Jordan J. Ryan is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is also on staff with the Tel Shimron excavations, where he leads research on the Roman period. Dr. Ryan’s publications have often focused on ancient synagogues and on ancient churches, and he is the author of The Role of the Synagogue in the Aims of Jesus (2017) and From the Passion to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Memories of Jesus in Place, Pilgrimage, and Early Holy Sites over the First Three Centuries (2021).
BAS Scholars Series, December 6, 2023
The Life of Jesus Written in Stone: The Earliest Commemorative Churches in Roman Palestine
During the age of Constantine, monumental commemorative churches dedicated to events in the life of Jesus first emerged in Roman Palestine. Beginning with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (constructed c. 324 CE), these churches were constructed by imperial authority, and served to interpret, localize, and remember life-of-Jesus narratives. The first three churches constructed during the reign of Constantine—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Nativity, and the Eleona church—each represented and presented a particular vision of a key event in Jesus’s life: the nativity, the passion, and the ascension. These churches, all of which were in the vicinity of Jerusalem, were soon joined by others in Galilee, at sites like Tabgha, Nazareth, and Capernaum. Together, they presented a particular memory of Jesus and a narrative of his life. Thus, pilgrims could experience the life of Jesus in a new form by visiting these sites, a sort of selective vision of the life of Jesus in monuments, a “Gospel” that could be touched and seen, not written in ink on papyrus but in stone upon ground. This lecture will discuss the archaeology and architecture of these churches, as well as the narratives and traditions that quickly attached themselves to them, and the particular vision and understanding of Jesus that they presented in late antiquity.