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Author Topic: Why do scholars reject church "buildings" before 313?  (Read 560 times) Average Rating: 0
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88Devin12
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« on: December 22, 2010, 03:28:10 PM »

I've been reading articles about church buildings that have been discovered prior to 313 AD. Yet, many of the articles cite that "scholars" reject them because there "weren't organized church buildings prior to the legalization of Christianity".

They cite that all previous churches were house churches, martyriums or catacomb churches. What I want to know, is what is so unheard of about organized churches prior to Christianity's legalization? Isn't it natural that a group used to worshiping in the Temple and Synagogues (that also have a structure with Deacons & Bishops, later Priests) tend to form their own places of worship, even under persecution? Not to mention that there would definitely be some places where Churches could have been formed because it wasn't like Christians were constantly being hunted down everywhere. (we know some Governors or Romans favored Christians and protected them)

What basis do they have saying that no church buildings could possibly exist prior to 313? It almost seems like that is a scholar/historian form of a "fundamentalism". I would have figured they would be open to the possibility of an existence of organized churches, unless they have other motives in mind...
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« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2010, 04:31:01 PM »

I've been reading articles about church buildings that have been discovered prior to 313 AD. Yet, many of the articles cite that "scholars" reject them because there "weren't organized church buildings prior to the legalization of Christianity".

They cite that all previous churches were house churches, martyriums or catacomb churches. What I want to know, is what is so unheard of about organized churches prior to Christianity's legalization?

It's unheard of because it goes against secular and Christian paradigms and many historians don't want to be labeled as crackpots? Wink

I actually am not aware that all or even most historians take the point of view that public places of worship for Christians could not have existed prior to 313. However it does seem that as a general rule it is safe to say that public Church buildings did not exist, for about a zillion reasons.

Quote

 Isn't it natural that a group used to worshiping in the Temple and Synagogues (that also have a structure with Deacons & Bishops, later Priests) tend to form their own places of worship, even under persecution?


They did form their own places of worship; house Churches. Smiley House Churches in the ancient world were not like worshipping in your living room though. They were dedicated spaces set aside and turned into "chapels" basically. They more or less looked like a Church, but were part of a house. A modern example would be like turning one's garage, or a spare bedroom into a chapel for Christians to gather together and worship. These rooms were set aside as Churches, but were part of a private individual's home. This is actually true of many first century Synagogues in Palestine too which were not stand alone buildings, but often a wing of the village Rabbi's house.

Quote
Not to mention that there would definitely be some places where Churches could have been formed because it wasn't like Christians were constantly being hunted down everywhere. (we know some Governors or Romans favored Christians and protected them)

Where would an illegal religion (even though it typically wasn't persecuted) get the money to build Churches like we think of today? Renovating a spare wing of a senator's home is one thing, building an entirely new structure is something quite different. To do so as a public place of worship, (as all religious temples in ancient Rome were public places of worship) seems likely to be an extremely rare event if it occurred at all. How could Christians have "kicked out" the Pagans if a public place of worship actually existed? The ancient world viewed religion very differently, and ancient Christianity viewed religion very differently than we do.
 


Quote
What basis do they have saying that no church buildings could possibly exist prior to 313? It almost seems like that is a scholar/historian form of a "fundamentalism". I would have figured they would be open to the possibility of an existence of organized churches, unless they have other motives in mind...

I'd like to see what article you're looking at specifically. I'm not sure there is this mass rejection of stand alone Christian Churches prior to Constantine that you've come across. I know there is a Church in Megiddo Israel which dates to the 3rd century, which at least appears to be a public shrine....dedicated to "the god Jesus Christ", sounds awfully pagan to me. So in some ways if scholars are rejecting this particular Church (I believe it is the only one in the Roman Empire that appears to be a stand alone Church prior to Constantine) they are likely doing it to protect Christianity actually. For if we take this Church at face value, it makes Jesus to be just one god among many and that goes against all sorts of paradigms doesn't it?


The question you raise is an interesting one, however historians cannot just assume that Constantinian styled Churches existed prior to Constantine as this goes against all the evidence that we actually have. Even the New Testament and the Church fathers tell us about worshipping on the homes of wealthy Christians. Perhaps on the fringe of the Empire or outside the Empire things were different, but I think historians generally have a good take on this issue. If stand alone Churches did exist where are they? However the answer really does depend on what one means by "Church"? Do you mean cathedrals? clearly these simply didn't exist. But I've seen pictures of these house Churches, and they do look like, well a Church. They aren't just some guys living room or game room, they had baptistries, icons, mosaics and altars. These are just as much a "Church" as a stand alone building that was begun by Constantine. However if you have the article you're refering to I'd to look at it. I don't think it's any sort of universally accepted idea among archaeologists and scholars that stand alone Churches could not have existed. If someone is saying that I think they are being misleading, even if it is by accident. Fun topic though, as I find Christian origins utterly fascinating.

NP
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88Devin12
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« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2010, 04:46:23 PM »

I've been reading articles about church buildings that have been discovered prior to 313 AD. Yet, many of the articles cite that "scholars" reject them because there "weren't organized church buildings prior to the legalization of Christianity".

They cite that all previous churches were house churches, martyriums or catacomb churches. What I want to know, is what is so unheard of about organized churches prior to Christianity's legalization?

It's unheard of because it goes against secular and Christian paradigms and many historians don't want to be labeled as crackpots? Wink

I actually am not aware that all or even most historians take the point of view that public places of worship for Christians could not have existed prior to 313. However it does seem that as a general rule it is safe to say that public Church buildings did not exist, for about a zillion reasons.

Quote

 Isn't it natural that a group used to worshiping in the Temple and Synagogues (that also have a structure with Deacons & Bishops, later Priests) tend to form their own places of worship, even under persecution?


They did form their own places of worship; house Churches. Smiley House Churches in the ancient world were not like worshipping in your living room though. They were dedicated spaces set aside and turned into "chapels" basically. They more or less looked like a Church, but were part of a house. A modern example would be like turning one's garage, or a spare bedroom into a chapel for Christians to gather together and worship. These rooms were set aside as Churches, but were part of a private individual's home. This is actually true of many first century Synagogues in Palestine too which were not stand alone buildings, but often a wing of the village Rabbi's house.

Quote
Not to mention that there would definitely be some places where Churches could have been formed because it wasn't like Christians were constantly being hunted down everywhere. (we know some Governors or Romans favored Christians and protected them)

Where would an illegal religion (even though it typically wasn't persecuted) get the money to build Churches like we think of today? Renovating a spare wing of a senator's home is one thing, building an entirely new structure is something quite different. To do so as a public place of worship, (as all religious temples in ancient Rome were public places of worship) seems likely to be an extremely rare event if it occurred at all. How could Christians have "kicked out" the Pagans if a public place of worship actually existed? The ancient world viewed religion very differently, and ancient Christianity viewed religion very differently than we do.
 


Quote
What basis do they have saying that no church buildings could possibly exist prior to 313? It almost seems like that is a scholar/historian form of a "fundamentalism". I would have figured they would be open to the possibility of an existence of organized churches, unless they have other motives in mind...

I'd like to see what article you're looking at specifically. I'm not sure there is this mass rejection of stand alone Christian Churches prior to Constantine that you've come across. I know there is a Church in Megiddo Israel which dates to the 3rd century, which at least appears to be a public shrine....dedicated to "the god Jesus Christ", sounds awfully pagan to me. So in some ways if scholars are rejecting this particular Church (I believe it is the only one in the Roman Empire that appears to be a stand alone Church prior to Constantine) they are likely doing it to protect Christianity actually. For if we take this Church at face value, it makes Jesus to be just one god among many and that goes against all sorts of paradigms doesn't it?


The question you raise is an interesting one, however historians cannot just assume that Constantinian styled Churches existed prior to Constantine as this goes against all the evidence that we actually have. Even the New Testament and the Church fathers tell us about worshipping on the homes of wealthy Christians. Perhaps on the fringe of the Empire or outside the Empire things were different, but I think historians generally have a good take on this issue. If stand alone Churches did exist where are they? However the answer really does depend on what one means by "Church"? Do you mean cathedrals? clearly these simply didn't exist. But I've seen pictures of these house Churches, and they do look like, well a Church. They aren't just some guys living room or game room, they had baptistries, icons, mosaics and altars. These are just as much a "Church" as a stand alone building that was begun by Constantine. However if you have the article you're refering to I'd to look at it. I don't think it's any sort of universally accepted idea among archaeologists and scholars that stand alone Churches could not have existed. If someone is saying that I think they are being misleading, even if it is by accident. Fun topic though, as I find Christian origins utterly fascinating.

NP

I'm referring to this National Geographic article about the Church found in Rihab, Jordan a couple years ago:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080613-old-church.html

They claim the church is from between 33 AD and 70 AD. But supposedly historians and scholars doubt an organized church like this could have existed so early before the legalization of Christianity.

I know that basilica/cathedral style Churches didn't exist before Constantine, but I think it's a little ridiculous to assume that ALL Christian Churches prior to the Edict of Milan were house churches...

It is interesting though that the oldest "proper" church sits above this cave, and it dates to about 230 AD.

It's also interesting that the cave as not just an apse, but seating for Deacons/Bishops. (maybe more properly just Bishops)
« Last Edit: December 22, 2010, 04:50:19 PM by 88Devin12 » Logged
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« Reply #3 on: December 22, 2010, 04:54:00 PM »

As someone who studied to be an archaeologist (and technically succeeded, with a BA in anthropology and a couple years in the field), the following sentence is a truism in the field (emphasis mine) :

Quote
Ghazi Bisheh, former director general of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, dismissed the claim as "ridiculous," saying the archaeologist behind them "has a tendency to sensationalize discoveries" and offered no evidence to back his recent assertion.

I have a really hard time believing most interpretations of new discoveries in the Middle East as those who work there, from the eminent Zahi Hawass down to "also-rans" like Al-Housan, most certainly have a tendency to have a theory first then look at the evidence to back it up instead of the other way around.  
« Last Edit: December 22, 2010, 04:54:57 PM by Schultz » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2010, 04:57:03 PM »

As someone who studied to be an archaeologist (and technically succeeded, with a BA in anthropology and a couple years in the field), the following sentence is a truism in the field (emphasis mine) :

Quote
Ghazi Bisheh, former director general of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, dismissed the claim as "ridiculous," saying the archaeologist behind them "has a tendency to sensationalize discoveries" and offered no evidence to back his recent assertion.

I have a really hard time believing most interpretations of new discoveries in the Middle East as those who work there, from the eminent Zahi Hawass down to "also-rans" like Al-Housan, most certainly have a tendency to have a theory first then look at the evidence to back it up instead of the other way around.  

They also make for great reality TV. Who would sit through boring, scientific scholarship when nothing else is on the TV?
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« Reply #5 on: December 23, 2010, 01:10:09 PM »

Quote

I'm referring to this National Geographic article about the Church found in Rihab, Jordan a couple years ago:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080613-old-church.html

They claim the church is from between 33 AD and 70 AD. But supposedly historians and scholars doubt an organized church like this could have existed so early before the legalization of Christianity.

I know that basilica/cathedral style Churches didn't exist before Constantine, but I think it's a little ridiculous to assume that ALL Christian Churches prior to the Edict of Milan were house churches...

It is interesting though that the oldest "proper" church sits above this cave, and it dates to about 230 AD.

It's also interesting that the cave as not just an apse, but seating for Deacons/Bishops. (maybe more properly just Bishops)

There is just no way the first generation of Christians actually had distinct, stand alone Churches. It goes against every other single shred of evidence of early Christianity that we have, whether archaeological or Biblical. Christians were still part of Judaism before 70AD. Even according to the Biblical account in Acts, Christians were going to synagogues because the first converts were almost always Jews (who didn't feel they were "converting") or the "God fearers", Gentiles who attended Synagogue but never fully converted. Eventually outright pagans began converting but when this was the case they simply used the homes of the wealthy converts, began meeting there and eventually renovated a wing of the home. There is just no way a minority religion, with no money, no clout, no way of even purchasing land to build a new building could have had a stand alone Church THAT early. If it were true, Christianities entire history would need to be rewritten including half the New Testament which gives no clue or hint of such high ecclesiology within the early Church.  

Besides, didn't part of the article essentially say that this "Church" was right next to a "living space?" Again that's simply a house Church. I think Shultz is right, sometimes these archaeologists in the middle east want something to be true so bad that they'll find some scrap of evidence and either early date the evidence to support what they want to be true. The whole idea that these few researchers are putting forth seems extremely anachronistic to me but I certainly could be wrong. However if true, then almost half of the NT becomes gibberish since Paul's letters give no evidence that this was even possible. (wasn't the Church in Palestine called "the poor" by Paul?)

Anyways in regards to this particular "cave", I guess I'm failing to see how a "cave" is any different than a catacomb, house church, or other such place which slowly became a place of worship. Maybe my mind is just too distracted right now though to see something that I'm missing. I see the picture the website has but all I see is, well a cave. Smiley I admit, the Holidays have me a bit distracted, as well as other things right now, so maybe I'm totally missing something and once it is pointed out to me I'll feel like an idiot. It wouldn't be the first time...lol!




« Last Edit: December 23, 2010, 01:13:43 PM by NorthernPines » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2010, 02:43:27 PM »

Quote

I'm referring to this National Geographic article about the Church found in Rihab, Jordan a couple years ago:
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080613-old-church.html

They claim the church is from between 33 AD and 70 AD. But supposedly historians and scholars doubt an organized church like this could have existed so early before the legalization of Christianity.

I know that basilica/cathedral style Churches didn't exist before Constantine, but I think it's a little ridiculous to assume that ALL Christian Churches prior to the Edict of Milan were house churches...

It is interesting though that the oldest "proper" church sits above this cave, and it dates to about 230 AD.

It's also interesting that the cave as not just an apse, but seating for Deacons/Bishops. (maybe more properly just Bishops)

There is just no way the first generation of Christians actually had distinct, stand alone Churches. It goes against every other single shred of evidence of early Christianity that we have, whether archaeological or Biblical. Christians were still part of Judaism before 70AD.
Or rather, that Christianity and Judaism were still within the same religion as Orthodoxy and heresy, rather than two seperate religions. The break came when the Jews inserted the curse against the Christians in the Amidah (the Jewish Lord's Prayer, based in part on the Book of Sirach. So much for Apocrypha), under Gamaliel II c.80-118 (the son of Gamaliel I, a crypto-Christian), sealed in the Bar Kokhba revolt, prosecruted under his son and successor Shimon b. Gamaliel (who interestingly enough, had been trained in Greek philosophy instead of the Talmud, and had declared Scripture could be only in Hebrew and Greek) c. 130.

Quote
Even according to the Biblical account in Acts, Christians were going to synagogues because the first converts were almost always Jews (who didn't feel they were "converting") or the "God fearers", Gentiles who attended Synagogue but never fully converted. Eventually outright pagans began converting but when this was the case they simply used the homes of the wealthy converts, began meeting there and eventually renovated a wing of the home. There is just no way a minority religion,
and an illegal one
Quote
with no money, no clout, no way of even purchasing land to build a new building could have had a stand alone Church THAT early. If it were true, Christianities entire history would need to be rewritten including half the New Testament which gives no clue or hint of such high ecclesiology within the early Church.
The ecclesiology is and was there.  The means were not.

Quote
Besides, didn't part of the article essentially say that this "Church" was right next to a "living space?" Again that's simply a house Church. I think Shultz is right, sometimes these archaeologists in the middle east want something to be true so bad that they'll find some scrap of evidence and either early date the evidence to support what they want to be true. The whole idea that these few researchers are putting forth seems extremely anachronistic to me but I certainly could be wrong. However if true, then almost half of the NT becomes gibberish since Paul's letters give no evidence that this was even possible. (wasn't the Church in Palestine called "the poor" by Paul?)

There is also a theoretical problem, born out by material evidence IMHO: any Church which would have existed during the persecusion would have had a central importance for that reason, and as such, would have been rebuilt and expanded during the conversion of the Empire, destroying evidence of the earlier Church. Those which were not, would have their furnishings taken to Churches built nearby (cf. the furnishings of the Agia Sophia which ended up in St. Mark's and St. Georges). Hence evidence before 313 would be rare. In the lands of the Sassanids, such a change did not occur, and indeed, we find evidence: a chronicle mentions the Church destroyed in Edess in the flood of 201, and the Church (a converted house) in Dura Europas, filled in during the defense of the city.  There, however, persecusion by the Sassanids, Muslims, wars etc. also destroys earlier (and later) evidence.

Quote
Anyways in regards to this particular "cave", I guess I'm failing to see how a "cave" is any different than a catacomb, house church, or other such place which slowly became a place of worship. Maybe my mind is just too distracted right now though to see something that I'm missing. I see the picture the website has but all I see is, well a cave. Smiley I admit, the Holidays have me a bit distracted, as well as other things right now, so maybe I'm totally missing something and once it is pointed out to me I'll feel like an idiot. It wouldn't be the first time...lol!
This used to be a cave:

but now it is paved with marble, as is this:
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