An Israeli prison in Megiddo will be transformed into an archaeological park showcasing the major Roman-era archaeological remains that have been discovered underneath it including the remains of an ancient Jewish village and a stunning mosaic that identifies Jesus as God.
The prisoners will soon be transferred, the prison converted and the discoveries open to the public. Located in northern Israel, the Megiddo jail houses both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners. The British built the prison over the ancient site in the 1940s. The archaeological discoveries were made between 2003 and 2008 after digging began to expand the prison.
The inmates themselves were to put to work digging – and it was one of them who, in 2005, stumbled on the mosaic inscription proclaiming Jesus’ deity. Translated from the Greek by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the inscription reads: “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.”
The inscription is part of a 54-square-meter mosaic floor found in a structure some 30 by 40 meters in area. The floor is believed to have been belonged to some sort of prayer hall, albeit in a residential building rather than a basilica.
The mosaic features black and white tiles and two fish, a common symbol of early Christianity.
Scholars have said Akeptous may be the name of a woman who paid for a table to be used in taking communion.
Dating the mosaic back to the 3rd century Yotam Tepper, the archaeologist who led the dig, said it was part of one of the earliest Christian houses of worship ever uncovered in Israel.
Tepper’s conclusion is controversial as scholars widely maintain that organized Christian churches did not appear until the 4th century when Emperor Constantine decreed Christianity his official religion.
A further inscription on the mosaic floor read, “Gaianus, a Roman officer, ‘having sought honor, from his own money, has made the mosaic.’”
If Tepper’s dating is correct, it would be remarkable that a Roman officer would have become so openly involved with a Christian house of worship. This would suggest that perhaps Roman hostility toward Christians was not as prevalent and vicious as has been thought.
This line of thinking is bolstered by the discovery of the remains of a Roman camp nearby. With such open worship as revealed by the mosaic, officers at the camp would have been aware of the worshippers and their faith.
Although he had not seen the site at the time of speaking to reporters, Joe Zias a curator for the Israel Antiquities Authority, questioned the claims of a third-century gathering place for Christians.
“For people who study this, it would be very hard to accept that there is a Christian church here that dates to the third century,” he said. “My gut feeling is that we are looking at a Roman building that may have been converted to a church at a later date.”
Also at this site are the ruins of what the Israel Antiquities Authority has identified as the Jewish and Samaritan village of Kfar Otnai. According to Jewish sources Kfar Otnai existed from the first to the fourth centuries.
The Megiddo Regional Council announced in March this year that the new archaeological park will also include seven Ottoman era flour mills.
The inmates of Megiddo prison will move to an improved facility that complies with new European standards of minimum space per prisoner.