Sun 6 Nov 2005
As pointed out by both Jim Davila and David Meadows, there is a news release reporting that a building that may be an early Christian church has been discovered in excavations within the grounds of the modern Megiddo prison (see the brief articles at haaretz.com and reuters.com). The clearest claims of the story in haaretz.com are that three mosaic inscriptions have been found (one small photo appears in the article), which are described as follows:
The northern inscription mentions a Roman army officer who donated the money to build the floor. The eastern inscription commemorates four women, and the western inscription mentions a woman by the name of Ekeptos (sic), who ‘donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration.’ The mosaic also contains geometric patterns and a medallion with a fish design.” [We now know that the name is Akeptous, not Ekeptos, as in the photos and in the Washington Post article discussed below].
The story bills this as potentially the earliest church building ever found, but supplies little support for this suggestion. I will try to keep an eye on this story to see if more substantial and reliable information comes forth.
UPDATE (Nov. 7): One can never beat Jim Davila to the draw. See his discussion of another, far more restrained article in the Washington Post (which makes me glad about my natural hesitancy in the discussion above). The Post‘s description of the inscriptions, which is based on comments of the archaeologist in charge of the excavation (Yotam Tepper), is as follows:
Tepper said the most important evidence comes from three inscriptions found in the mosaics. Along the edge of the largest mosaic, featuring at its center the early Christian symbol of two fish, an ancient Greek inscription, roughly translated, reads: ‘Gaianos, also called Porphyrio, centurion, our brother, having sought honor with his own money, has made this mosaic. Brouti has carried out the work.’ Tepper said the inscription refers to a Roman officer — many officers were early converts to Christianity — who financed the structure’s construction.
An inscription on a second mosaic, closer to the base of a pedestal whose use archaeologists have not determined, recalls by name four women from the community. Tepper said the third inscription is the most archaeologically valuable. It reads: ‘The God-loving Aketous (sic) has offered this table to the God Jesus Christ, as a memorial.’” [The name on the inscription is Akeptous, with a "p"].
FURTHER UPDATE (Nov. 8): National Geographic online now has three excellent pictures of the mosaics, available here.
Also go to the comments section of post no. 2 in this series for my answer to a reader’s question regarding the abbreviations for God and Jesus Christ (so called nomina sacra, or “sacred names”), which are used in at least one of the inscriptions mentioned above. The use of the abbreviated “sacred names” (with the horizontal line over the abbreviation) here suggests that the inscription likely dates to the fourth century or later (but the third century is not impossible).
FURTHER UPDATE (Nov. 10): Over at novumtestamentum.com, Brandon Wason has taken the time to transcribe the Greek of the Akeptous inscription, providing his own translation and some initial commentary.