But, what of the Christians who stayed in Israel in the first century; did they flourish? That is a good question. The historian Eusebius mentions bishops in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Maximianopolis, but we know little about the Christians they led. Did Christianity flourish and increase in Israel after Jesus’ resurrection, maintain only a small presence or die out? We know surprisingly little. While archaeologists have made extensive finds and excavated churches from the time of Constantine and his successors, there have been few finds from previous centuries.I have been following the excavation of the Sixth Legion Roman camp ("Legio") at Megiddo for some time. It is also known as the Megiddo Prison excavation. For past posts see here and here and follow the links. One note of caution: there seems to be some doubt about the early (i.e., third century) date of the mosaic that refer to "God Jesus Christ." Larry Hurtado has more on that. See here.
So, when archaeologists announced the excavation of a Christian prayer hall near the ancient site of Megiddo in Israel 12 years ago, initial expectations hoped that here, finally, were archaeological remains of the early Christians of Israel. In the end, however, it turned out to be something totally different. The prayer hall showed that Christians not only served in the Roman army, but they were accepted and their worship acknowledged as legitimate.
Megiddo, what the New Testament calls Armageddon, was located at the crossroads of important ancient roads for more than two millennia. After the city mound was abandoned, the area continued to be inhabited and, by the first century, a village of Jews and Samaritans known as Kefar Othnay had grown up at the crossroads.
When the Roman Empire decided to station a legion in Palestine, it settled on these crossroads as the place from which most of Palestine could be quickly reached. Ultimately, six Roman “highways” linked this location to the rest of the province, including Jerusalem, Galilee, Ptolemais and Caesarea.
The 6th Roman Legion spent 170 years in this base, known as Legio. Situated next to Kefar Othnay, it became the site’s name from the early second century to the end of the third century.
Later this month there will be a lecture in Laramie by Matt Adams, Director of the Albright Institute, on the Legio excavation. Hopefully he will address this question.
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