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E04045: Floor-mosaic with a Greek inscription invoking the protection of Christ 'through the faith of the (First?) Saints'. Found at Khirbet Samra on the east shore of the sea of Galilee, near Gadara (Roman province of Palaestina II). Probably 5th-7th c.

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posted on 2017-09-17, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Framed floor-mosaic panel, set at the west end of the carpet mosaic of the nave. The inscription, as seen in the photograph, reads as follows:

+ ΗΙΡΗΝΗΤΟΥCΩΤΗΡΟCΗΜΩΝΧΥ
ΗΥΠΕΡΕΧΟΥCΑΠΑΝΤΑΝΟΥCΟΝ
ΝΛΗΝΖΟCΑΗΠΑCΗCΟΦΙΑΠΝΕΥΜΑΤΟC
ΚΑΙΕΝΠΙCΤΙΤΟΝΑΑΓΙΩΝΤΑCΙCΟΔΟΥC
ΚΑΙΕΙΡΗΝΕΞΟΔΟΥCΥΜΩΝΕΝΚΥΡΙ
(small bird) ΑΜΗΝ (ivy leaf)

Based on his examination of the panel, Vassilios Tzaferis argues that some lines were restored in Antiquity by a mosaicist who inserted superfluous letters and incorrect words into a slightly different, original text. Tzaferis offers the following reconstruction of the original inscription:

+ ἡ ἰρήνη τοῦ Σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Χ(ριστο)ῦ
ἡ ὑπερέχουσα πάντα νοῦ{σο}ν
<φυλάξη>, πάσῃ σοφίᾳ πνεύματος
καὶ ἐν πίστι τõν Α (= πρώτων?) ἁγίων, τὰς ἰσόδους
καὶ <τὰς> ἐξόδους ὑμῶν ἐν Κυρί(ῳ)
(small bird) ἀμήν (ivy leaf)

2. ΠΑΝΤΑΝΟΥCON mosaic: apparently restored by an ancient mosaicist instead of ΠΑΝΤΑΝΟΥΝ, πάντα νοῦν Tzaferis' reconstruction, παντα<χ>οῦ σόν the Ovadiahs || 3. ΝΛΗΝΖΟCAH mosaic: again wrong ancient restoration, <φυλάξη>, πάσῃ σοφίᾳ Tzaferis' reconstruction, .......ἡ πᾶσ<α> σοφία the Ovadiahs, πασσοφία SEG || 4. ΚΑΙΕΝΠΙCΤΙΤΟΝΑ·ΑΓΙΩΝ mosaic, ἐν πίστι τõν α΄ (= πρώτων?) ἁγίων Tzaferis, ἐν πίστι τõν ἁγίων Meimaris, supported by Pleket in SEG, καὶ ἐν τη σπ (= σπ(ουδῇ)? Bingen in SEG) τ<ῶ>ν (πρῶτων) the Ovadiahs || 5. ΚΑΙΕΙΡΗΝΕΞ mosaic, καὶ τὰς ἐξόδους Tzaferis' reconstruction, καὶ εἰρήν(η) ἐξόδους ὑμῶν, ν<ῦ> Κύρι[ε] the Ovadiahs

'The peace of Our Saviour Christ, which passeth all understanding, shall protect by every wisdom of the Spirit and in the faith of the First (?) Saints thy comings-in and thy goings-out in the Lord. Amen.'

Text: Tzaferis 1993, no. 3, modified. Translation: V. Tzaferis, lightly adapted.

History

Evidence ID

E04045

Saint Name

Unnamed saints (or name lost) : S00518

Saint Name in Source

ἅγιοι

Type of Evidence

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

Language

  • Greek

Evidence not before

450

Evidence not after

750

Activity not before

450

Activity not after

750

Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Gadara Khirbet Samra

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

Gadara Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis Khirbet Samra Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Source

The inscription comes from Khirbet Samra (a village on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Kibbutz Ha'On, which is different from Khirbet es-Samra in Jordan, to the southeast of Jerash). The floor-mosaics were found by a local villager in the initial phase of the construction of a cattle-pen. The site was subsequently excavated by N. Makhouly on behalf of the Department of Antiquities of Palestine in 1944 and 1946. At first Makhouly examined the western end of the nave and some fragments of the aisles. During the second season, the central and north sectors of the church were excavated, but the south aisle which lay beneath a modern house, and the area to the west of the nave (possible narthex) were not explored. The floor-mosaics were found and documented in photographs. The evidence was stored in the archive with no plans for rapid publication. In 1978 the site was re-discovered by the new settlers of Kibbutz Ha'On, during the construction of a fish pond. The mosaics were then examined and conserved by Pinhas Porat, Vassilios Tzaferis, and a group of volunteers, and photographed by Zeev Radovant. It seems that by 1978 the outer sections of the church, including the previously inaccessible south aisle, had already been destroyed. The church was a three-aisled basilica (probably c. 10 m x 15 m) with an elevated choir. Such a building should normally have an apse and two pastophoria, but none of them were found during the exploration of the area to the east of the choir. Tzaferis suggests that the church never had an apse, which was substituted by an extensive platform in the nave, accommodating the altar in its centre. A total of three inscribed mosaic panels were recorded in the church – one in the choir, one at the east and of the nave, and one (ours) at the west end. The mosaics were first published by Asher and Ruth Ovadiah in 1987 in their Corpus of Mosaic Pavements of Israel, based on the archival evidence of Makhouly. Soon after, the text was reprinted in the Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum, where several altered readings were suggested. In 1993 Tzaferis offered a revised edition with a commentary, based on the archival evidence and personal examination of the site. Tzaferis argues that our panel was unskillfully restored in Antiquity and offers a plausible restoration of the original text, based on conventional expressions in this type of inscription.

Discussion

The inscription invokes the protection of Christ for the local community, entering and leaving the church through a nearby entrance. Line 2 contains a quotation of the Epistle to the Philippians 4, 7. It ends with a popular protective phrase based on Psalm 122,8. The middle section contains a statement that Christ's protection can be granted 'in the faith of the (First) Saints'. The passage reads precisely ἐν πίστι τõν Α ἁγίων. Tzaferis thought that Α was an integral part of the original text and was used here instead of the numeral πρώτων. Therefore, he translated the passage as 'by (in) the faith of the First Saints'. Yiannis Meimaris and H.W. Pleket in SEG do not find this interpretation convincing, and suggest that this passage too had been improperly restored in Antiquity. They suggest omitting the first Α, and read ἐν πίστι τõν ἁγίων/'in the faith of the First Saints'. Dating: due to the lack of proper study of the ceramics found at the site in the 1940s, the date of the church cannot be precisely established. Based on the style of the mosaic pavements, Tzaferis supposes they were laid between the 5th and 7th c., tentatively pointing to the 6th c. He suggests that the church was destroyed by the earthquake of the late 740s.

Bibliography

Edition: Tzaferis, V., "An early Christian church at Khirbet Samra", in: M. Heltzer, A. Segal, D. Kaufman (eds.), Studies in the Archaeology and History of Ancient Israel in Honour of Moshe Dothan (Haifa: Haifa University Press, 1993), 227-249. Ovadiah, R. & A., Hellenistic, Roman and Early Byzantine Mosaic Pavements in Israel (Rome: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1987), 98-99, no. 168. Further reading: Madden A.M., Corpus of Byzantine Church Mosaic Pavements in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Leuven - Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2014), no. 236 (inadequate translation). 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), 17, no. 7. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (1996), 483; (2015), 679. Chroniques d'épigraphie byzantine, 780. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 37, 1499; 43, 1064.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

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