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E02059: Floor-mosaic with a Greek inscription commemorating the completion of an oratory (eukterion) dedicated to *George (soldier and martyr, S00259). Found at Riḥāb, between Bostra and Gerasa/Jerash (Jordan/the Roman province of Arabia). Dated 529. Once wrongly dated to AD 230.

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posted on 29.11.2016, 00:00 by gschenke
ἐν ὀ(νό)μ(ατι) τῆς ἁγ(ίας) Τριάδος
ἐκ προσφ(ορᾶς) Θωμᾶ Γαιανοῦ
μονοκτίστ(ου?) ἐτελιώθη {θη} τὸ
εὐκτέρ(ιον) τοῦ ἁγ(ίου) Γεωργίου ἐν
μη(νὶ) Ἀπελλέῳ χρ(όνων) η΄ ἰνδι(κτιῶνος) τοῦ υκδ΄ ἔτ(ους)
σπουδῇ Σεργίου παραμ(οναρίου)

2-3. ΘωΝΑΓΑ\ΑΗΟ|ΝΟΝΟKTICTs SEG

'In the name of the Holy Trinity, from the offering of Thomas, son of Gaianos, the sole founder, the oratory (eukterion) of Saint George was completed in the month of Apellaios, in the time of the 8th indiction, in the year 424, by the efforts of the guardian (paramonarios) Sergios.'

Text and translation: Blumell & Cianca, lightly modified.

History

Evidence ID

E02059

Saint Name

George, martyr in Nicomedia or Diospolis, ob. c. 303 : S00259

Saint Name in Source

Γεώργιος

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

230

Evidence not after

529

Activity not before

230

Activity not after

529

Place of Evidence - Region

Arabia Arabia Arabia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Riḥāb Gerasa/Jerash Bosra

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Riḥāb Sakkaia / Maximianopolis Σακκαια Sakkaia Saccaea Eaccaea Maximianopolis Shaqqa Schaqqa Shakka Gerasa/Jerash Sakkaia / Maximianopolis Σακκαια Sakkaia Saccaea Eaccaea Maximianopolis Shaqqa Schaqqa Shakka Bosra Sakkaia / Maximianopolis Σακκαια Sakkaia Saccaea Eaccaea Maximianopolis Shaqqa Schaqqa Shakka

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Bequests, donations, gifts and offerings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Exorcism Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Other lay individuals/ people

Source

Rectangular mosaic panel framed by a tabula ansata. H. c. 0.54 m; W. c. 1.3 m. Poor lettering. Situated in front of the chancel screen, within the eastern border of the mosaic pavement of the nave of a church excavated in December 2000 by the Public Archaeological Department of Jordan. The church was a three-aisled basilica, measuring c. 22 x 14 m. A cave with stone seats and a long tunnel was discovered beneath the church. First published by Samer Abu-Ghazalah and Abdel-kader Al-Hissan in 2002 in the Architectural Science Review (with a photograph and poor English translation) and by Abdel-kader Al-Hissan in the Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan in the same year (with a photograph and an inaccurate handwritten transcription). Based on the published photographs the text was commented on by Denis Feissel in 2005 in the Bulletin épigraphique and by the editors of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum. The most recent edition is by Lincoln Blumell and Jenn Cianca in the Biblical Archaeology Review.

Discussion

The first editors, Abu-Ghazalah and Al-Hissan, were unable to produce a correct transcription of the text. Consequently, they misunderstood its contents, and the English translation they offer makes no sense. Furthermore, based on an erroneous reading of the era year (as the 124th year of the era of the province of Arabia) they calculated the date of the completion of the shrine as AD 230 and announced that the building was the oldest Christian church in world. This 'discovery' was widely acclaimed in the press (The Jordan Times; The Globe and Mail, Canada; New York Post; The Guardian, UK; The Telegraph, UK, etc.) and one can still find a great number of websites referring to this sanctuary as the oldest extant Christian place of worship. Al-Hissan also dated the cave beneath the basilica to c. AD 33-70 claiming that they had 'evidence to believe this church sheltered the early Christians – the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ'. This unsound statement was based on an erroneous transcription of line 2 as: 'introduced by the 70 beloved by God', while it in fact reads: 'from the offering of Thomas, son of Gaianos'. This initial reading and interpretation was contested by Stephen Pfann, President of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, by Denis Feissel who offered a near perfect transcription in the Bulletin épigraphique, by the editors of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, and by Lincoln Blumell and Jenn Cianca who offer the most detailed comments and lightly correct Feissel's transcription (though, strangely, their paper lacks reference to the other basilicas and mosaics recorded at the site, which offer valuable comparative evidence). The inscription certainly commemorates the completion of an oratory dedicated to the martyr George in the year 424 of the era of the province of Arabia. Together with the month of Apellaios, this date corresponds to November-December 529, which is coherent with the 8th indiction year, also mentioned in the text. This date places the construction of our church just before the completion of the local church of *Mary, Mother of Christ (E02051: AD 533). We suggest that it is possible that our church was built over a place of pagan cult (the cave), perhaps to protect the local community from demons associated with it. The introductory formula 'In the name of the Holy Trinity' is also used in the dedicatory inscription of the local church of *Stephen the First Martyr (E02049). The formula 'from the offering of' is also well attested at the site (see E02053, church of *Paul the Apostle, AD 596; E02049, church of *Stephen the First Martyr, AD 620; E02044, church of *Menas, Egyptian soldier and martyr, AD 635). The founder, a certain Thomas, son of Gaianos, is described with an abbreviated word, probably μονοκτίστης. This expansion was suggested by Feissel who, however, was unsure about its actual meaning, as he found no parallel expression ('hapax de sens douteux'). Blumell and Cianca note that the word is attested, for example, in Basil of Caesarea’s treatise Contra Eunomium with the meaning 'only-created', where it is attributed to the vocabulary of Eunomius, an Arian arguing that only Christ was created by God and other entities were created through Christ. Blumell and Cianca rightly observe that in our case the term almost certainly means 'sole founder'. We can add that this term makes perfect sense in the context of other dedicatory inscriptions from Riḥāb, since churches in this town were normally founded by groups of donors or by families, while the construction of our basilica was funded by an individual.

Bibliography

Edition: Blumell, L., Cianca, J., "The oratory of St. George in Rihab: The oldest extant Christian building or just another Byzantine Church?", published on-line at The Biblical Archaeology Review. Al-Hissan, A., "The new archaeological discoveries of the al-Fudayn and Rahāb - al-Mafraq excavation projects", Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 46 (2002), 84 (Arabic Section). Abu-Ghazalah, S., and Al-Hissan, A., "Discovery of the oldest church of the world", Architectural Science Review 45 (2002), 295-297. Further reading: Piccirillo, M., "Aggiornamento delle liste episcopali delle diocesi in territoria transgiordanico", Liber Annuus 55 (2005), 387. Piccirillo, M., "II mosaico pavimentale in Giordania come fonte storica di un’epoca - V (1997-2001)", in: Morlier, H., Bailly, Ch., Janneteau, D., Tahri, M. (eds.), La mosaïque gréco-romaine IX: Colloque international pour l'étude de la mosaïque antique (9th: 2001: Rome, Italy) (Rome: Ecole française de Rome, 2005), 459-469. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (2005), 544. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 51, 2045.

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