(ORDO NEWS) — In Israel, archaeologists reported a rare find: an early Christian church, possibly one of the first in the world, was discovered in the Banias Nature Reserve in the north of the country.
According to The Times of Israel, the Byzantine church was discovered at the top of the hill where the ancient temple of the Greek god Pan was located. This place is described in the New Testament, according to which it was here that Jesus Christ first appeared before the Apostle Peter in the role of the Messiah and ordered him to spread his teaching throughout the world.
Experts have dated the found church to the 4th century AD, making it one of the oldest of its kind. Not only is it one of the earliest Christian churches in Israel, it is arguably one of the earliest in the world. This monument was discovered at the foot of the waterfalls in the Banias Nature Reserve.
A Byzantine church was erected on top of a temple from the Roman era. By the way, the reserve itself was named after Pan. Archaeologists have found that Christian builders literally “adapted the Roman pagan temple to the needs of the new religion.”
According to Haifa University professor Adi Ehrlich, this church may have been built to commemorate a significant change in Jesus’ fellowship with Peter. The latter recognized his teacher as the Messiah, and this happened, according to documentary evidence, in the area at the time of Christ called “Caesarea Philip.”
According to some Christian beliefs, it was in this region that Jesus commissioned Peter not only to spread his teachings, but also to establish Christianity throughout the world. It is believed that here he uttered his famous phrase: “And I say: you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church … I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Archaeologists say the site is unique. It combines a cliff, a cave, water sources and a terrace created in antiquity. According to Ehrlich, worship of the god Pan began here around the 3rd century BC, and for several centuries a cave and a spring were used for this.
The temple dedicated to Pan was built around 20 BC. It was a very stylized open-air temple, decorated with classical Roman architecture, with a small pool in the center. Previously, it was possible to identify him by the dedication inscribed on the altar.
The original structure of the Roman temple was Christianized and converted into a church. The site has become an important Christian center with its own bishop since 320 AD. By the way, many Christian symbols were found during the excavations. In particular, a mosaic floor decorated with images of a cross was discovered.
By the way, this symbol became widespread in Christian iconography only after the reign of Emperor Constantine, in the middle of the 4th century. Also, scientists have established that the east-facing niche in the pagan temple, which may have contained a statue of Pan himself, was transformed into a church apse.
“A very interesting stone was also discovered, decorated with many crosses engraved on it, – says Ehrlich. – Most likely, these were graffiti of pilgrims who visited this place in the 6th-7th centuries and wanted to say:“ I was here”.
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