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Not The Oldest Church

A month back a report from Jordan mentioned the discovery of the world’s first church. An inscription mentioned the date of completion of the structure as “one hundred and twenty-four” and since the Roman provinces used a calendar that starts on March 22, 106 C.E, the edifice was dated to 230 C.E. Then a cave was discovered below the pavement and it was dated to almost the first century,

If all these were true, then it would be evidence of early Christian worship and practices. It would also give clues on how various Christian communities spread out of Jerusalem.

The Greek inscription found in the edifice was translated as follows by scholars from the University of Toronto:

(1) In the name of the Holy Trinity, (2) from the offerings of Thomas son of Gaianus, (3) the sole founder. (4) The oratory of Saint George was completed in (5) the month of Apellaios at the time of the eighth indiction of the year four hundred and twenty-four (6) through the zeal of Sergius the watchman. [The Oratory of St. George in Rihab]

Initially the date was read as one hundred and twenty four, but it was incorrect. The correct translation was four hundred and twenty four and adding it to 106 C.E, gave a date of 530 C.E. Supporting this date is the fact that the Holy Trinity, which came after the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, is mentioned. Also it was after the fifth century that St. George cult gained popularity.

Besides this, the basilica plan of the St. George church is similar to the ones dating to sixth and seventh centuries, than to the third century. Regarding the cave beneath the church – there is no evidence that caves were used for worship in the first century and if the cave was indeed a place of worship, it would the first such discovery.

The authors of the paper conclude that this is not the oldest church, but just another church belonging to the Byzanthine period. The researchers left out one little thing. On the floor of the church was an inscription which read, “the 70 beloved by God and the divine.” The theory was that this 70 referred to the seventy disciples who fled Jerusalem fearing Roman persecution. For this they have no explanation.

Reference: The Oratory of St. George in Rihab: The Oldest Extant Christian Building or Just Another Byzantine Church?

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