moreover Dunbabin (188ff) points out that early Christian mosaics showed various of traditional 'ornaments' without any specifically Christian symbolism. Palm trees flanking the inscription was one of them. See also 3.5 "inscriptions".
  3. Gaianus is a rather familiar Roman proper name, most probably derived from Gaius (cf.  Lucius/Lucianus etc.), but possibly also from Caïn (°Forcellini, °Stephanus, but see Ilan 331). See note on names in 3.4. There were several Christians named Gaianus in Antiquity among whom a 4th century martyr (not this Gaianos).
  4. The phrase "ho kai" ('also known as') is a standard expression in epigraphy (see McLean 99f (on Greek surnames) and 124f (on Roman agnomina). The left leg of the pi in Porphyris seems to have a doubly duty (iota and pi). This ligature is not a frequent one (unlike NH, HN etcetera, see McLean 55), if it is a ligature at all. Sometimes <ai> is written  <a> geschreven (McLean 349).
  5. "Porphyris" means 'purple cloak'. Purple was a sign of wealth and power (the emperor wore a fully purple cloak, as is well known). Purple dying, originally a local Phoenician invention, was still a very popular occupation in these days (cf. Harland 2003:143-147). The tribuni militum in the Roman legions (men of a very high military rank) wore cloaks with a purple stripe.  And Jesus – but this is mere speculation – was given a purple cloak just before his crucifixion (Matth. 27:28).
  6. The noun  porphyris is feminine and it is not a common (male) proper name, contrary to Porphyrios (e.g. P. of Tyre, died 301 and Meimaris 230 nr. 1136 in Seilun,  Palestine: "Jacob, brother of Porphyrios") and Porphyriôn (e.g. P. the grammarian, 3d century) and cf. McLean on nick names. [On the other hand, Caligula ('little boot') is not a frequent nick-name either, be this a comparable example or not.] Maybe his name was Porphyrios (see2.4.3). Cf. Dunbabin (1999), 180 Georgi<o>s and 185 Kamilari<o>s (names on 5th century and later mosaics) and Snyder 122: LOUKIS (= Lucius) ca 300 AD. We do not know whether it was common usage to write –IC in stead of –IOC. See also Broutis, 1.3 (here) below.
  7. It is tempting to suppose that one of the two names (Gaianos, Porphyris) is his Christian proper name, but this doesn't have to be the case. See notes on names, 3.4.  It is very well possible that Porphyrios is his original (Greek) name.
  8. The khi-rho-sign (X-above-P) after "Gaianos" is a bit confusing.  °Oikonomides lists exactly this token (khi-above-rho) as a variant of the well known christ monogram (an abbreviation of "Christ"), see also Urech 35-6. But MacLean 54 makes sure that  xp (khi-rho) is a normal abbreviation for hekatonarkhês (!), that is centurio!
  9. A centurio as an early Christian. Is it possible, in a period when Christianity would have been regarded as a obscure sect? °Mr. Tepper thinks it is. "Tepper said the inscription refers to a Roman officer, many of whom were early converts to Christianity, who financed the structure's construction." (WP.) But his predecessor with the IAA mr. °Joe Zias does not agree. This centurio must have gone mad. Was he suicidal? (Zias in °CO, see 3.2, "the dating according to others"). For Zias this circumstance is an argument contra the early dating of the church.
  10. °Cranach, just like Tepper,  refers to a few places in the New testament net als Tepper, op plaatsen in het Nieuwe Testament. Wealthy women (like Akeptous!), gentile converts and centurios were known as sponsors of the early Christian church  (e.g. the centurio in °Luke 7:5).
  11. "Our brother" (adelphos) meaning 'fellow Christian' is of course well-known as a biblical expression (Matth. 12:50, Acts 1:16, 9:30 etc.). This expression can hardly be an argument for the alleged early date of the church: it is a current formula, still in use in the Byzantine age and besides it isn't exclusively Christian either (°Lampe, °Kaufmann 35). Mr. °Harland (2003: 31ff) points out that the "brother" phraseology is less 'sectarian' than we use to think. In the world of the Later Roman empire  the so-called "collegia" or associations played an important role in society, where "brother" and "friend" were common words to denote fellow members. Collegia were groups of about ten to a hunderd persons, sharing the same profession, religion or neighbourhood. (These circumstances, though, could be an argument pro the early dating.) [We cannot rule out in advance that "brother" denotes a monk in a monastery, cf. the Byzantine Palestinian examples in Meimaris 228 "ho adelphos hêmôn" etc. and the Greek dictionaries mentioned before.]
  12. On the form -teimêsamenos (read: tîmêsamenos) see the note on khrêstê in1.1 (iotacism).
  13. Philoteimêsamenos (from philotimeiomai) means: “having sought honour”. Patronage was very important in antiquity, both in Hellenism ("euergetism") as Roman society. Wealthy peoply took their responsibility or the community by organising festivals, building public buildings etcetera. There is always a quid pro quo, and here it is timê, 'honour' (or sometimes: honorary offices, also in the church, °Lampe).  The benefaction-for-honour mechanism played an important role within associations (collegia) as well as in society as a whole, as Harland explains in his 2003 book.
  14. The leaf doesn't have to mean much (see again Dunbabin 188ff).
  15. psêphologeô means: to make a tesselated pavement, from hê psêphos (pebble, cube, used in mosaic pavements).
  16.  "Brouti<o?>s êrgas(ato)" is very well legible. This rendering is also in the newspapers (zie 2.4, WP); the text is clearly legible in a picture in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad (see "Gaianos picture"), where only –ato  is lost.
  17. There is one very interesting detail in the inscription of Gaianus, and that is the name of the mosaicist. The habit to sign one's work appears in the mosaics of Israel and Jordan only in the 6th century. Thanks to Diklah Zohar, Leiden university.
  18. The name Broutis could possibly denote a woman, see L&S, sv "Broutides". (For the ending  –is, -idos, cf. Kupris, Atthis, Phyllis etcetera.) The reading  "Broutios", found in some newspapers, is not in the text. Broutides is a certain group of women, like sibylls or prophetesses, according to Stephanus.  A certain bishop Theodorus wrote about the Christophore who met a lady Broutis, who had had a vision of the Holy Spirit. (But "Broutis" might well have been a very common women's name. More on the name Broutis.) But: maybe the letters "Broutis" should mean "Broutios" (a frequent Roman name, derived from Brut(t)us, see Forcellini onomasticon and McLean ch. 5 on Latin names ending in -ius), compare Dunbabin (1999: 180, 185: "Georgi<o>s", "Kamilari<o>s", see also "Porphyri(o?)s", 1.3 (here) above.
  19. The word êrgasato often occurs in the formula anethêken kai êrgasato, ("made and dedicated").
  20. Pictures. Terrae Antiquae Imagines, NRC Handelsblad (Word document), picture.




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2.         Information from the newspapers



2.1      The building and its surroundings:


1.      "It may be the largest church ever found here" (or the like), °Jerusalem Post says. But this room is small and maybe it isn't a church either.

2.      The building is simple and square. It lacks the characteristics of later churches (apsis, east orientattion). Clearly it isn't a basilica either (°Hz, °WP). °Yardena Alexandre, who cooperates with mr.  Tepper, presumes this is might mean that we have to deal with a very early church. There is no standard plan. (Cf. °Yahoo/Reuters.) °Leah di Segni says: "I don't know if this structure can even be called a church" (°Haaretz).  Diklah Zohar (personal ommunication) writes: "as far the program of the building is concerned, there are a few examples of monastic structures, which also do not have the regular basilica form. Perhaps Leah Di Segni is right that the structure should not be called a church." (For Diklah Zohar, see 3.5 "mosaics", for monasteries, see 3.6 "historical context".

3.      Voorbeelden. Zie de overzichtsfoto's  in °Terra Antiqua. Voorbeeld. Voorbeeld (NG.)

4.      It is a relatively small room: 30 x 15 ft (10 bij 5 meter, °NYT) or 9 x 6 meter (°IAA, °VK).

5.      There are two mosaics lying on the floor. In between there is a "base" . Possibly this base supported some construction that was used in the Christian religious ceremony [see again this  picture] . Near by we find the dedicatory inscription by Akeptous (1.2) (°Tepper in °NYT.)

6.      Some pottery ("a wine jug" and more) was found (see also 3.1 "dating")  as well as some pieces of fresco (IAA).

7.      The room was vaulted. Along the low ruins of one wall the base of a column is visible. Archaeologists say it arched over the floor to support a stone roof. Which indicates that this was one of the grandest buildings of its time. (WP.)

8.      Only approximately 10 percent of the site has been excavated yet. (WP.)

9.      Megiddo (often named in the Bible, known as Armageddon, hill of M., in Revelations) was a Jewish village in the first century AD. In the neighbourhood there was a Roman military camp. In the Christian (Byzantine) era the city of Maximiniapolis rose here. Roman houses as well as a ritual Jewish bath house (miqweh) were discovered here.  (°IAA, °WP.)

10. Roman mosaics (from the third/fourth century) are relatively rare in Israel. They have to be compared with mosaics elsewhere. (According to Tepper in JP.) But: see 3.5 "mosaics", Diklah Zohar.

11. 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 (...), Yotam Tepper said Tuesday. [Jerusaelem Post January 25 2006.)


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2.2      The 'table' and the 'base':


1.      The sources are not unanimous.

2.      "One of the most dramatic finds suggests that instead of an altar, a simple table stood in the center of the church, at which a sacred meal was held to commemorate the Last Supper. Photographs of the Greek inscriptions in the mosaics were sent to Hebrew University expert Professor Laeh Di Segni, who told Haaretz on Sunday that the use of the term "table" in one of them instead of the word "altar" might lead to a breakthrough in the study of ancient Christianity. It is commonly believed that church rituals based on the Last supper took place around an altar." (Haaretz.) But see the notes in 1.2 (Ferguson, Harland). See also Emile Puech, a specialist, cited in La-Croix: "the name "table was already in use in the ancient liturgy".

3.      On the centre of the mosaic floor there was a "base" that may have supported a construction that was used for the Christian religious ceremony. Nearby we find Akeptous' inscription (about the "table", 1.2)(Tepper in °NYT.).

4.      "A second mosaic, closer to the base of a pedestal whose use archaeologists have not determined, is a second inscription that recalls by name four women of the community (1.1, bs)" (°WP.)

5.      "This suggests, literally, that the Eucharist was the centre of the service. And as it was celebrated at a table (not an altar, like later Christians did) that the Eucharist probably was not regarded as a sacrifice, like Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church teach". (Or the like). (°Cranach.)

6.      Archaeologists do not know if the "table" refers to a table or an altar, but none has been found, they said. (CNS.)


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2.3      The fish mosaic:


1.      "The floor is about 30 feet by 15 feet and has two mosaics, consisting of small black and white tiles in geometric patterns. Two fish, a symbol widely used in early christianity, adorn one." (°NYT.) This must be a mistake, because in all pictures we see two fish.

2.       The fish is obviously a chrsitian symbol. The fact that a fish symbol has been discovered but a cross symbol has not, could be an indication that this 'church' is very oldeed, according to mr. Tepper (°CO). Ferguson (sv fish) says the fish symbol is as old as the catacombs. The sign not only means Jesus Christ Son of God, Saviour", but it also refers to several places in the New Testament. There is no unanimity as to how old the cross symbol is, but the first undoubtedly Christian crosses are from the fourth century AD (°Ferguson, sv cross). Dunbabin (1978) (who wrote on mosaics in Roman Northern Africa, refers to the fish as a Christian symbol in mosaics (Dunbabin 1978:195); a cross is seen in a baptistry mosaic in the 6th century AD (ibid. 190-1). McLean refers to a Christian tomb inscription with a pair of fish (McLean 280, n. 96 and n. 7 on Christian epigraphy and symbolism).

3.      Pictures. Photographs in Terrae Antiquae Imagines, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post and  Catholic Online. One more picture.

4.      Fish commonly appear in Christian funerary art of the third and following centuries, sometimes alongside other symbols which were given a Christian meaning, including the anchor. See Harland on mosaics.



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2.4      The inscriptions:



2.4.1:  The four ladies:


Often the ladies remain nameless (despite their beautiful inscription), but not always.


1.      "Another, the easternmost inscription, memorialized four Greek women." (JP)

2.      "The eastern inscription commemorates four women (...)" (Hz)

3.      "Frimilia, Kiriaka, Dorothea en Karasta" (IAA, VK).

4.      "Primilia, Kiraka, Dorothea and Crista." (BR.)

5.      "Commemorating (Memorializing?) Priscella and Kyriake and Dorothea and also Chreste (last character uncertain, but the word is clearly a name)." (CF.)

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2.4.2: Akeptous and the table:


The name Akeptous has several variants:

1.      "A woman named Aketous who donated money to build the church in the memory "of the God, Jesus Christ." (CO; also NYT and WP)

2.      "The last of the inscriptions, on the western side of the mosaic, recalled a certain god-loving "Afektos"." (JP).

3.      "(...) The western inscription mentions a woman by the name Akeptos, who "donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration."

4.      "The westernmost inscription recalls "a certain god-loving Akeftos," who donated the altar to "the God Jesus Christ as a memorial." (BR.)

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2.4.3:  Gaianos:


The sources agree that Gaianos was a military man:


1.      A detailed and well preserved mosaic bearing the name of Jesus Christ in ancient Greek and images of fish. (KUTV)

2.      "A Roman officer (...)". (CO.)

3.      "The inscription on the north site was dedicated to an army officer named Gaianos who contributed the mosaic floor." (IAA.)

4.      "A dedication to Gaianos, a military officer who contributed to the construction of the mosaic floor from his own funds." (JP.)

5.      "The northern inscription mentions a Roman army officer who donated the money to build the floor." (Haaretz.)

6.      "Another inscription says a Roman officer, Gaianos, having sought honour, from his own money, has made the mosaic." (NYT.) (See 3.2 "dating, others": Zias' commentary.

7.      "An Ancient Greek inscription, roughly translated, reads: "Gaianos, also called Porphyrio, centurio, our brother, having seeked (sic) honor with his own money, has made this mosaic. Brouti has carried out the work." (WP.)

8.      "De mozaïeken zijn geschonken door Gaianos, een Romeins soldaat, blijkt uit een inscriptie." [The mosaics had been donated by Gaianos, a Roman, soldier, appears from the inscription] (VK.)

9.      "Freigelegt sind ein schwarz-weißer Mosaikboden, der mehrere griechische Inschriften und zwei Fische als Symbole der frühen Christen zeigt. Darin werden der römische Centurio Gaianus als
«Bruder» und Stifter [brother and founder] des Gebäudes, der Künstler [artist] Broutios als Schöpfer
des Werkes [creator of the work] genannt.
" (Spiegel, German newspaper.)


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3.         Dating



3.1      The dating, according to mr. Tepper:


1.      Yotan Tepper  is the excavation leader  (In de JP his name is Jotham Tefer). He works with the Israel Antiquities Authority IAA. [Or maybe: Israel Archeological Association (JP).]

2.      Tepper is convinced that the 'church' dates back to the late 3rd of early 4th century AD. He and his team suggest the church was in use in a period when Christianity was not or hardly legal yet.

·        "It is for sure the earliest church in Israel that we know of": (Tepper in NYT).

·        "This is a very ancient structure, maybe the oldest in our area." (Tepper, KUTV)

·        Dating: (late) third or (early) fourth century (BBC, Tepper/Tefer in JP, AP.)

·        "Dr Uzi Bahari, deputy director of archaeology at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said experts agree that the archaeological find "is very unique" and probably dates back to the late 3rd or early 4th century. (CNS)

·        (...) What makes the find interesting is not just that it is ancient and possibly the oldest church found in Israel, but that it clearly shows there was public Christian worship here at a time when Christianity was still outlawed in the Roman Empire and when Christians were being persecuted, said archaelogist Najar Arfan, who is working at the dig. (CNS)

·        "De multiples tessons de poterie découverts au-dessus de la mosaïque, le style d’écriture grecque utilisé, ainsi que l’allusion à un autel (trapeza, en grec) appelé «table pour le repas du Seigneur», ont incité Yotam Tepper et son équipe à dater cette église du IIIe siècle." (La Croix: "third century")

·        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 (...), Yotam Tepper said Tuesday.  (...) 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. (Jerusalem Post Jaunuary 25 2006.)


3.      Tepper and his team have several arguments:

4.      The building lacks the characteristics of later churches (no basilica plan, no apsis, no eastern orientation). It is more like a hiding place for a semi-illegal community than a 'classical' church, they say (VK.). (But: Diklah Zohar, personal communication: this building could be a monastic structure as well, see 2.1.)

5.      Christian symbolism. There is a fish symbol, but there's no cross [see also 2.3 "fish"] (Tepper, CO).

6.      The phrasing of the inscriptions (Tepper, VK, IAA). Unfortuately the newspapers offer no examples, but the formula "(the) God Jesus Christ" in 1.2 is a good candidate.

7.      The letter forms of the inscriptions seem to predate the Byzantine period (though this may be a tricky argument, see 3.3 "epigraphy"). See also mrs. Leah di Segni, cited in  in Hz,  in 2.4, "inscriptions".

8.      Pottery. Pottery shars of cooking pots and wine jugs have been exavated on the mosaic floor. These fragments, experts believe, could well date from the third century AD. So the church is likely to date back from this period or earlier. (Tepper in CO, IAA, NYT; see also Leah di Segni in Haaretz, "a pottery vessel discovered on the site".)

9.      According to Tepper there are  historical texts that refer to a comparable Christian Christian house of prayer in the coastal city of Caesarea, that was never recovered. (WP.) According to mr. Tepper, cited in  La Croix a bishop was active during [the late third century AD].

  1. A Christian "church" dating back to the Constantinian age (or before) would be surprising, but it is not impossible. In the Hellenistic-Greek city of Dura-Europos (nowadays Syria) ruins of a church have been uncovered, that would date back to the year 232 AD . (See for example °Spiegel.) See also the discussion in "Ohio": there are are more examples of early Christian buildings, e.g. (John N. Lupia :)  the famous court house of Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antiochia, from 272, (referring to: JA Jungmann, The early liturgy ,1962, 14), or (Yuri A. Marano) in Northern Africa in the third century AD (referring to: Y. Duval, Chrétiens d'Afrique, 2000), or (Carolyn Snively, referring to Maximinus Thrax)  churches that burnt down in the year 235 AD.

11. See also commentaries  in 3.2, especially Joe Zias.


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3.2      Commentaries, especially on the dating:


1.      Not everyone supports mr. Tepper's claims..

2.      "The announcement [i.e. : "oldest church in Israel discovered"] was met with deep skepticism from some scholars of early Christianity." (°NYT.)

3.      Stephan Pfann (Holy Land University) has no clear-cut opinion, as it seems: the second and third centuries AD were transitonal periods; Christianity was persecuted until the reign of Constantine [ca 212].  Maybe that was the reason the church had been destroyed. [This might be an extra argument pro early date.]

4.      Joe Zias is an anthropologist and a former curator with the IAA, so he is a predecessor of mr Tepper. He doubts the dating "third century". There is no evidence for churches  before the 4th century AD (Constantine and Byzantine age), he says. [But: see 3.1, nr 10]. As a matter of fact, Christianity was disallowed inthese days, and a Roman officer (like Gaianos in 1.3 and 2.4.3) wouldn't be so foolish as to make himself known as a Christian. [But: see Philip Harland 2003 on Christians in the pro-Constantine age.] Perhaps the building had been in use in earlier date  [as a "Roman" buiding, Zias in °NYT], but not as a church. As a church it could date back to the 4th century, like other churches in the region.  (Zias in °CO.) 

5.      The first (real) churches arose about 330: the Holy Sepulcher in Jeruzalem, de Nativity Church in  Bethlehem, the Alonei Mamre near Hebron (°Haaretz). All of these churches, though, are in a non-original condition, unlike this Megiddo 'church'. (°Haaretz, °NYT.) It would be unlikely that the Megiddo church is older than these other churches. [But again: see 3.1, nr 10.]

6.      Zeev Weiss, "archeology professor" with the Hebrew University in Jeruzalem, says it is possible that old (third century) pottery is visible on top of a (more recent) mosaic floor, contrary to what mr. Tepper presumes [cf. 3.1, nr 8.]. (WP.) [The research on the pottery found is still in progress.]

7.      Yiska Harani, a historian and specialist in the field of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land, uses an  argumentum e silentio: "If the Megiddo terrain dates back to the third century, then why did no early church historian mention this building" (or the like) . [Compare, though, the argument in 3.1, nr 9.]

8.      A somewhat "suspect" fact may be this: "Israel's Tourism Minister Avraham Hirchson said the discovery could greatly increase tourism in Israel." (Haaretz.) [It wouldn't be the first time that authorities or scientists exaggerate the 'importance' of an archaeological excavation  in order to attract attentions, funds or tourists. But even if this would be the case (in a way), no one would deny taht this is an important and spectacular discovery.]

9.      Diklah Zohar (personal communication, see 3.5) writes: "I hope that the preliminary publication [of the IAA] will also include numismatic material, which is probabaly more reliable than letter-style,  artistic style or unusual word usage." Compare Emile Puech, cited in La-Croix: "the only way to date with certainty is to search the ground beneath the mosaic for coins."



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3.3      The letters of the inscriptions:


1.      Dating inscriptions by their letter forms is tricky game (McLean 42). "Outdated" letters might return in more recent texts. Differing letter forms may occur in one and the same text, as we will see here.

2.      Moreover the various sources I used make a clear distinction between Roman age letter forms and earlier variants, but we did not manage to find clear cut differences between "Roman" and "Byzantine" letter forms.

3.      Leah di Segni, an expert in epigraphy, asserts the (Greek) letterforms are caracteristic of the Roman Imperial period. (°Haaretz). We do not now exactly why she thinks so.

4.      The letters are obviously  not classical Greek.  Evidences are the cursive ('small') letters sigma (c) and omega (w), which were borrowed (in the Roman age) from the palaeographic tradition. (McLean 40ff, Reinach 203ff, also Kaufmann 450.) The alpha and the delta with long (higher) right legs occur in the Roamn period as well (ibidem). The pi had a short right leg before  the Roman age.

5.      In these inscriptions the mu is always wide and curved (cursive), which may be a caracteristic of the Roman age. (McLean 40ff, Kaufmann, 450, 457; °Woodhead; Newton 204v.)

6.      Some letters appear in different variants, sometimes in one and the same text. (Which is common, see Reinach). In 1.2 and 1.3 we see the omikron (o) and the sigma (c) in two different shapes: round and edgy. The phi in text 1.3 has various forms (the circle is high, middle and low, compared to the vertical strokeI that supports it). Some letters in 1.2 and 1.3 have a serif (e.g. an êta in 1.3, two iota's in 1.2). Here also the distributon seems to be fully arbitrary. In 1.2 we find the nu and the pi both with and without a serif. The upsilon in text 1.2 alternately written as  Y and V (Newton 204f) , compare  1.1 (Y) and  1.3 (V).

7.      Text 1.1 seems to be at variance with the two other texts. The letters are consequently serif-less and edgy. In this text (and only here) we find two (usual type) ligatures: NH and NE, cf Larfeld 275, McLean 55). In the Byzantine age the use of ligatures will be far more frequent (Reinach 212-4, Larfeld 275).

8.      The iota subscriptum is never found in epigraphic texts. Either it is written as a regular iota, or it is not written at all. In the Roman age this iota has become infrequent (the diffeerence in pronunciation between ê and êi etc. has disappeared by this period). (McLean 347f and 56 on nomina sacra).

9.      We have no explanation for the mirror image Z in 1.2.

10. The horizontal bar after "Akeptous-" is normal in the Roman age (Reinach 215-6); in the Christian (Byzantine) period more symbols will be used (ibidem).

11. Word separation  is a "Roman" invention, and in this period it is still infrequent. If words are separated, a half-high dot is usually seen to do the job. In later periods more symbols will be used. (Reinach 216, Larfeld 302, McLean 48).

12. For the orthography of teimêsamenos (instead of timêsamenos) see Kaufmann 33 and McLean 349f.

13. We do not know whether ho ka(i) Porphyris in 1.3 is a ligature or a strange spelling for kai (again: McLean 349).

14. On the nomina sacra, see text 1.2, Larfeld 280, McLean 56 and Philip Harland's weblog; McLean reports that the use of horizontal bars on top of abbreviations is from the age of Hadrian (McLean 48).

15. A good introduction in epigraphy is Van Nijf (1999).

16. About Porhyri<o?>s and Brouti<o?>s (1.3) we can't say anything for sure.

17. Concluding: from the letter forms we can't conclude much about the dating of the mosaics. (In later mosaics in Palestine we see (at first glance) the same letters (Dunbabin 1999), including the cursive sigma and omega and the 'high' alpha and delta. Ligatures, though, are more frequent, esp. OY. On the relative value of epigraphy for the dating, see 3.2)


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3.4      Notes on proper names:


Tradionally the "real" Romans had three names, a first name or praenomen (Gaius), a family name or nomen gentis (Iulius) and a nickname or cognomen (Caesar). These were the  tria nomina.

Freed slaves and adopted children often got a nomen gentis from their former master or adoptive father.  

The emperor Caracalla (211-217) granted all free-born inhabitants of the empire Roman citizenship. This decision is known as the Constitutio Antoniniana (from the year 212, see Naerebout en Singor 373). This was the natural end of a development that had lasted for centuries (e.g. during Claudius' reign).


Now, in the later Roman Empire,  the tria nomina have lost their distinguishing value. Moreover,  the "real" Romans are only a tiny minority of the poulation. Romans often bear two names, a nomen gentis and a cognomen. The cognomen tends to be the "individuating name" (McLean 119).


Greeks have only one "personal name", by tradition (Plato, son of X, McLean 75). It is very common for a non-Roman to take a Roman name (in this period). This may be a praenomen, a nomen gentis or a cognomen.

This could be the case with Gaianos. It was normal, for Christians and others, to have only one name. (Kaufmann 35-36.)


Some people bear an "extra name", introduced by the formula "ho kai" (McLean 99f on Greek "surnames", [Dêmêtrios ho kai X] and 124f on Roman agnomina [Tibêrios X ho kai Y]). A well-known agnomen  (in Greek rendering) is Saulos ho kai Paulos (ibidem).


Eighty percent of the cognomina ends in  –anus (though the name Gaianos might be a nomen gentis, McLean 120f, 114f).


It is tempting to presume that one of both names (Gaianos, Porphyris) was a Christian proper name, accepted at the time of his (alleged) conversion, and that the other name is his "old" one (see again Kaufmann 35-36), but this does not have to be true. (McLean 99f on extra names:  "ancestry, indigenous names, avoiding of confusion", 124f. "honorary names" etc.). Moreover there is no need to suppose that one of both names is "Christian". See also CE on Christian names.


After the Severan reforms (beginning of third century AD) a large amount of non-Italian soldiers and commanders served in the roman army. (The Severan emperors  were from Syria themselves.) In this period (of the mosaic) military skills weighed more than descent, and Gaianos was a Roman citizen anyway. The fact that Gaianos was a centurio in the Roman army doesn't mean he was an ethnic  Roman.


Only after 313 the Christian names drive out the traditional gentile names of Christians (according to Kaufmann 35-6). Some Christians had remarkably gentile names like Apollodoros. (The very Christian names of  Kyriakê and Dôrothea would be rather exceptional, given Tepper's dating.)


Woman used to have only one name (McLean 127 "Prima"), like the four ladies in 1.1 and Akeptous in 1.2 (and possibly also Broutis in 1.3).


It may be remarkable that we don't see any (recognisably) Jewish name (like Salomo or Esther), cf. Meimaris, where we do find "Jewish" names with Christian monks, e.g Jakôbos. After Constantine, names like Johannês, Maria, Thômas etc. became popular among Christians (McLean 122). From Hellenistic times onwards Greek names were very frequent among Palestinian Jews (Jewish Encyclopedia, sv names and Wendland, 187-9, cf. Meijering 75ff) (Later on, after the destruction of the temple and the Jewish war, Hebrew names became more popular again.) On Jews, Christians and gentiles in Palestine, see 3.6.


 (Remark that a military man like Gaianos could have come from anywhere, cf. this soldier from Toulon, buried in Volubilis, Marocco, IAM 2.511.)

See also CE on Christian names.

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3.5      A note on mosaics



a          Description of the two mosaics


There are two mosaics. The first mosaic (cf. 1.1 and 1.2) shows a geometrical pattern (stars within circles), two inscriptions (in rectangulars) and a double guillache. The second mosaic (cf. 1.3) contains a central medallion (showing two fish), surrounded by square, rectangular and triangular fields, filled with well-known mosaic forms like peltes, a salomon's knot , a swastica/meander  etcetera. The rest of the surface is filled with monotonous square forms (not unlike a chess board). A simple guillache border encloses the mosaic, surrounding  a crow step (Dunbabin (1999:339-341, Panetier 104)).


Dunbabin (1999:176) explains that in Syria in the 4th century AD a simplification of the form of mosaics takes oplace. This has to do with the rise of the Christian church. Churches have larger surfaces than private houses; besides there is a different type of patronage.

Diklah Zohar (Leiden), an expert on Roman mosaics in Palestine, wrote me the following: "My own impression from the decorative part of the mosaic is that it does not support an early dating. The geometric patterns and the panel of the fish, including the geometric composition that surrounds it, is quite common in the Byzantine period. From the photos I've seen until now it also seems that the quality of the work is not very high.

Every region, or workshop, or even mosaicist, could have developed its own characteristic work. The choice for a certain composition may be a result of a local fashion and taste in a certain period and place, which does not necessarily has to be the case in a different region. Secondly - there are a few fourth-century mosaic floors in Israel to enable comparison, although many of them are incomplete. Next to the fragments from the Church in Bethlehem, there is the synagogue of Hammath-Tiberias and at least three Samaritan synagogues.

I have not yet studied the floor in detail, but from the available material, I suggest the following parallels for the fish-panel composition: Beth Guvrin [a.k.a. Beit Jibrin] (Ovadiah, A. and Ovadiah, R., Mosaic Pavements in Israel, Rome, 1987, Plate XI, figs. 1 & 2) VI cent. CE?; Hazor-Ashdod (Ovadiah, Plate LXXVIII, fig.1) 512 CE; A variant without a circle within the heksagon: Beth Shean[a.k.a. Beisan]  – Monastery of Lady Mary (Ovadiah, Plate XXI) c. 567 CE; Roglit (Ovadiah, Plate CXXXVII) Vth cent. CE. Just citing one example from Jordan: The Procopius Church in Gerasa (Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan, Amman, 1992, p. 293, fig. 560) 526 CE. As you notice, most of these mosaics are dated to the 6th century."

There is one very interesting detail in the inscription of Gaianus, and that is the name of the mosaicist. The habit to sign one's work appears in the mosaics of Israel and Jordan only in the 6th century.


Most mosaics in Palestine have a religious setting, according to Dunbabin (1999:187ff). The majority dates back to the 4th to 8th century AD. Many churches, decorated with floor mosaics, arise since Constantine, as well as a number of synagogues showing mosaics. In the early fifth century (and later) a lot of "repetitive carpet" mosaics were made.

Often, the donors of the mosaics (and the churches) are named in an inscription (ibid. 198, 317, 324), clerics as well as laypersons. [Cf. Gaianos, 1.3.]

Signatures of the mosaicist are not extremely exceptional (ibid. 272-5). [Cf. Brouti(o)s, 1.3.] Some of them, living in or around Palestine, are called Kaioumas, Elias, and Thômas.


b         An excurs: Roman mosaics in Northern Africa


A famous book on Roman mosaics is Dunbabin (1978), a treatise on Roman mosaics in North Africa. These mosaics are indicative of Roman social life in the Empire. Popular themes were: hunting scenes, fish, scenes from the amphitheater, mythology and (demi)gods and heroes.  Inthe last category we do not see anymore the Olympian gods (Juppiter, Juno etc.), but only Bacchus (wine, agriculture, seasons, Bacchus cult) and Venus (love); demigods and heroes include Orpheus, Hercules and other people who reached the Olympus by means of their own virtus ('virtue') (like Ariadne, Ganymed etc.). The "foreign" goddess Cybele, with her two lions, appears on some mosais as well.

Most mosaics date back to a period from (roughly) 180 – 400 AD. (As is well-known, the western part of the Empire ceased to exist much earlier than the eastern part.) It is clear that the age of the Roman city gods and the Greek Olympic gods has ended, and that there is a need for hope giving deities, some of whom have their own mystery cults. (Christianity flourished in Roman society that embraced eastern mystery cults like the Cybele or Mithras cult.) An overview of these themes is to be seen on this op this page, about the floor mosaics in the Roman city of Volubilis, Mauretania Tingitana (Marocco).


Some words about Christian mosaics in Northern Africa


As Dunbabin (188ff) points out, there was hardly any kind of specifically Christian symbolism in early Christian mosaics. Sometimes the Christ monogram or the alpha-omega-sign was visible, but traditional symbols (vines, roseplants etc.) were much more frequent. "Palm trees flank the inscriptions" (Dunbabin 190.)

Traditional symbols (fish, anchor) could receive a new Christian "meaning", cf. . Harland, "fish mosaic" and christian symbols.  The Salomon's knot, visible in the Megiddo mosaic, is not an originally Christian motive either, cf. "salomons knot" [cf. the Gaianos mosaic], J.L. Panetier, "Volubilis, une cité du Maroc antique" (2002), p.104.

In "Greece, Byzantine mosaics" by A. Graber and M. Chatzidakis (1959) we see a few very explicit Christian mosaics from Thessaloniki (a saint, an apocalyptic vision, two angels etc.); zij date back to the fifth century.



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3.6      Historical context


The Jews in Palestine in the Roman Age


  • 6 BC: Judea, already within Roman influence, becomes a Roman provincia.
  • About 30 AD: Christianity arises. The first Christians are Jews from Palestine, mainly living in the cities.
  • 66-70 AD: The Jewish War, a rebellion against the Romans; Jerusalem is sacked by the Romans (Titus). As a punishment for their rebellion, the Jews are forced to pay an additional tax (fiscus iudaicus); the (Jewish) christians, who were not involved in the war, are excluded (Meijering 128-9).
  • Pauline Christianity attracts more and more non-Jews from outside Palestine; there is a growing separation  between Pauline christians and (christian, non-christian) Jews as a consquence of this and the Jewish War.
  • 135 AD. The Bar Kochba revolt fails. The emperor Hadrian creates a "new" province (Syria) Palaestina. (Capital: Caesarea).  Many Jews are killed or enslaved.
  • In Late Antiquity, most Greek speaking Jews live in the major cities (Alexandria, Antioch, Rome) as well as in Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor.




  • About 30 AD: Christianity arises soon after the death of Jesus Christ. The first adherents are Palestine Jews, but Paul attracts many non-Jewish converts. This fact, as well as the Jewish war, causes a growing separation between Jews and Christians.
  • Occasionally, there are frictions between Christianity and Roman society. Spontaneous outbursts of hatred against local Christians occur, especially in the cities of Asia Minor. Some Christians are even eager to die as a martyr. (N & S 411.) But until 250 persecutions were always local and incidental, not general.
  • 135 AD: The Church in Palestinia  is headed by the city of Caesarea, Syria. (See also Jews, 135 AD.) There are continuous tensions between Caesarea and Jerusalem (until Jerusalem will take the lead in 451 AD). (Mei..)

·        249-251 AD: Persecutions under the emperor Decius.

·        Third century AD: There are not many Christians in Palestine and they are concentrated in the cities (Jedin); but the amount of Christians is rising quickly during this century (N&S 54).

·        260 AD: Edict of Tolerance (in the western part of the Empire), by the emperor Gallienus. Forty years of peace and security for the Christians.

·        284-305 AD: Diocletian, emperor (in the East). In 303 he decides to destroy all churches; Christians who refuse to sacrifice will be killed.

·        311 AD: (Second) Edict of Tolerance by the emperor Galerius. Christians are allowed to practice their faith as long as they do not disturb the peace. 

·        312-324 AD: Constantine's Conversion. Christian faith is legalised officially (Edict of MIlan 313.) During the reign of Constantine Christianity flourishes, resulting in churches (e.g. Holy Sepulcher, Nativity Church), pilgrimages to Palestine and monasteries.

·        Before Constantine only twenty cities with Christian communities were known in Palestine (Jedin). In 312 AD no more than 20 percent of the entire population in the Roman Empire consisted of Christians (WV 315).  Sixteen bishops from Palestine will attend the Council of Nicaea (325 AD, see below)

·        325 AD: The Council of Nicaea is held in order to put an end to the confusion about  the "nature" of Christ. The Orthodox Christian doctrine is now (supposed to be) clear.

·        381 AD: The emperor Theodosius  decides Christian faith will be the official state religion in the Empire.

·        At the end of the fourth century Christian victory in Palestine is a fact. Most gentiles have converted to christianity. There are fourty churches (and only 120 synagogues). Orthodox Christianity is the standard type of faith (unlike the "monophysite" regions Syria and Egypt), though a tough minority of monophysites exists (Bow..), led by "Peter the Iberian", who is actually from Georgia.  (Monophysites claim that Jesus was exclusively divine.)

·        381 AD: The emperor Theodosius condemns Arianism ("Jesus was just a man") during the Second Council.  The Holy Spirit is added to the Nicaean credo.

·        451 AD: The Council of Chalcedon condemns both monophysite and Nestorian (roughly: Arianist) interpretations of Christian faith.

About martyrs


  • In the early days Christians paid no special attention to their martyrs other than the usual veneration due to all people after death, according to the local funeral rites. In a later period their names and date of death were written in a book of the church or community: martyrologia.
  • The first attested martyr veneration: St. Polycarp, second century.
  • Following the Edict of Milan (313) Christians started gathering information about martyrs. (MEI 110; NS 415.) A list of Palestinian martyrs was given by Eusebios:  De martyribus palestinae (Migne, Patr. Graec. 20, 1457-1536, on the martyrs of Caesarea, Gaza and Askalon).
  • Almost all martyrs in Tyrus (Phoenicia) had Greek names. This could mean they were mainly Greeks not Jews (Jedin).


Monks and monasteries:


Heremites (lonely "monks") already existed (cf. St. Antonius 27-325), but the monasteries (communities of monks) were introduced by Pachomius, an Egyptian who deserted from the army (WV 325). Both male and female communities came into existence in Egypt in the late third century AD. Soon Palestine and Asia Minor followed. In the early fourth century AD monasteries had reached the West. (CE, NS 417ff.) Monastic life was becoming more important (MEI 157), alongside the clerus and the laypersons. In Palestine there were three types: (1) the anchorite stage (a very strict way of life which drove a number of people mad); (2) the "laura"  (from 320 AD onwards, every monk had his own cell or cave), and (3) the koinobion (a real community, dating back to the 5th century AD in Palestine: everybody shared everything; the mebers called each other brother ["adelphos"] and sister). (MEI 157ff.)


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4.         Sources:


Associated Press (AP), zie KUTV; Haaretz.

BBC News (BBC), world edition. (zondag 6 november 2005): Ancient church found on jail site.

Biblical Recorder (BR): (Van 8 november 2005.)

Christianforums. (CF): discussion board.

CNS: (Cybercast News Service, november 9 2005). Move the prison, save the church, Israeli archaeologists say. (By Julie Stahl.)

Cranach. Weblog van Gene Edward Veith, een protestantse Amerikaan. (Bijdrage van 8 november 2005.)

Catholic Online (CO): Amazing discovery of ancient church in holy land.

Croix, La (15-11-2005): Le secret de la mosaïque de Megiddo. (By Claire Lesegretain.)

Free Republic (FR). Amerikaans republikeins internetforum.  Met bijdragen van onder meer Charles Henrickson, "Lutheran pastor and Ph.D. student in Biblical Studies".


Haaretz (Hz)  (dinsdag 8 november 2005): Prison dig reveals church that may be oldest in the world. (Door Amarim Barkat van Haaretz, en AP.)

"Islamcity": Zionist hoax: "christian church is actually monophysite blasphemy.

Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA): Excavations at Megiddo Prison yield rare 3rd-4th century Christian structure.

Jerusalem Post (JP), online edition (5 november 2005): Ancient church uncovered at Megiddo (door Tidhar Ofek).

KUTV (KUTV): Ancient church discovered in Biblical Armageddon. (5 november 2005), bron: Associated Press (AP). (KUTV is kennelijk een "tv station" in Salt Lake City.)

New York Times (NYT) (7 november 2005): Israeli prisoners dig their way to early christianity. (Door Greg Myre.)

National Geographic (NG). (Overzichtsfoto.)

Novum Testamentum. A site dedicated to the New Testament and cognated fields, weblog van Brandon Wason.

NRC Handelsblad (NRC) (zaterdag 7 november 2005, p4): 'Oudste' kerk van het heilige land. (met foto van AFP: centraal mozaïek met inscriptie van Gaianos, 1.3).

Religion Newsblog (RN); zie Washington Post (WP).

Reuters, zie Yahoo.

RIAM: Religion in the ancient Mediterranean. Weblog van Philip Harland, "assistant professor University Montreal".

Spiegel (Spiegel): (7 november 2005): Älteste christliche Kirche der Welt entdeckt?

Volkskrant (VK)(maandag 7 november 2005): Kerk uit derde of vierde eeuw opgegraven (door Alex Burghoorn).

Washington Post (WP) (6 november 2005): Site may be 3-rd century place of Christian worship (door Scott Wilson). Ook te vinden als: Israeli archeologists discover Roman-era Christian building (door Scott Wilson) in "Religion newsblog".

Worldmagblog (WMB): Forum op internet.

Yahoo, Early christian  church unearthed near Armageddon (Reuters).

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5.         LITERATURE:


AC: "Armageddon Church"

AE Année Epigraphique.

Armageddon Church. Website by Shahar Cohen.

Bauer, W. (1937): Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament.

Bechtel, F. (1917): Die historischen Personennamen des Griechischen bis zur Kaiserzeit.

Blümel, W. (1992): Einheimische Personennamen in Griechischen Inschriften aus Karien, Epigraphica Anatolica, nr  20, 1992, 7-33.

Bowersock, G.B. & P. Brown & O. Grabar (1999): Late antiquity, a guide to the postclassical world.

Donceel-Voute, P. Les pavements des églises byzantnes de Syrie en du Libanon. Décor, archéologie et liturgie. 1988. (Genoemd in Dunbabin 1999).

Brooks, J.A. & C.L. Winbery (1994): A morphology of New Testament Greek.

CIL: Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.

Diehl, E. (1927): Inscriptiones latinae christianae veteres

Dunbabin, K.M.D. (1978): The mosaics of Roman North Africa.

Dunbabin, K.M.D. (1999): Mosaics of the Greek and Roman world.

Ferguson, E. e.a. (1997): Encyclopedia of early christianity.

Forcellini, A. (1864-1926): Lexicon totius Latinitatis.

Grammont, M. (1948): Phonétique du Grec ancien.

Harland, P.A. (2003): Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations:
Claiming a Place in Ancient Mediterranean Society .
Harland (2005): Familial Dimensions of Group Identity:
ΑΔΕΛΦΟΙ) in Associations of the Greek East.

Horrocks, G. (1997): Greek. A history of the language and its speakers.

Hurtado, L.W. (1998?):  Lord Jesus Christ, devotion to Jesus in earliest christianity.

Ilan, Tal (2002): Lexicon of Jewish names. Part (I) Palestine 330 BCE – 200 CE.

Jedin, H. (1962): Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte. Bd I: Von der Urgeschichte zur frühchristlichen Grosskirche.

Jewish Encyclopedia, ook op internet. (Artikel over namen door Joseph Jacobs.)

Kaufmann, C.M. (1917): Handbuch der altchristlichen Epigraphie.

Lampe, G.W.H. (Larfeld, W. (1914): 1961): A patristic lexicon.

Griechische Epigraphik.

Lewis and Short: A Latin dictionary.

Liddell, H.G. & Scott, R. (1968) (L&S): A Greek-English lexicon.

McLean, B.H. (2002): An introduction to Greek epigraphy of the Hellenistic and Roman periods from Alexander the Great down to the reign of Constantine (323 B.C. – A.D. 337).

Meijering, E. (2004): Geschiedenis van het vroege Christendom. Van de jood Jezus van Nazareth tot de Romeinse keizer Constantijn. [History of Early Christianity, Dutch.]

Meimaris, Y.E. (1986): Sacred names , saints, martyrs and church officials in the Greek inscriptions and papyri pertaining to the christian church of Palestine.

Naerebout, F.G. & H. Singor (1995): De oudheid. Grieken en Romeinen in de context van de wereldgeschiedenis.

New Advent. Catholic Encyclopedia, op internet.

Newton, C. (1885): Traité d' épigraphie grècque.

Nijf, O. van (1999): The absolute beginner's guide to Greek and Roman epigraphy.

"Ohio": discussie onder geleerden op internet. (2005.)

Oikonomides, A.N. (1940): A manual of abbreviations in Greek inscriptions (enz).

Pape, W. (1863-1870): Wörterbuch der griechischen Eigennamen. (Two volumes.)

[Prosopographica Ptolemaica: (also on the web).

Quaegebeur, J. (1974): The study of egyptian proper names in Greek transcription. In: Onoma (Comité International des Sciences Onomastiques, Leuven/Louvain), vol. xviii 3, 403- 420.

Ranke, H. (1935-1977): Die Ägyptischen  Personennamen. Three volumes.

Reinach, S. (1889): Traité d' épigraphie grecque.

Smith, W. (1974): A dictionary of Christian biography.

Snyder, G.F. (1985): Ante pacem. Archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine.

Solin, H. (1982): Die griechischen Personennamen in Rom.

Sophocles, E.A. (1893): Greek lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine period.

Stephanus, H (19de eeuw): Thesaurus Linguae Graecae

Thompson, E.M. (1912): Greek and Latin palaeography.

Tepper, Yotam & Di Segni, Leah (2006): A Christian prayer hall of the third century CE at Kefar ‘Othnay (Legio). Excavations at the Megiddo Prison 2005. (Israel Antiquities Authority publication)

TLL: Thesaurus Linguae Latinae.

Urech, H. (1972): Dictionnaire des symboles chrétiennes

Wendland, P. (1972): Die hellenistisch-römische Kultur in ihren Beziehungen zum Judentum und Christentum.

WVV: Wes e.a.

Wes, M.A. & H.S. Versnel & E.C.L. van Vliet (1978): De wereld van de oudheid. [The world of antiquity, Dutch.]

Woodhead, A.G. (1959): The study of Greek inscriptions.

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7          Disclaimer


This is not a work of science. The author has studied Greek and Latin, but he is not a specialist in epgraphy, nor in Early Christianity, nor in Roman mosaics. Errors can always occur (an did occur in the past). For instance: XP does not seem to be an abbreviation of Christ (Oikonomides), but centurio (McLean). Etcetera. Alwayc be careful!


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NOTE ON AKEPTOUS. (One  way to solve the problem would be, just for the sake of argument, my own theory X: (a) Akkeptous was a man, (b) is in fact ê ('or') and (c) –ous is a Greek redendering for Latin –us, but I don't believe my own theory: (b) may be grammatically correct [°Kühner-Gerth II.2. §538.1-3], but seems to be epigraphically strange (?), (c) is never the case [McLean131f, Reinach 516f; except where Latin is written in Greek letters, Diehl p. 503, nr. 4971], so (a) seems unlikely.) Back.