The inscription was set in the floor-mosaic of the presbyterium of a three-aisled basilica, in four sectors delimited by the arms of a cross. The reading of the Greek text is clear. As for the Aramaic, we give a transcription suggested by Michael Avi-Yonah, which, however, may not be entirely reliable due to the lettering used in the inscription.
Greek inscription: Below the right (south) horizontal arm of the cross
ΚΥΡΟΥ ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ = κυρ<ί>ου Ἰωάννου or Κύρου, Ἱωάννου
'Of lord (= Saint) John' or: 'Of Kyros Ioannes', or, much less plausibly: 'Of Kyros (and) Ioannes'
Christian-Palestinian Aramaic inscription: In three other sectors delimited by the arms of the cross:
mārā Yōḥanā Yōnā kāhēn
'Lord John. The priest Jonah.'
Text: Avi-Yonah 1933, no. 326.
qrh yḥn' nwnns (or nqws) khn
'Kyros Ioannes. Nonnos (or: Nikos) the priest.'
Text: SEG 63, 1556 (after Zellmann-Rohrer).
Saint NameJohn the Baptist : S00020
John, Apostle and Evangelist : S00042
Kyros and Iōannēs, physician martyrs in Egypt, ob. early 4th c. : S00406
Saint Name in SourceἸωάννης,
Image Caption 1Drawing/facsimile by P. Delau. From: Vincent 1899, 454.
Image Caption 2Plan of the church, as excavated in 1899. From: Vincent 1899, 453.
Type of EvidenceArchaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Evidence not before500
Evidence not after700
Activity not before500
Activity not after700
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Palestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcBeit Jimal
Khirbet Umm er-Rus
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Beit Jimal
Khirbet Umm er-Rus
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - lesser clergy
SourceFloor-mosaic set in the floor of the presbyterium of the church at Umm er-Rus (possibly a monastic church). Now lost. The Aramaic inscription was written in three sectors delimited by the arms of a large mosaic cross decorated with jewels (crux gemmata), with the Greek below its right (south) horizontal arm. The cross was shown on top of vines growing out of a vessel (kantharos).
The inscription was recorded when the church (a three-aisled basilica with a narthex, and perhaps a dome) was excavated by Robert Stewart Macalister on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1899. Stewart Macalister (1899) published a fragmentary transcription of the Greek text, with no image (p. 202), and the same year an image and further comments were offered by Louis Vincent in La Revue biblique. Other inscriptions (on tombstones and other stones) were found in the church, and were published by Stewart Macalister with very poor transcriptions and drawings, but they do not mention saints, albeit one does show the image of a stylite: see Macalister 1899, 202.
The Aramaic text was first given by Louis Vincent in 1899, in a facsimile/drawing by P. Delau. Vincent admitted that he was unable to read it. A transliteration, based on the drawing, was offered by Avi Yonah in 1933, in his corpus of the mosaic pavements of Palestine.
In 1922 Alexis Mallon reported in Biblica that the Salesian Fathers had begun restoration works at the site. It turned out, however, that some of the inscribed stones had been lost and our mosaic had been almost entirely destroyed. Mallon republished some of Stewart Macalister's inscriptions with better readings. Baggatti notes that further damage was done to the site by the construction of a modern building before 1976.
The inscriptions have been re-printed and commented on by a number of other scholars: see the bibliography and a short discussion in the 63rd volume of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum.
DiscussionThere have been several interpretations of the inscriptions around the cross, and scholars have argued whether we have here two or four different texts. According to Stewart Macalister: 'The inscriptions in the mosaic at the east end are four in number - two in Syriac [i.e. he meant Christian-Palestinian Aramaic], one in Hebrew, and one in Greek. The three former are very obscure, and were probably set by some person unable to read them. I will not venture to say more than that the lettering in the longer of the Syriac inscription is not altogether inconsistent with a translation of the Greek legend, which also shows signs of illiteracy. It reads: + ΚΥΡΟΥ (sic) ΙΩΑΝΝΟΥ.'
In 1919 Félix-Marie Abel, having not tried to read the Aramaic text, argued that the Greek inscription mentions Kyros and Ioannes/Cyrus and John, a pair of martyrs venerated near Alexandria in Egypt. His idea was enthusiastically supported by Françoise Halkin in an influential paper on the epigraphic evidence for the cult of saints in Palestine (1951; see also his Bulletin des publications hagiographiques (1941), 306-307). Halkin also does not seem to have known the contents of the Aramaic text. Bellarmino Bagatti (1983) also follows Abel's interpretation.
In 1933 Michael Avi-Yonah identified the non-Greek inscription as composed solely in Christian-Palestinian Aramaic, with no addition of Hebrew. He argued that the Greek word ΚΥΡΟΣ should have been understood as κύριος/'lord', and corresponded to the Aramaic mār, a regular title of saints, martyrs, and religious authorities (e.g. influential monks), which appears in his transcription of the Aramaic text as an epithet of one Yōḥanā/Ioannes. This is plausible, as the forms κῦρος and κύριος were used interchangeably in Late Antiquity. The 'priest Jonah', another person mentioned in the Aramaic inscription, according to Avi-Yonah's reading, is almost certainly a local cleric who supervised the paving of the shrine or contributed to it. His name was not given in Greek. Avi-Yonah's transcription and interpretation were accepted by Yiannis Meimaris (1986), Pau Figueras (2013), and Andrew Madden (2014). Meimaris suggests that our mār Yōḥanā/Ioannes could be John the Baptist. The saint was frequently venerated in monastic milieus, and it has been tentatively suggested that our church belonged to a monastic complex.
In the eighth volume of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, we find only the Greek inscription and the editor hesitates between the two interpretations. Louis Robert in the Bulletin épigraphique similarly suspends judgement. The issue was readdressed in one of the most recent volumes of the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (63, 1556) where the editors present one more reading of the Aramaic text, based on the published image. Michael Zellmann-Rohrer argues that at top right one could see qrh, not mrh, which could stand for Κῦρος. At the same time he refutes the reading ywn' = Jonas, and suggests nwnns = Nonnos, or nqws = Nikos (a donor's name?).
To us it is clear that Abel's and Halkin's interpretation is incorrect, and that saints Kyros and Iohannes were not invoked here. The 'Kyros/mār Ioannes' who apparently appears in both the Aramaic and Greek dedications may be either a saint John (and if so John the Baptist is a very possible candidate), or an ordinary donor who contributed to the paving of the sanctuary or the presbyterium alone (if so, the word Kyros can also be interpreted as a personal name, not a title).
Dating: Vincent dated the inscription, and the entire church, to the 6th-7th c., that is to the period when the area was subject to monastic expansion. Other scholars repeated his suggestion.
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), 101, no. 597.
Bagatti, B., Antichi villagi cristiani della Giudea e del Neghev (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1983), 133-135.
"Bulletin des publications hagiographiques", in: Analecta Bollandiana 59 (1941), 306-307.
Avi-Yonah, M., "Mosaic pavements in Palestine", Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine 3 (1933), no. 326 (with further references).
Mallon, A., "Le sanctuaire byzantin de Beit Djemal", Biblica 3 (1922), 504.
Abel, F.-M., "Une chapelle byzantine à Beit el-Djemal", La Revue biblique 16 (1919), 244-248.
Horning, R., "Verzeichnis von Mosaiken aus Mesopotamien, Syrien, Palästina und dem Sinai", Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina-Vereins 32 (1909), 133-134 (with further references).
Stewart Macalister, R.A., "A Byzantine church at Umm er Rus", Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement 31 (1899), 200-204.
Vincent, L.H., "Encore l'église d'Oumm er-Roûs", La Revue biblique 8 (1899), 452-457 (with an image).
Brock, S.P., "Syriac inscriptions: A preliminary checklist of European publications", Annali. Istituto Orientale di Napoli 38 (1978), 257 (reprinted in Brock, S.P., Studies in Syriac Christianity. History, Literature and Theology (Aldershot: Variorum, 1992), chapter III).
Figueras, P., The Pagan Image of Greco-Roman Palestine and Surrounding Lands (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013), 159.
Halkin, F., "Inscriptions grecques relatives à l'hagiographie. IV La Palestine", Analecta Bollandiana 69 (1951), 71.
Madden A.M., Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Leuven - Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014), 134-135, no. 199.
Schick, R., The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: A Historical and Archaeological Study (Studies in late antiquity and early Islam 2, Princeton, N.J: Darwin Press, 1995), 385.
Vincent, L.H., "Une église à Oumm er Rous", La Revue biblique 7 (1898), 611-615.
Bulletin épigraphique (1952), 173.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 8, 228; 63, 1556.