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Rare, early church found on West Bank

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  • Rare, early church found on West Bank

    ARCHAEOLOGISTS say they have found one of the world's first Christian churches, built on a site believed to have once housed the Ark of the Covenant.

    The site, emerging from the soil in a few hectares in the hills of the West Bank, is richly decorated with brightly coloured mosaics and inscriptions referring to Jesus Christ.

    The team, led by Yitzhak Magen and Yevgeny Aharonovitch, says the church dates to the late 4th century, making it one of Christianity's first formal places of worship.

    "I can't say for sure at the moment that it's the very first church, but it's certainly one of the first," Mr Aharonovitch, 38, said. He said the site contained an unusual inscription that referred to itself, Shiloh, by name.

    "That is very rare and shows early Christians treated this as an ancient, holy place," Mr Aharonovitch said. According to the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the two tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, was kept by the Israelites at Shiloh for several hundred years.

    It was eventually moved to the Jerusalem temple built by King Solomon about 1000BC. When the temple was sacked by the Babylonians 400 years later, the ark was lost, sparking theories about whether it had been hidden or destroyed.

    The team at Shiloh is considering whether to dig under the mosaics to try to find traces of the ark. "We have to decide whether to fix the mosaics here or take them to a museum," Mr Aharonovitch said.

    Rare, early church found on West Bank

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