Ancient Mosaic Found on Prison Grounds Sparks Debate

Should the Megiddo Mosaic be loaned or not?
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 15, 2023 5:27 PM CDT
Ancient Mosaic Found on Prison Grounds Sparks Debate
An Israeli archaeologist points at a nearly 1,800-year-old decorated floor from an early Christian prayer hall that Israeli archaeologists discovered on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2005, in the Megiddo prison.   (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

An ancient Christian mosaic bearing an early reference to Jesus as God is at the center of a controversy that has riled archaeologists: Should the centuries-old decorated floor, which is near what's believed to be the site of the prophesied Armageddon, be uprooted and loaned to a US museum that has been criticized for past acquisition practices? Israeli officials are considering just that. The proposed loan to the Museum of the Bible in Washington also underscores the deepening ties between Israel and evangelical Christians in the US, whom Israel has come to count on for political support, tourism dollars, and other benefits, reports the AP.

The Megiddo Mosaic is from what is believed to be the world's earliest Christian prayer hall, located in a Roman-era village in northern Israel. It was discovered by Israeli archaeologists in 2005 during a salvage excavation conducted as part of the planned expansion of an Israeli prison that sits at a historic crossroads a mile south of Tel Megiddo and is used for the detention of Palestinian security inmates. The mosaic, which has remained buried beneath the grounds of the Megiddo Prison, has been dated to the third century—before the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity and when adherents were still persecuted. It bears Greek inscriptions, among them an offering "To God Jesus Christ."

Across a field strewn with cow-dung and potsherds, the palm-crowned site of a Bronze and Iron Age city and ancient battles is where some Christians believe a conclusive battle between good and evil will transpire at the end of days: Armageddon. For some Christians, particularly evangelicals, this will be the backdrop of the long-anticipated climax at the Second Coming, when divine wrath will obliterate those who oppose God's kingdom; it serves as the focus of their hopes for ultimate justice. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said that it will decide about the move in the coming weeks, following consultations with an advisory body.

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The IAA said that moving the mosaic from its original location was the best way to protect it from upcoming construction at the prison. But several archaeologists and academics have voiced vociferous objections to the notion of removing the Megiddo Mosaic from where it was found—and all the more so to exhibit it at the Museum of the Bible. which has faced criticism over its collecting practices and for promoting an evangelical Christian political agenda since opening its doors in 2017. In 2018, it had to repatriate an ancient Mesopotamian tablet looted from Iraq and admit that several of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in its collection were modern forgeries. Others balk at the thought of moving the mosaic at all before academic study is complete. (The AP has more here.)

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