Washington, June 14 : The recent discovery of the world's first Christian church by a Jordanian archaeologist has been dismissed by critics as "ridiculous."
A team of archaeologists in Jordan led by Abdel-Qader al-Housan, director of the Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies had announced the discovery of the world's oldest church dating from 33 AD to 70 AD.
The church was found underneath the ancient Saint Georgeous Church, which itself dates back to 230 AD, in Rihab, northern Jordan near the Syrian border.
Al-Housan also said that the cave showed evidence of early Christian rituals.
However, Ghazi Bisheh, former director general of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities dubbed the claims as "ridiculous," saying the archaeologist behind them "has a tendency to sensationalize discoveries" and offered no evidence to back his recent assertion.
The team had found a mosaic in church that described these Christians as "the 70 beloved by God and Divine".
According to Al-Housan it referred to 70 disciples who fled Roman persecution in Jerusalem during the first century A.D., after the death of Jesus Christ.
But Bisheh says the identity of the disciples mentioned in the mosaic is not clear.
The experts widely believe that organized churches didn't exist until at least the third century A.D.
After the death of Jesus Christ, Christian worship used to be in homes and other domestic buildings or, less commonly, by rivers outside city walls during the first century A.D. The organized churches did not emerge until the Byzantine period, in the fifth century A.D.
"It sounds rather anachronistic," National Geographic quoted Biblical scholar Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, as saying.
He said that during the first century, the term "church" or "ekklesia" was used for the assembled body of believers and not the building or catacombs where they were assembling.
"If they are talking about a cave, it could have been a hiding place. In time-if there were martyrs there or something significant that took place there or a well-known individual who was among the disciples of Jesus-then you would have had reason to commemorate the site, which could later be used by the church's monks," he said.
"But the cave that's there is one that doesn't necessarily commemorate anything ... I don't know how you can take an underground cave and say it could present itself as a first-century church," he added.