Christian mosaics discovered at Megiddo prison (Megiddo mosaics 1)

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.

2 thoughts on “Christian mosaics discovered at Megiddo prison (Megiddo mosaics 1)

  1. Phil Harland Post author

    whitemale said…

    From Brad’s site:
    Line 2: The name Ἀκεπτους is interesting. It is a Latinism for the Christian name Acceptus, though I would expect a second kappa (cf. ἄκκεπτα in Ign. Pol. 6.2), which was probably dropped out to save space.

    This isn’t possible. There is ample space in this line, both between the Pi and the Tau, and at the end where a hyphen occurrs. The name, as transliterated, is Akeptous. Acceptus is the Latinism.

    6:53 PM
    Alisa M.Div student at Princeton Theological Seminary said…

    What are you thoughts concerning the names on these three inscriptions? The inscriptions first display a name of a Roman centurion and the second and third show five women as those to be remembered and as one who dedicated the table. Also, that the third inscription refers to one of the woman as Christas, a slave name meaning useful?

    10:35 AM
    slofstra said…

    Hello Alisa,

    I wonder how the newspapers came to know that Gaianos is a “centurio”. It’s not in the inscription.
    (See: http://home.planet.nl/~slofs018/Megiddo.htm ; note: VOORBEELD means example (picture).)

    women: Primillê (Roman name), Kuriakê (christian name.), Dôrothea (chr), Khrêstê (chr.). Khrêstê is, I think, equivalent to Khristê. (“ancilla cresti”, and Suet. Claud.; see my website, 1.2).

    Yours,
    Bouke Slofstra

    12:26 PM
    slofstra said…

    Hi Whitemale,

    I guess Ac(c)eptus is an interesting interpretation of AKEPTOUS.
    It may sound pedantic, but I also thought of this possibility before.
    The only problem is:
    If Akeptous is a lady (“hê philotheos”), why not Akeptê.
    (Remark: aceptus with one c is rather normal in Latin writing, TLL, Forcellini. See my website:
    http://home.planet.nl~slofs018/Megiddo.)

    Yours,
    Bouke Sloftsra

    12:30 PM
    slofstra said…

    correction:
    http://home.planet.nl/~slofs018/Megiddo.htm

    12:32 PM
    Anonymous said…

    Hi Alida,

    Shame on me.
    I may be wrong.
    The khr-rho sign (Megiddo, Gaianos inscription) could well be an abbreviation of hekatonarkhês (!), see McLean 52f (see my website, now in English).
    In an older book on epigraphy and abbreviations (Oikonomides) exactly this sign (X-above-P) was listed as a variant of the well know Christ monogram

    Best regards
    Bouke Slofstra

    10:59 AM
    Bouke Slofstra said…

    Hi Philip,

    May I ask you another question about these inscriptions.
    There is somthing funny with Gaianos, the (alleged) centurio.
    The newspapers underline the fact that he was a Roman centurio. There is some discussion about the question whether a centurio was likely to be a Christian in the pre-Constantine age, and you of course took part in this discussion (claiming that this period was not so dangerous as many people believe).

    All right. But there ‘s another peculiarity, I believe. The newspapers stress the fact that he was a ROMAN centurio,as if other people were not Roman. (and: as if he were from Rome.) But: since we are in a period long after Caracalla’s Constitutio Antoniniana (212), you would suppose Gaianos was no more Roman than, say, Akeptous was.
    Moreover: is it possible that Gaianos was a converted local Jew? Stephanus says Gaianos could be derived not only from Gaius but also from Cain. McLean 90-92 (as well as others) stresses the fact that many Jews had Greco-Roman names, sometimes in addition (ho kai) to their Jewish name (Samouêl). McLean mentions the practice of “phonetic polarization”, but elswhere he gives examples of “plainly” grecifying foreign names (Ktesikles ho kai Ktasadas, 100). Could it be — just speculation — that his original name was Cain, romi-/grecified into “Gaianos”?

    Best regards,
    Bouke Slofstra

    4:49 AM

  2. Jim in Marbella

    Very fitting! “The priests used to say that faith can move mountains, and nobody believed them. Today the scientists say that they can level mountains, and nobody doubts them.” Joseph Campbell

Comments are closed.