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The Dura-Europos church (also known as the Dura-Europos house church) is the earliest identified Christian house church. It is located in Dura-Europos in Syria. It is one of the earliest known Christian churches, and was apparently a normal domestic house converted for worship some time between 233 and 256, when the town was abandoned after conquest by the Persians. It is both less famous and smaller and less extensively decorated with wall-paintings than the nearby Dura Europos synagogue, though there are many other similarities between them.
The site of Dura-Europos, a former city and walled fortification, was excavated largely in the 1920s and 1930s by French and American teams. Within the archaeological site, the house church is located by the 17th tower and preserved by the same defensive fill that saved the nearby Dura-Europos synagogue.
The building consists of a house conjoined to a separate hall-like room, which functioned as the meeting room for the church. The surviving frescoes of the room serving as the baptistry are probably the most ancient Christian paintings. We can see the "Good Shepherd" (this iconography had a very long history in the Classical world), the "Healing of the paralytic" and "Christ and Peter walking on the water". These are considered the earliest depictions of Jesus Christ.
A much larger fresco depicts three women (the third mostly lost) approaching a large sarcophagus. This most likely depicts the three Marys visiting Christ's tomb. There were also frescoes of Adam and Eve as well as David and Goliath. The frescoes clearly followed the Hellenistic Jewish iconographic tradition, but they are more crudely done than the paintings of the nearby Dura-Europos synagogue.
Fragments of parchment scrolls with Hebrew texts have also been unearthed; they resisted meaningful translation until J.L. Teicher pointed out that they were Christian Eucharistic prayers, so closely connected with the prayers in Didache that he was able to fill lacunae in the light of the Didache text.
In 1933, among fragments of text recovered from the town dump outside the Palmyrene Gate, a fragmentary text was unearthed from an unknown Greek harmony of the gospel accounts. It was comparable to Tatian's Diatessaron, but independent of it.
|Frescoes of the baptistry|
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- Oldest churches in the world
- Lullingstone Roman Villa, another rare house-church from Roman Britain
- Graydon F. Snyder, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine (Mercer University Press, 2003), pg. 128
- The people are holy: the history and theology of Free Church worship by Graydon F. Snyder, Doreen M. McFarlane 2005 ISBN 0-86554-952-4 page 30
- Floyd V. Filson (June 1939). "The Significance of the Early House Churches". Journal of Biblical Literature 58 (2): 105—112.
- Graydon F. Snyder, Ante pacem: archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine, pp. 129-134, (Mercer University Press, 2003) google books
- F. Snyder, Ante pacem: archaeological evidence of church life before Constantine, pp. 129-134, Mercer University Press, 2003
- J.L. Teicher, "Ancient Eucharistic Prayers in Hebrew (Dura-Europos Parchment D. Pg. 25)", The Jewish Quarterly Review New Series 54.2 (October 1963), pp. 99-109
- Weitzmann, Kurt, ed., Age of spirituality : late antique and early Christian art, third to seventh century, nos. 360 (fresco) and 580 (architecture), 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ISBN 9780870991790; full text available online from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries