An ancient Christian mosaic of archaeological importance may be loaned to a controversial American museum, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The Megiddo Mosaic, depicting an early reference to Jesus as God, is a 3rd-century floor believed to be near the site of Armageddon, the city that, according to the Bible, is to play host to the Second Coming of Christ.
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Constructed ahead of the Roman Empire’s conversion to Christianity, the mosaic sits inside what is thought to be the world’s earliest Christian prayer hall, in an ancient Roman village in northern Israel. Israeli archaeologists uncovered it during a salvage excavation as part of a planned expansion of a prison in 2005.
Used to detain Palestinian inmates, the prison is located near Tel Megiddo, on the cusp of the Jezreel Valley. Relying on what is written in the Book of Revelation, some Christians believe there will be a battle between good and evil at the end of the world.
The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. was founded by Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and an evangelical Christian. It has faced scrutiny over its collecting practices and for promoting an evangelical Christian political agenda since it opened in 2017.
In the past six years, it has repatriated 5,000 disputed biblical objects to Egypt and a 1,000-year-old looted Gospel to Greece amid controversy. Several Dead Sea Scroll fragments in its collection were also deemed forgeries. Additionally, US authorities returned thousands of looted artifacts from Green’s collection to Iraq.
Loaning the mosaic to the museum could strengthen ties between Evangelical Christians and Israel.
Archaeologists have raised concerns about removing the mosaic from its original context before completing academic studies.
“It is seriously premature to move that mosaic,” Matthew Adams, director of the Center for the Mediterranean World, an nonprofit archaeological research institute, told the Associated Press.
Candida Moss, a theology professor at University of Birmingham who co-wrote a book about the Museum of the Bible, also echoed that sentiment in an interview with the AP, saying, “Once you take any artifact outside of its archaeological context, it loses something, it loses a sense of the space and the environment in which it was first excavated.
The Israel Antiquities Authority is expected to make a decision, after consulting with an advisory board, in the next few weeks.