Jordan Home To Oldest Church In The World?

I read about this the other day but I wanted to see if it was verified or simply premature enthusiasm on the part of the local press. Apparently it’s the real deal.

AMMAN (AFP) – Archaeologists in Jordan have unearthed what they claim is the world’s first church, dating back almost 2,000 years, The Jordan Times reported on Tuesday.

“We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD,” the head of Jordan’s Rihab Centre for Archaeological Studies, Abdul Qader al-Husan, said. He said it was uncovered under Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab in northern Jordan near the Syrian border.

“We have evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians — the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ,” Husan said. These Christians, who are described in a mosaic as “the 70 beloved by God and Divine,” are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem and founded churches in northern Jordan, Husan added. [source]

I thought the news was a bit ironic. Think about it. Over 2,000 years ago, early Christians in what is modern day Occupied Palestine, sought refuge in Jordan to flee persecution. 2,000 years later, modern day Kingdom of Jordan still plays the very same role in the region.

Anyways, touristically speaking…

Officials in Mafraq say they will capitalise on the discovery to further promote the area. [source]

Yeah, just like Petra.


  • You know, I wish it was that easy in archaeology. You go and dig something as exciting as a 3rd century AD church, and feel the need to top it with discovering what you claim is a Christian refuge dated pretty much exactly after the crucifixion. I doubt that the concept of a Christian identity existed at that time, as, after all, the Biblical Jesus was the “King of the Jews”, and his followers generally Jews taken in by his message. And where is the evidence? 3rd century pottery dates the 3rd century church – but what enforces the claim for a 33 to 70 AD occupation claim of the cave? Without archaeological evidence clearly laid out, such a statement, whatever its truth, just invites doubt and lack of confidence – and will find no acknowledgement in the academic community.
    So, unfortunately, until there’s a scientific publication of the work, it’d be foolish to accept this claim as fact, as beneficial as it might be for tourism in the Mafraq region.

  • It is too soon to tell who lived in the cave and if they were refugees from Jerusalem, more evidence and dating needs to be explored. It makes sense that the earliest church would be as close to the cradle of Christianity as possible. The issue with these finds is always the same, was this an old site/building/cave that was later converted to a Christian church or is it the oldest church uncovered.

    3 years ago a site was found in northern Palestine and the same issues surrounded it. Considering Christian History any early churches found in Jordan and Palestine would be modest underground caves or completely destroyed because of religious prosecution. John the Baptist preached on both sides of the Jordan River early Christians were followers of John and Jesus, John was beheaded and Jesus crucified Christians weren’t allowed to worship freely until 313 AD

  • Jordan’s first complex continues to be funny to me.

    This exciting discovery is interesting in itself – yet another unearthed set of stories from once upon a time! It’s fantastic. I’m always fascinated by what archeology digs out for us. But we have a very long way to go before we determine if this Mafraq church is truly the first. There’s so much theory and evidence archaeologists have to deliberate thru before the absolute claim of first. The church in Aqaba was believed to be the world’s oldest up to some point.

  • Like sandra & Maha mentioned its slightly weird to use the date 33 AD since thats the date generally recognized as the start of christianity (the date of the crucifixion) ….
    Thats beside the point that the general concesus is that at that time there wasn’t any stability in the chrisitian congregate to organize and settle down in a place to be able to build a church or if they even congregated in a structure that we would call a church these days :S

    on the other hand i always wonder how much religious tourism accounts for total tourism income to jordan and how much was the increase in the past 8 years since they were trying to market jordan in that direction more…. It always feels like we get the crumbs of religious tourism 😛

  • Interesting piece and the irony is unmistakable. It will be interesting to see how the excavation and dating process unfolds. Not just as a draw for tourists, but as an interesting addendum to Jordan’s already rich history. How awesome that we can go from the cradle of Christianity to Qala’a with its Ummayid palaces all in one place. How great is it to live here? Thanks Nas.

  • My older comment got lost somewhere, but it was along the lines of MB’s, and Bam’s reitereated: it’s time Jordan got it’s piece of the Israeli tourism pie.

    In talking to Christian friends here, there IS a trend to fly into Israel, then cross at Eilat, see Petra, Mt. Nebo, Madaba, Maqtas, Amman, then fly out from here. It makes sense. Another site to see, as north as it is, could add a day which would encourage a Jerash stop.

  • If it was a church of any sort, doesn’t it seem more likely to be linked to John the Baptist and his followrs than to Jesus’ followers? The area of operations for the Baptist is usually understood to be Peraea–which is essentially modern Jordan. In fact, to be more specific, the Baptist might be said to have used the R. Arnon (though it is given as Aenon); another River in east of the Dead Sea is the Jabbok, and these typically partition what was ‘Moab’. As it has been noted, there is a buzz about the discovery but too little work has been put in to determine exactly what this is. And yes, the moderates (perhaps the Christians included) fled from Jerusalem before it was destroyed by the Romans–this can be found in Josephus’ ‘The Jewish War’. But let us not think that they went to one place only.


  • MommaBean “How great is it to live here?”
    As great as living in a place that used to be something and NOT anymore.

  • Sorry, MD, to see that you feel that way. For me, I find Jordan a unique place to live everyday. I take the good with the bad and appreicate the blessings it has offered me. Hope that more of those blessings come your way!

  • first came the premature press release, then:

    JT letter to ed today: Wrong date
    Concerning the church in Rihab as the oldest church in the world, readers of The Jordan Times should be aware that the date of the mosaic inscription, 230 AD, is very doubtful…. continue reading
    Dr Robert Schick,
    American Centre of Oriental Research,
    16 June 2008

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