Israel considers loaning early Christian mosaic to DC Bible Museum

Then the kings came, they fought: The kings of Canaan fought At Taanach, by Megiddo's waters—They got no spoil of silver.




(the israel bible)

August 16, 2023

2 min read

Israeli officials are considering loaning the mosaic floor from what is believed to be the world’s earliest Christian prayer hall in Megiddo, northern Israel, to the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said that it will decide about the move in the coming weeks, following consultations with an advisory body.

“There’s an entire process that academics and archaeologists are involved with,” said IAA director Eli Eskozido. The IAA said that moving the mosaic from its original location was the best way to protect it from upcoming construction at the prison.

“Our top experts are rigorously assessing whether relocating the mosaic is feasible and appropriate,” Eskozido said.  “Let me be clear: a permanent relocation of the mosaic out of Israel was never, is not, and will never be an option. If anything, it might be showcased in one of the world’s foremost museums and then returned to its original discovery site.”\

Several archaeologists and academics have voiced objections to the proposed loan. Cavan Concannon, a religion professor at the University of Southern California, told the Associated Press that the museum acts as a “right-wing Christian nationalist Bible machine” with links to “other institutions that promote white evangelical, Christian nationalism, Christian Zionist forms.”

“My worry is that this mosaic will lose its actual historical context and be given an ideological context that continues to help the museum tell its story,” he said.

“It is seriously premature to move that mosaic,” said Matthew Adams, director of the Center for the Mediterranean World, a non-profit archaeological research institute, who is involved in digs at Tel Megiddo and the abutting Roman legionary camp of Legio.

“Major museums and distinguished institutions committed to preserving history have had to grapple with cultural heritage issues, particularly in recent years.”

“To be clear: Museum of the Bible is proud to have proactively launched research and a thorough review of items in its collections,” he added. “The museum initiated returns where appropriate to countries of origin without obligation to do so and encourages other institutions to do the same.”

The prayer hall at Megiddo was located in a Roman-era village dating to the 3rd century CE. The area belonged to the ancient Roman town of Legio, known previously by its Hebrew name, Kefar ‘Otnay. The site was abandoned in 305 CE in the wake of Christian persecution instituted by the emperor Diocletian. 

The remains of the church were discovered in 2005 during a salvage excavation conducted as part of the planned expansion of an Israeli prison in the Jezreel Valley in Northern Israel. The excavation uncovered a large (580 sq ft) mosaic with a Greek inscription stating, “The God-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.” The mosaic is very well preserved and features geometrical figures and images of fish, an early Christian symbol.

The mosaic also names a Roman army officer, Gaianus — the donor behind the floor. This seems incongruous as Christianity had yet to be adopted by the Romans. A woman named Ekoptos is also named; she “donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration.” 

The site is near Tel Megiddo. The Christian Book of Revelation describes an apocalyptic battle that will take place at the site of “Armageddon,” a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “Megiddo”.

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