Saint NameElijah, Old Testament prophet : S00217
Saint Name in SourceἨλίας
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Evidence not before622
Evidence not after624
Activity not before622
Activity not after624
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcMar Liyas/Deir el-Liyas
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Mar Liyas/Deir el-Liyas
Sakkaia / Maximianopolis
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - lesser clergy
Merchants and artisans
Other lay individuals/ people
SourceRight-hand end of a mosaic panel. Dimensions not specified. The upper, lower, and right-hand frames are preserved. White letters on reddish background. Set in the floor of the south aisle of the basilica at the monastery of Mar Liyas sited on the peak of Jabal Ajlun (the so-called 'Upper Church'), to the west of Gerasa/Jerash, probably within the territory of Pella. First published by Michele Piccirillo in 2011 in a photograph with an English translation, and no transcription. The other two mosaic inscriptions found at the site do not mention the saint, and hence we do not reproduce them here.
The monastery was founded on the peak of the mountain and was a large cenobitic establishment. It was excavated by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan in 2000, but some of its ruins had been earlier recorded by European surveyors and travellers (see Michel 2001, 420). The basilica (40 m x 26.50 m) had three aisles and a single inscribed apse flanked by two squarish chambers. It is described by Piccirillo (2011, 106-107) as a unique structure: 'the basilica ... is accessed through a monumental staircase, which is bordered on the north by a chapel. The chapel has a tri-conch presbytery built inside the steep slope of the mountain. The pilgrim is welcomed into an oval courtyard in front of a colonnaded portico that leads to the narthex of the church, with an exedra on the northern side. Through one of three doors, a person entered the large monoapsidal basilica paved with mosaics. ... two additional rows of bases split the middle of each aisle, indicating that in its final phase the basilica was divided into five aisles ... The major novelty is the presence of two facing apses, jutting out at the center of the lateral walls.'
DiscussionThe inscription clearly commemorated a building activity or a restoration, probably the paving of the south aisle where it was found. Line 1 contains the name of the presbyter, and possibly other ecclesiastics, under whom the work was completed. It could have started with a pious formula, e.g. 'By the grace of God...'. Piccirillo read the genitive form of the name of the presbyter as Σαβαα, but possibly the letters should be divided differently in this passage (see the apparatus). Line 2 contains an invocation of God as the Lord, popular in the region. One could possibly reconstruct the line as εἰς αἰῶ]νας φ(ύλαξε), Κύριε, ὁ θεώς/'For the ages, protect, O Lord, God...', as Pierre-Louis Gatier argued for the presence of a similar phrase in a mosaic inscription from nearby Philadelphia/Amman: + Κύρ(ιε) ὡ θεὸς ἡμῶν ὡ βασ(ιλεὺς) [εἰς αἰ]|ῶ(να) βωήθεσ(ον) τοὺς δούλω(ς) σου (I. Jordanie 2, no. 46), and it frequently appears in other dated inscription in the region (though, admittedly, usually in the singular, not plural, as here).
Saint Elias mentioned in line 5 is certainly the Prophet Elijah, as he was believed to have been born in this region, in the village of 'Tishbe in Gilead'/modern Khirbet Listib. He is probably asked to intercede on behalf of the donors.
Dating: A date is fortunately preserved in the lower right-hand corner of the panel. It is written in inverted order (first units, then tens, and hundreds): 686. It is almost certainly computed according to a Pompeian era, as these were extensively used in the cities of the Dekapolis. Piccirillo plausibly suggests that here we have the era of Pella, starting in 64 or 63 BC, which gives us the date AD 622/623 or 623/624 for the presumed restoration. Importantly, this falls in the period of the Persian occupation of the region. Another dated inscription (= SEG 56, 1904 and Di Segni 2006, 579-580) was found in a complex of rooms annexed to the south wall of the church: it mentions the name of an abbot and the month of June/July AD 776 (the indiction year suggests that the author of that inscription used the Pompeian era beginning in 63 BC).
Piccirillo, M., "The Province of Arabia during the Persian Invasion (613-629/630)", in: K.G. Holum, H. Lapin (eds.), Shaping the Middle East. Jews, Christians, and Muslims in an Age of Transition, 400-800 C.E. (Bethesda, MD: University Press of Maryland, 2011), 106-110 and Fig. 9.
Di Segni, L., "Ricerca storico-archeologica in Giordania XXVI – 2006", Liber Annuus 56 (2006), 579-580.
Nassar, M., Sabbagh, A., "The geometric mosaics at Khirbat Mar Elyas: A comparative study", Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 56 (2016), 528-555 (ph. on p. 529).
Piccirillo, M., "Dall'archeologia alla storia. Nuove evidenze per unsa rettifica di luoghi comuni riguardanti le province di Palestina e Arabia nei secolo IV - VIII d.C.", in: A.C. Quintavale (ed.), Medioevo mediterraneo: L'Occidente, Bisanzio e l'Islam. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Parma, 21-25 settembre 2004 (Milano: Electa, 2007), 95-111.
For descriptions of the site, see also:
Michel, A., Les églises d'époque byzantine et umayyade de Jordanie (provinces d'Arabie et de Palestine), Ve-VIIIe siècle: typologie architecturale et aménagements liturgiques (avec catalogue des monuments; préface de Noël Duval; premessa di Michele Piccirillo) (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 2, Turnhout: Brepols, 2001), 420.
Piccirillo, M., Chiese e mosaici della Giordania settentrionale (Jerusalem: Franciscan Print. Press, 1981), 17.
Piccirillo, M., L'Arabie chrétienne (Paris: , 2002), 104-105.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 56, 1904; 61, 1476.