Saint NameJohn the Baptist : S00020
John, the Apostle and Evangelist : S00042
Mary, Mother of Christ : S00033
Saint Name in SourceἹωάννης
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Evidence not before500
Evidence not after600
Activity not before500
Activity not after600
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Syria with Phoenicia
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcCarmel
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Carmel
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsConstruction of cult buildings
Cult Activities - MiraclesSaint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesChildren
SourceThe inscription is on a floor-mosaic from an unspecified location in a building, probably a church, sited among other ruins, rock-hewn cisterns, and burial caves at Khirbet Damun, on a hilltop near Mount Carmel.
The site was explored in 1954, during salvage excavations supervised by Z. Goldman. Photographs of the mosaic were taken and were deposited in the archives of the Israel Antiquities Authority. They are now lost. A transcription in majuscules was first offered in 1970 by Hans-Peter Kuhnen, in his dissertation. At that time the photographs were still accessible in the IAA archive. However, when in the 1990s Leah Di Segni attempted to revise Kuhnen's text in her dissertation, she did not find the photographs, and eventually based her restoration on the edition by Kuhnen. As the subsequent publication of a recovered photograph proved that Kuhnen's (and hence Di Segni's) restoration is wrong, we do not reproduce it here. A black and white photograph of poor quality surprisingly emerged in 2004, in a volume of the Archaeological Surveys of Israel discussing the monuments of Yagur and its surroundings. Based on this photograph, Di Segni offers a new reading and restoration of the inscription. A lightly revised interpretation of line 6 was offered by Denis Feissel in the Bulletin épigraphique (2009).
DiscussionThe inscription commemorates the construction of a church (ergon) through the intercession of Mary. The new reading by Di Segni proves that the church was dedicated to a saint John, certainly either the Baptist or the Apostle and Evangelist, rather than a bishop Ioannes of Ptolemais (as was suggested in Di Segni's doctoral thesis). Di Segni favours John the Apostle, but we should note that it was the Baptist who was much more often mentioned in building inscriptions the East.
The inscription shows that churches could be dedicated to saints other than those who interceded for their completion. Therefore, one must be careful, when using a formula of intercession, not to presume that the interceding saint was also the dedicatee of the church.
Mary bears her regular epithets: the God-Bearer (Theotokos) and Lady (despoina). At least one more epithet was given to her in the lacuna in line 3. This could be κ(αὶ) ἀειπαρθένος/'and ever-virgin', but Di Segni argues that the lacuna is too short to accommodate the word. Instead, she opts for the epithet κυρία/'Lady', rare in epigraphy, but used, for example, in a homily by pseudo-Athanasius (PG 28, col. 940).
As for the epithets of John, he is described as despotes/'lord'. This epithet is rarely given to saints in Greek inscriptions, but it may be a counterpart of the Aramaic/Syriac mar, commonly used in reference to saints and religious authorities. Di Segni compares the case with a floor-mosaic from Umm er-Rus, see E03580.
The dedicant is a certain spatharius and his children. Spatharii were imperial bodyguards, but here he is probably a ducal spatharius (a member of the office of a provincial military governor, or dux), as he is bestowed with the rank of clarissimus. Di Segni concludes that as no bishop was mentioned, the church was built on his private estate.
Dating: Probably 6th c., as suggested by Di Segni, based on the shape of letters. Pottery finds from the site point to the 'Byzantine' period (i.e. probably 6th-7th c.).
Di Segni, L., "Appendix. 1. Christian presence of Mt. Carmel in Late Antiquity", in: Sh. Dar, Y. Ben Ephraim, E. Ambar-Armon (eds.), Shallale. Ancient City of the Carmel (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2009), 227-230 (revised retoration based on the published photograph).
Olami, Y., Sender, S., Oren, E., Archaeological Survey of Israel, Map of Yagur (27) (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2004), 38-39 and 35*, no. 63 (description of the site and a photograph).
Di Segni, L., Dated Greek Inscriptions from Palestine from the Roman and Byzantine Periods (dissertation, Jerusalem, 1997), 264-266, no. 54 (revised restoration based on the transcription by Kuhnen).
Kuhnen, H.-P., Untersuchungen zur antiken Besiedlung Nordwest-Palästinas (dissertation, Munich 1981-1982), 185 (transcription in majuscules).
Bulletin épigraphique (2009), 516.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 59, 1717.