Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed what they claim is the world’s first church, dating back almost 2,000 years, The Jordan Times reported on Tuesday.
“We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD,” the head of Jordan’s Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said.
He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
“We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians — the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ,” Husan said.
These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as “the 70 beloved by God and Divine,” are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added.
He cited historical sources which suggest they both lived and practised religious rituals in the underground church and only left it after Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers.
The bishop deputy of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese, Archimandrite Nektarious, described the discovery as an “important milestone for Christians all around the world.”
Researchers recovered pottery dating back to between the 3rd and 7th centuries, which they say suggests these first Christians and their followers lived in the area until late Roman rule.
Inside the cave there are several stone seats which are believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse.
There is also a deep tunnel which is believed to have led to a water source, the archaeologist added.
The “seventy” would be Jesus’s followers whom He sent out two by two, as described in Luke 10. I don’t think the 70 made up the congregation of this church, since they would hardly refer to themselves with the veneration reflected in the mosaic inscription. The church, though, was probably dedicated to those very first missionaries and might even have been started by them. The reference to the 70 also confirms a Biblical detail, from before the time the Gospel of Luke was written, an allusion not to a text but to remembered history.
Still, if this is correct, the very first church–and if it is not that, the dating shows it is extremely early, dating from immediately after Christ’s death & resurrection, ca. 33 A.D., to a few decades afterwards, before most of the New Testament had been written–had clergy, ritual (a.k.a., liturgy), art (the mosaics), and considered baptism to be very important (having a water source into the building). This is evidence against the evolutionary assumptions that dominate secular Biblical criticism, that such elaborations developed slowly over time. (It also shows that certain disputed practices we Lutherans have come from the church in Bible times.)
Here is a picture of artifacts–communion ware?– that may have been used by some of our very earliest brethren in the faith: