Saint NameUnnamed martyrs (or name lost) : S00060
John the Baptist : S00020
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Internal cult fixtures (crypts, ciboria, etc.)
Evidence not before450
Evidence not after700
Activity not before450
Activity not after700
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcJerusalem
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Jerusalem
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
SourceMosaic panel shaped as a lozenge (1.99 m x 1.04 m). Black letters on a white background, black border, red lines inside the inscribed field. Set in the middle of a carpet mosaic, also in the form of a lozenge, decorated with images of birds and flowers in the corners, and geometric patterns, in the floor of what was probably the choir (bema) of a chapel (the so-called 'north chapel'). The chapel lies in front of a rock-cut tomb, under the portico of the present Church of John the Baptist. The church has been known to European travellers since at least the mid-17th c., but the subterranean chapel was discovered only in 1885, and excavated by Sylvester Saller between 1941 and 1942, with permission of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. The cave has been considered to be the place of birth of John the Baptist.
The panel was first recorded in 1885 and published by Joseph Germer-Durand in 1893. Later re-published by a number of editors with no changes, as the readings are clear. The two most notable editions are in the corpus of mosaic pavements from Israel by Ruth and Asher Ovadiah (1987), and in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae (2012) by Leah Di Segni.
DiscussionThe inscription contains an acclamation of unnamed 'martyrs of God'. There is no evidence that would suggest who those martyrs were and whether their relics were venerated in the chapel. Di Segni rightly notes that several completely unjustified identifications of those martyrs have been suggested, for example as the Innocents, the victims of Herod I (Mt 2,16), Sabaite monks murdered during the Samaritan uprising in 529/530 or during the Arab invasion, or even John the Baptist and Zechariah, his father, as the upper church was dedicated to the former and the village was believed by early Christians to have been the place of his birth. We support Di Segni's doubts that the vague reference to 'martyrs of God' is insufficient to identify the chapel with a place of cult of John the Baptist and his father, even in spite of the said tradition.
Dating: the date, based on the style of the floor mosaic and the shape of letters, was likewise differently established by different editors. The first editor, Germer Durand, argued that the panel was laid in the 7th c., Bagatti and Saller opted for the later 5th or 6th c., Avi-Yonah for the 6th c. Leah Di Segni, based on the shape of letters, dates the mosaic to the 5th c.
Cotton, H.M., Di Segni, L., Eck, W., Isaac, B., Kushnir-Stein, A., Misgav, H., Price, J.J., Yardeni, A. and others (eds.), Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: A Multi-Lingual Corpus of the Inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad, vol. 1, part 2: Jerusalem, nos. 705-1120 (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2012), no. 849 (with further bibliography).
Ovadiah, R. & A., Hellenistic, Roman and Early Byzantine Mosaic Pavements in Israel (Rome: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1987), 79, no. 116.
Bagatti, B., "Il mosaico dei martiri ad Ain Karem (Palestina)", Rivista di archeologia cristiana 17 (1940), 279-292.
Avi-Yoanh, M., "Mosaic pavements in Palestine", Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine 2 (1933), 157-158, no. 71.
Germer-Durand, J., "Epigraphie chrétienne de Palestine", La Revue biblique 2 (1893), 212.
Halkin, F., "Inscriptions grecques relatives à l'hagiographie. IV La Palestine", Analecta Bollandiana 69 (1951), 70-71.
Leclercq, H., "", DACL 13/1, col. 854.
Madden A.M., Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Leuven - Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014), 35, no. 36.
Meimaris, Y., Sacred names, saints, martyrs and church officials in the Greek inscriptions and papyri pertaining to the Christian Church of Palestine (Athens: National Hellenic Research Foundation, Center for Greek and Roman Antiquity, 1986), no. 615.
Saller, S.J., Bagatti, B., The Town of Nebo (Khirbet El-Mekhayyat): with a brief survey of other Christian monuments in Transjordan (Jerusalem: Franciscan Press, 1949), 89 (photograph).
Bulletin épigraphique (1952), 173.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Garecum 8, 229.