Church unearthed where Jesus said to tell Peter to establish Christianity

(Photo: REUTERS / Gil Cohen Magen)Archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel speaks to the media at Elah Fortress or Khirbet Qeiyafa, some 20 km (12 miles) from Jerusalem, November 2, 2008. Archaeologists in Israel said on Thursday they had unearthed the oldest Hebrew text ever found, while excavating a fortress city overlooking a valley where the Bible says David slew Goliath.

Archeologists have uncovered one of the earliest churches in the Holy Land at the foot of breathtaking waterfalls in the scenic Banias Nature Reserve in Israel's north.

The church is at a site traditionally believed to be where Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, Christian Today reported.

The rare circa AD 400 Byzantine church was build atop a Roman-era temple to Pan, the Greek god from whom the park takes its name, The Times of Israel reported.

Christian builders in the 4th-5th century modified the Roman pagan temple to fit the needs Christianity, a relatively new religion at the time, University of Haifa Professor Adi Erlich said in a brief Hebrew-language video announcing the find.

Erlich posits that the church was built to commemorate Jesus's interactions with Peter.

It is in this region that Jesus directed Peter with establishing Christianity with the famous phrase, "You are Peter, and, on this rock, I will build my Church... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven," recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 16:18.

The church suffered damage through an earthquake at one point, but was renovated in the 7th century, a press release on the site said.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority head of heritage and archaeology Dr. Iosi Bordowicz said that the Banias National Park has stunning archaeology, spreading from the Roman period through the Crusader era.

Bordowicz said the finds will be conserved and made accessible to the many thousands of tourists who in non-COVID-19 times visit the breathtaking waterfalls from all over the world.

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