Monthly Archives: June 2008

First century church (building) found?

Several blogs have noted the report of a claim out of Jordan than a first century church has been found. The Jordan Times report by Rula Samain follows:

AMMAN – Lying underneath Saint Georgeous Church in Rihab, Mafraq, is what archaeologists describe as the first Christian church in the world.

“We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD,” said Archaeologist Abdul Qader Hussan, head of the Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies.

The discovery was “amazing”, Hussan told The Jordan Times.

“We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians: the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ,” the scholar said.

The early Christians, described in the mosaic inscription on St. Georgeous floor as “the 70 beloved by God and Divine”, are said to have fled from Jerusalem during the persecution of Christians, to the northern part of Jordan, particularly to Rihab, he added.

Citing historical sources, the expert said the 70 lived and practised their rituals in secrecy in this underground church.

We believe that they did not leave the cave and lived until the Christian religion was embraced by Roman rulers.

“It was then when St. Georgeous was built,” said Hussan.

Saint Georgeous is believed to be the oldest “proper” church in the world, built in 230 AD. This status is only challenged by a church unearthed in Aqaba in 1998, also dating back to 3rd century.

The findings in the graveyard near the cave offer valuable clues, according to Hussan.

“We found pottery items that date back from the 3rd to 7th century,” he added. The findings show that the first Christians and their offshoot continued living in the area till the late Roman rule.

“Going down a few steps into the cave, one would see a circle shape area, believed to be the apse, and several stone seats for the ecclesiastics,” he added.

Archimandrite Nektarious, Bishop Deputy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, described the discovery of the cave as an “important milestone for Christians all around the world”.

“The only other cave in the world similar in shape and purpose is in Thessalonica, Greece,” the bishop said in an interview in Amman.

The cave also embraces the living place of the first Christians. “A wall with an entrance is the only partition separating the altar from the living area,” Hussan said.

There is also a deep tunnel, which is believed to have led the 70 Christians to their source of water, the archaeologist added.

Officials in Mafraq say they will capitalise on the discovery to further promote the area.

Governor Zeid Zreiqat, who noted Rihab is rich in unique archaeological sites, said that together with the new discovery, these sites can be invested to attract religious tourism.

“We are working on developing Rihab to become a major tourist attraction in the near future,” he told The Jordan Times.

So far, 30 churches have been discovered in Rihab,” Hussan said. It is also believed that Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary have passed through this area, he added.

Are you excited about this discovery? Note that the report claims that the St. Geogeous Church “is believed to be the oldest proper church in the world, built in 230 AD.” The new discovery seems to have been a cave under the third century church. We must await further information on the inscription about the 70 disciples of Jesus.

There are several things in this report that arouse suspiction. Who were the 70 disciples? Were they the 70 of Luke 10:1-12? What rituals did they practice in secret? The church dates from 33 AD to 70 AD, yet they stayed in the cave until Christianity was embraced by the Roman government (early 4th century).

The pottery is said to date from the 3rd to the 7th century. Did the first century residents of the cave church leave no pottery? Do you really think a first century church had circular shaped seats for the clergy? (This is stated in the caption under a photo with the article.) We have no historical evidence for this clergy-laity distinction until well into the 2nd century.

We are told that the city of Mafraq will “capitalize on the discovery to further promote the area” and to help it become a major tourist attraction.

An MSNBC report cites Thomas Parker, of the University of North Carolina-Raleigh, as saying that this information should be greeted with a degree of caution. Read it here.

Pseudo Archaeologists

Gordon Govier, editor of Artifax, and producer of The Book & the Spade weekly radio program and podcast, has written about about a group of amateur archaeologists who are now being called Pseudo Archaeologists. These individuals, such as the late Ron Wyatt, Robert Cornuke. The discoveries claimed by these men make Indiana Jones look like a kid playing with his first shovel.

Several times a year someone sends me information about the claim of Ron Wyatt that he found Pharaoh’s chariot wheels in the Red Sea, etc. The ABR (Associates for Biblical Research) web page includes several articles dealing with these subjects. The page has been recently redesigned and you will profit by spending some time there. I also urge you to read Govier’s good article in Christianity Today here.

Some people think I know a lot about archaeology, but they know very little. I have been a student of the subject for more than 50 years, have participated in a dig, and am acquainted with several real archaeologists, but I am not an archaeologist. I frequently presents lessons on Bible History and Archaeology because I think the information can be extremely helpful to Bible students.

Sometimes we expect too much of archaeology. We should remember the old maxim, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.”

Archaeology is hard work, and often requires many years of diligent work at a single tell. In April I stopped at Tell Kafrein in the Jordan Valley and visited with the staff there for a while. This view shows a group gathered to hear the supervisor explain how to remove a Middle Bronze jar. The excavation at this yet unidentified site is under the direction of Professor Thanasis Papadopoulos of the University of Ioannina in northern Greece. I promised that I would not publish a photo of the jar, but I can tell you that it was beautiful (if you like that sort of thing). Notice that none of the works have a whip or a leather jacket. I don’t even see a fedora.

Man of Galilee now available

The Man of Galilee by Atticus G. Haygood is a small book that should be read by every person interested in the identity of Jesus of Galilee. The book was first published in 1889, and has been republished several times. I published it as part of Evidence Quarterly in 1963. It has been available at our Biblical Studies Info Page for a number of years. Now DeWard Publishing Company has published The Man of Galilee in an attractive paperback edition of 108 pages. This book will make an excellent gift to any young person who is of an age to be thinking about the Jesus of the New Testament.

Melvin Curry comments about this book:

Some big books need to die; this little one needs to live. Haygood’s Man of Galilee is a profound argument about the uniqueness of Jesus.

Dan Petty says,

Haygood discusses the truly unique and universal quality of the character of Jesus in a manner that is thoughtful, thorough, and logical. It is presented in terms that the student will find interesting, refreshing, and in the end, compelling.

Order The Man of Galilee.

I wish to commend DeWard Publishing Company for making this book available. Take a look at their web page.

Philadelphia, the church with an open door

Philadelphia is located about 30 miles southeast of Sardis in the valley of the Cogamis, a tributary of the Hermus. The city is built on the slope of Mount Tmolus overlooking a fertile valley. Philadelphia was in the province of Lydia in Western Asia Minor.

Philadelphia stood at the place where the borders of Mysia, Lydia, and Phrygia met. “It was characteristically a border town” (Barclay). This position made it the gateway to the East. Ramsay says,

“the Imperial Post-Road of the first century, coming from Rome by Troas, Pergamum and Sardis, passed through Philadelphia and went on to the East; and thus Philadelphia was a stage on the main line of Imperial communication” (The Letters to the Seven Churches 395).

The site of ancient Philadelphia is now covered by the Turkish agricultural town of Alashehir which has a population of about 20,000. Alashehir (Red City) is named for the volcanic earth in the area (Blaiklock 122). The plain is filled with vineyards. If Philadelphia were not a Biblical city very few tourists would put forth the effort to visit it.

According to Hemer, the location had one great disadvantage.

“It lies perilously close to the region known as the Catacecaumene (“the burnt land”) of Lydia, a hilly tract to the northeast which contained volcanic cones which had been active in recent geological time. And the whole area lies in the Anatolian fault system. Philadelphia was peculiarly liable to earthquake” (Hemer, “Unto the Angels of the Churches,” Buried History 11 (1975), 166).

Trench says, “No city of Asia Minor suffered more, or so much, from violent and often recurring earthquakes.” In A.D. 17 there was a destructive earthquake in the region which affected 12 cities. Sardis suffered worst, but Philadelphia is also mentioned. The cities were exempted from direct taxation and Tiberius provided personal funds for relief (Tacitus. Annals. 2.47).

Ramsay, who spent much time in Asia, reports that “the first great shock of earthquake is not so trying to the mind as the subsequent shocks, even though less severe, when these recur at intervals during the subsequent weeks and months….” Colin J. Hemer visited Philadelphia in 1969 just a few days after an earthquake (172-73). The people would leave the city and go out into the open fields and live in tents. When all danger was passed, and they did the necessary rebuilding, they would go back into the city. Strabo reports this in A.D. 20 (Ramsay), and Hemer provides a photograph of people living in tents outside their houses in 1969.

Our photo shows the ruins of the Byzantine church. Local tradition says this building served as a cathedral dedicated to St. John the Theologian. In Turkey the minaret is positioned to be in almost every tourist photo.

Toward the end of the first century the Lord sent a letter to the church at Philadelphia (Revelation 1:11; 3:7-13). The Lord commended the church with these words:

Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Revelation 3:8

Another kind of Poppy

A few days ago I posted a photo of some poppies in Turkey and included the term anemone with it here. Reader J. P. Van de Griessen, of the Netherlands, informed us that he thinks that this is the “Papaver rhoeas or family of it.” I do not have much knowledge about plants, but I had noticed that the poppies in Turkey were a bit different from the ones I have seen in Israel and Jordan in the spring of the year. J. P. has a section of his blog dealing with flora. Even if you can not read the Dutch you might be able to make a suitable translation using the Google language tools.

In the past three trips to Israel, with good digital equipment, I have not seen many poppies growing. In past visits, earlier in the year, we have seen entire fields colored with them. Here is a photo of some poppies among the ruins at Jerash in Jordan.

I understand this to be the anemone. Dr. David Darom, in Beautiful Plants of the Bible, calls it the common poppy (Papaver sp.). One Wikipedia article indicates that there are more than 150 varieties of the poppy. Darom links this plant with the “lilies of the field” mentioned by Jesus.

And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! (Matthew 6:28-30)

The UBS Fauna and Flora of the Bible comments on the New Testament word krinon:

It is used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says: ‘Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ Most commentators now think of the Anemone coronaria, the anemone with beautiful bright colours which is to be found on the hills of Galilee, where it would undoubtedly have been seen by the people listening to Jesus. (page 135)

Thanks, J.P. Any other help will be appreciated.

Speaking of poppies. In Turkey, another type of poppy is legally cultivated. On the outskirts of Yalvac (near Pisidian Antioch of Acts 14), I have seen cultivated fields of white poppies along the road. Under U. S. pressure, Turkey outlawed the growing of poppies in 1971. By 1974 they were allowing them to be grown under strict government control. Government factories convert the dried stems into poppy-straw concentrate (PSC) and then into morphine and codeine (See “The Poppy,” National Geographic, Feb., 1985, pp. 143-189). Here is a photo I made last year. I trust that I will not be charged with possession of a poppy photo!

From the mountains of Ararat to the island called Patmos

Or, from Genesis to Revelation. I did not make an intentional plan to do so, but within the past twelve months I have visited areas of the Bible world, from the mountains of Ararat to the island of Patmos. What a blessing to have the opportunity to spend about four weeks in Turkey, covering most of the sites mentioned in the Bible, about 10 days in Greece, more than a week in Israel, and a week in Jordan.

This means that I have been able to visit some of the most significant portions of the Bible world. Better than visiting the area alone, I have been able to share the area with other teachers (both men and women) who will be incorporating this information into their lessons for years to come.

When I first reflected on the past year and realized that I had been to Mount Ararat, in the mountains of Ararat, and on the Island of Patmos, I realized that this covers from Genesis 6 to the book of Revelation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I have visited every place in between, but it does give a sense of comprehensive overview.

Here are a couple of photos I trust you will find helpful. The first is of a shepherd with his sheep in the mountains of Ararat. Remember that the book of Genesis records that Noah’s ark rested “upon the mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4).

This photo was made at the entry to the cave of the Apocalypse on “the island called Patmos” (Revelation 1:9). John was exiled here during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian. Whether the book of Revelation was written on Patmos, or after John’s release, we can not say with certainty. The mosaic over the entry to the cave shows John dictating the revelation given to him by the Lord.

It is my conviction that Bible land travel can enhance one’s Bible study and improve one’s understanding of the text. This, in turn, needs to be converted to action in obedience to the will of the Lord, and in service to Him.