Saint NameTheodore, soldier and martyr of Amaseia and Euchaita : S00480
Saint Name in SourceΘεόδωρος
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Evidence not before541
Evidence not after541
Activity not before541
Activity not after541
Place of Evidence - RegionPalestine with Sinai
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcAvdat/Oboda
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Avdat/Oboda
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBurial ad sanctos
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesOther lay individuals/ people
SourceGrey 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.
DiscussionThe 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.
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.
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.
Bulletin épigraphique (1962), 319.
Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum 28, 1393.