The prison, built by the British at an archaeological site in the north of Israel in the 1940s, will finally be evacuated. As the council of Megiddo announced, an archaeological park will be opened at the site of the prison, where ancient historical objects will be available to the public - one of the earliest known Christian prayer houses, discovered on the site where once there existed the Judean-Samaritan village of Otney (Kefar Othney, Kfar Otnay), the ruins of a large Roman military camp and seven mills of the Ottoman period.
Excavations were started by archaeologists under the direction of the Israel Antiquities Authority back in 2003 with the goal of researching ancient buildings under the Megiddo prison (known in the Bible as Armageddon). According to Dr. Yotam Tepper of the Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, the British credentials knew that they were building a prison at an archaeological site.
In 2005, a well-preserved mosaic of 54 sq. M. m with three inscriptions in Greek. The scientists dated the find in 230 AD.
Mosaic adorned the floor in a large apartment building measuring 30 to 40 meters, where one of the halls was reserved for worship. Such prayer houses were at that time centers of doctrine and spiritual communion in the early Christian communities, because more familiar to us temple structures appeared only in the IV century, after the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine to Christianity.
In the center of geometric and floral patterns on the mosaic is depicted the image of a fish - this is, as you know, a traditional allegorical symbol in early Christianity. Ihtis (fish, Greek) is an ancient acronym (monogram) of the name of Jesus Christ, consisting of the initial letters of the Greek words Jesus Christ of God the Son of the Savior. In the early Christian art, images of Christ were unacceptable because of persecution, and therefore various symbolic codes were widely used. Thus, the images of the acronym ΙΧΘΥΣ or the fish symbolizing it are known in the Roman catacombs, where they date from the second century. The image of the fish also has the eucharistic meaning associated with the meals described in the Gospel. The scientists called the mosaic "God Jesus Christ".
One of the mosaic inscriptions reads: "Loving God Akeptos devotes this meal to the glory of God Jesus Christ." It is assumed that Akeptos was a noble woman and sacrificed a table for the performance of the sacrament of the Eucharist, a "table" in Greek. "meal, trapeza".
As Tepper points out, the earliest Christians gathered and dined together, continuing the tradition of the Last Supper. Perhaps this house in Offnai served for such gatherings in the pre-Byzantine Holy Land. Also in the inscriptions mention the names of four more unknown women.
The find also sheds new light on the attitude of the Roman authorities towards early Christians. It is generally believed that this attitude was extremely hostile, but in this case the ancient prayer house closely and peacefully neighbors the largest Roman military camp discovered by scientists outside of Jerusalem. It was the base of the Legion VI "Ferrata", or the Sixth "Iron Legion" (Latin Legio VI Ferrata Fidelis Constans). The layout of the building of the prayer house was typical for the Middle Eastern houses of that time. Nevertheless, its roof was covered with tiles, similar to the tile in the houses of the Roman camp, where archeologists discovered tiles marked with the Legion mark. Scientists note that in Jewish homes there were no such tile roofs. On the outskirts of the village found artifacts that confirm the presence in the homes of Roman soldiers, perhaps they got their families here.
"The Romans, some military officers were Christians," says Dr. Tepper. - And this can mean that the persecution of early Christians by the Romans was exaggerated later in the oral tradition. It is clear that the legends do not fully reflect the specifics of the realities of the time - in particular, they keep silent about the existence of Christians in the Roman legions. "
Evidence of this can serve, the assumption of archaeologists that the mosaic in the Christian prayer house was created on the donation of a Roman centurion named Gaianus (Gaianus), which is mentioned in the inscriptions under the name "Porphyry, our brother".
All this clearly demonstrates the tolerance of Roman soldiers to a new religion, albeit forbidden at that time. Scientists suggest that the surviving legends refer to the persecutions of early Christians to Asia Minor, but not to the territory of Israel.
A century later, at the behest of the Emperor Constantine, entire Roman legions rose to their knees and accepted Christianity. Near the village of Otney in the IV century, the Roman-Byzantine city of Maximianopolis, which in the era of Islamic domination turned into Lajun, now the same Arab village, emerged.
Ruins identified as the Byzantine city of Maximianopolis will also be able to visit and see the tourists after the opening of the archaeological park.
Russia and the Christian East