JERUSALEM, Israel, June 11, 2008 -- Archaeologists in Jordan claim to have unearthed the world's oldest Christian church.
A team led by Dr. Abdul Qader al-Hassan discovered a cave under the ancient Christian church of St. Georgeous in Rihab, in northern Jordan.
The archaeologists claim the cave dates from the period between the years 33 and 70 and that the site was both a dwelling place and a site of early Christian worship. This would mean it was used by Christians in the years immediately following the death of Jesus in Jerusalem.
"We have evidence to believe that this church sheltered the early Christians: the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ," al-Hassan told The Jordan Times.
He said that a mosaic inscription on the floor of the Church of St. Georgeous refers to "the 70 beloved by God and Divine."
The cave would have been used by these early Christians who came to Rihab to flee Roman persecution in Jerusalem, al-Hassan said.
The practice of Christian rituals in the Holy Land was banned by the Roman authorities until the year 313.
The earliest established sites of Christian worship in the region date from the 3rd century, and the claims of al-Hassan and his team have yet to be fully tested.
In November 2005, Israeli archaeologists made similar claims for a site at Megiddo, near the biblical Armageddon. They discovered ancient mosaics within the grounds of a prison.
There is some skepticism within the archeological community about this latest discovery as it claims to be so much older than existing Christian churches.