With potential removal of Megiddo Mosaic, is Israel giving its heritage away to America?

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulAug 17, 2023 | 08:30

With potential removal of Megiddo Mosaic, is Israel giving its heritage away to America?

The Megiddo Mosaic is located in a Roman-era village in northern Israel. Photo: AFP

An ongoing debate has ignited among archaeologists, historians, religious scholars and civil society concerning the potential removal of an ancient Christian mosaic from its original location in northern Israel's Jezreel Valley.

This historic Megiddo Mosaic is at the heart of a contentious decision involving its transfer to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, USA, a move that has raised questions about cultural preservation, historical context, and the growing influence of evangelical Christian support from America in Israel.


The Megiddo Mosaic

  • The Megiddo Mosaic, believed to be part of the world's earliest Christian prayer hall's flooring, was unearthed by Israeli archaeologists in 2005 near the site of the prophesied Armageddon (the last battle between good and evil before the Day of Judgement).
  • The mosaic, featuring Greek inscriptions including an offering "To God Jesus Christ," has been dated to the third century, a period prior to Christianity's official recognition by the Roman Empire.
  • This spectacular mosaic offers insights into the early Christian beliefs and practices, as well as the historical context of the time.

A dilemma

  • Israeli officials are contemplating the loan of the Megiddo Mosaic to the Museum of the Bible, which has been criticised for past acquisition practices and perceived ideological agendas.
  • While the move is aimed at safeguarding the mosaic from construction at the prison near its location, critics argue that the removal of such an important artefact without thorough academic study risks disconnecting it from its archaeological context.
  • “There’s an entire process that academics and archaeologists are involved with,” said Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) director Eli Eskozido to AP, while advocating for its removal and further conservation.
  • Cavan Concannon, a theology professor at the University of Southern California, told AP that the Museum of Bible acts as a “right-wing Christian nationalist Bible machine” with links to “other institutions that promote white evangelical, Christian nationalism, Christian Zionist forms.”

Neo-colonial loot?

  • A comparison to historical colonial practices of taking valuable artefacts to the mother countries seems to have emerged within this debate.
  • Just as colonisers, the proposal to transfer the Megiddo Mosaic has sparked concerns of cultural appropriation and a loss of the artefact's intrinsic connection to its original setting.
  • Rafi Greenberg, an archaeology professor at Tel Aviv University, told AP that the proposal bore resemblances to colonialism, wherein historically powerful nations have taken archaeological findings from their colonies back home.

However, it should be noted that the final authority to loan it out to the American museum lies with the IAA, the Israeli nodal agency for the conservation of antiquities.

Political implications

  • The proposed loan highlights the deepening ties between Israel and evangelical Christians in the United States. Evangelicals, who form a significant portion of the world's Christian population, are among the Israeli state's most ardent supporters.
  • Over the years, this alliance has led to political backing, financial contributions, and tourism revenue from the USA.
  • Therefore, this partnership raises questions about the influence of evangelical agendas on historical artefacts and narratives.
  • “Even if Israel doesn’t ever recognise itself as being a colony, it is actually behaving like one, which I find odd,” Rafi Greenberg added.

Other opposing voices

  • Some fear that the artefact's historical and cultural significance could be overshadowed by the Museum of the Bible's perceived ideological and religious context.
  • Critics argue that the mosaic's removal might lead to an inaccurate portrayal of its history and potentially contribute to a distortion of historical facts.

Therefore, the ongoing debate underscores the complex intersection of history, culture, politics, and religion as it echoes neo-colonialism and serves as a reminder of the ethical responsibilities concerning the preservation and interpretation of historical artefacts.

Last updated: August 17, 2023 | 08:30
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