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E04162: Greek epitaph from the 'South Church' at Avdat/Oboda in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III), recording a burial 'in the martyr shrine' (martyrion) of *Theodore' (probably the soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita, S00480). Dated 541.

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posted on 2017-10-17, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
+ ἀνεπάη Ζαχα-
ρίας Ἰωάννου ἐτῶ(ν)
κ΄ ἐν μη(νὶ) Χοιὰκ κγ΄ ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ε΄
ἔτ(ους) υλϛ΄, ἐτάφη δὲ ἐν
τῷ μαρτυρίῳ τοῦ
ἁγ(ίου) Θεοδώρου. +

'+ Came to rest Zacharias, son of Ioannes, aged 20, on the 23rd of the month of Choiak, in the 5th indiction-year, of the year 436, and was buried in the martyr shrine (martyrion) of Saint Theodore.'

Text: I. Negev, no. 17. Translation: A. Negev, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Theodore, soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita : S00480

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


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

Avdat/Oboda Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Other lay individuals/ people


Grey marble slab. H. 0.60 m; W. 1.70 m. Inscribed field: H. 0. 40 m; W. 0.55 m. Letter height 0.05 m. Found at the west end of the south aisle of the South Church (sometimes termed the 'martyr shrine of Saint Theodore') at Avdat/Oboda. The South Church, which lies on the acropolis, was an impressive three-aisled basilica with a large apse at the east end of the nave and smaller apses in two chambers flanking it. The present inscription was used by Avraham Negev to identify the building as a martyr shrine of Saint Theodore, and to suggest that it was built in the mid-6th c. The latest dated inscription found in the church comes from 618, which fits the fact that Oboda was burnt by the Persians in 619/620, and was never fully restored. The site was excavated between 1958-1961 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the National Parks Authority. The excavations were begun by Michael Avi-Yonah, and, from the second season onwards, continued by Avraham Negev. Negev first published the inscription in 1978, and offered another edition in 1981, in his corpus of the inscriptions of the Negev desert. For other inscriptions from the South Church, see E04163.


The inscription says that a certain Zecharias was buried in the 'martyr shrine' (martyrion) of Saint Theodore. Avraham Negev, the editor, suggests that this refers to the entire church, but a chapel dedicated to Theodore is also possible. Negev, unaware of the large number of near eastern inscriptions mentioning Theodore, identified him as a local martyr, although he himself noted that 'a martyr by this name' occurs in the epigraphic evidence from Jerash. In fact, dedications to Theodore are present throughout the region, and are especially popular in the late 5th and the 6th c., so he must be the soldier and martyr of Euchaita in Pontus, whose cult proved very successful. The inscription is important, as it is a rare case from the eastern Mediterranean of an epitaph that refers to the practice of burial ad sanctos (unless its reference to the martyrion of Theodore is merely descriptive). The South Church yielded five more epitaphs, some of them long and with complex descriptions of the circumstances of deaths. However, none of them puts emphasis on the saintly character of the space where the deceased were buried. This, of course, does not exclude the possibility (after all quite plausible) that those burials too were meant to benefit from the proximity of relics of Theodore, presumably housed in the sanctuary. For the epitaphs from the church, see I. Negev, no. 14: Toubios, undated; no. 16: Germanos, aged 17, AD 550; no. 18: Zacharias, AD 581; no. 19: Azonaine, AD 576; no. 27: Kapito, presbyter, AD 617; there may be the remnants of other epitaphs among unidentified fragments. Dating: The inscription is dated according the era of the province of Arabia. Together with the indiction year and the day given in line 3, the date can be converted to 19 December AD 541. Based on the fact that 541 is the year of the outbreak of the so-called 'plague of Justinian', and it occurs as the year of death of six young people in the epitaphs in nearby Nessana, Negev suggests that Zacharias, as well as those of Nessana, were among the first victims of this disease.


Edition: Negev, A., The Greek Inscriptions from the Negev (Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, 1981), no. 17. Negev, A., "The Greek inscriptions from 'Avdat (Oboda)", Liber Annuus 28 (1978), 106, no. 17. Further reading: Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 432. Negev, A., "Avdat, a caravan halt in the Negev", Archaeology 14 (1961), 122-130. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (1962), 319. Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 28, 1393.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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