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E04337: Two Greek graffiti in cursive script, found in the martyr shrine at the North Church at Nessana/Auja Hafir in the Negev desert (Roman province of Palaestina III) of uncertain purpose, listing saints and holy men and women, many undocumented elsewhere; one of the graffiti apparently making reference to dates. Probably 5th - mid-6th c.

online resource
posted on 2017-11-08, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
For other inscriptions from this part of the North Church, see E04336.

Inscription 1:

Written in cursive script on a chalk voussoir. H. 0.35 m; W. 0.54 m. Found in Room 14, in the south middle arch, certainly in situ. The proper inscription is flanked by invocations of God as the Lord.

(a): in the upper left-hand corner, in big letters:

Κύριε, βοέθιε

'O Lord, help Stephanos!'


ἅγιος Μάρκος
ἅγιος Βλείφιμος
ἅγιος Μανικός
ἅγιος Ἀμβράσιος (sic)
ἅγιος Εἰσίδορος
ἅγιος Νόνιος
ἅγιος Πάμφιλος
ἀββᾶς Ῥομ[α]νός
ἀββᾶς Μάναλας
ἀββᾶς Κίριλλος
ἀββᾶς Ζενόβιος
ἀββᾶς Χαρείτων
ἀββᾶς Σαμῶρ
ἀββᾶς Σαβ[ῖν]̣ο̣ς
ἀββᾶς Γε[ρ]μαν(ός)
ὀμ[μ]άνα Ἄννα
ὀμ[μ]άνα Μάθρα (sic)
ὀμμάνα Φ̣εστ̣ε̣ι .οτε (possibly: Φ̣α[υ]στεῖ[ν]̣α)

(c): in the lower right-hand corner, in big letters:

Κύ(ριε), μνίσθιθι τοῦ δούλου καὶ παν-
τὸς τοῦ ὔκου αὐτοῦ

(a): 'O Lord, help Stephanos!'

(b): 'Saint Mark, Saint Bliphimos, Saint Manikos, Saint Ambrosios, Saint Isidoros, Saint Nonios, Saint Pamphilos, Abbas Romanos, Abbas Manalas, Abbas Kyrillos, Abbas Zenobios, Abbas Chariton, Abbas Samor, Abbas Sabinos, Abbas Germanos. Ommana Anna, Ommana Martha, Ommana Phisti[- - -].'

(c): 'O Lord, remember Thy servant and all his household. Thalelaios.'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 38. Translation: G.E. Kirk & C. Bradford Welles, lightly adapted.

Inscription 2:

The inscription is written in cursive script on a chalk block from Room 14. Letter height 0.01 m. Three lines are distinguishable in the drawing. It is clear that first two lines begin with the word ἡμέρα (possibly in the accusative form: ἡμεραν). The editors are, however, unsure whether this is followed by names. For line 1 they suggest tentative readings: ἡμέραν Ἰοσήφ/'(On?) the day of Joseph' or ἡμέραν Ηἰοῦν/'(On?) the day of Ayyun.'

Text: I. Nessana, no. 41.

Other fragmentary inscriptions found in the same area contain names of months (I. Nessana, no. 42: Apellaios), and possibly the name Demetrios in the genitive form (I. Nessana, no. 43).


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Mark the Evangelist : S00293 Markos, a saint invoked at Nessana in the Negev desert : S01736 Bleiphimos, a saint invoked at Nessana in the Negev desert : S01737 Manikos, a saint invoked at Nessana in the Negev desert : S01738 Ambrasios (sic), a s

Image Caption 1

Inscription 1. From: I. Nessana, 151.

Image Caption 2

Inscription 2. From: I. Nessana, 153.

Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Calendars and martyrologies Inscriptions - Graffiti Inscriptions - Inscribed architectural elements 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)

Nessana Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Other liturgical acts and ceremonies

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - abbots Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits


Nessana/Auja Hafir was an important town (actually termed a kome/'village' in documents) in the southwest Negev desert, located on the caravan route from 'Aila/'Aqaba to Gaza, and the pilgrim route towards Sinai, and is sometimes identified with the site of the hostel (xenodochium) of Saint George, visited by the Piacenza Pilgrim (see E00507; for an alternative identification, see E02006). The site was excavated by the Colt Expedition, led by Harris Dunscombe Colt, between 1935 and 1937, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. Although the site had suffered serious damage during World War I, it soon yielded rich epigraphical evidence (more than 150 Greek and Nabataean inscriptions), and two invaluable collections of 6th-7th c. documentary and literary papyri, comprising several distinguishable archives. The first, smaller collection of papyri, was found in Room 3 of the South Church, the other in Room 8 of the North Church. It is thanks to these documents that the ancient name of the site - Nessana - was revealed. The Colt Expedition excavated two churches. The 'North Church' on the acropolis, probably monastic and housing a martyr shrine, they dubbed the Church of *Sergios and Bakchos. It is now known as Church no. 1. It was the biggest sanctuary in the town, and the presence of numerous graffiti suggests that it was a popular shrine, while its papyri show that it had close relations with the monks of Mount Sinai. The inscriptions we present here, come from this establishment. The second church, excavated by Colt was the 'South Church', presumed to have been dedicated to *Mary, Mother of Christ. It is now termed Church no. 2. The Colt Expedition also mentions the 'East Church'/the 'Monastic Church', which is probably the one that had been explored by Woolley and Lawrence, now termed Church no. 3, and a local cemetery. Inscriptions of different kinds were found in all of these locations. In 1987, Dan Urman resumed the archaeological exploration of the site on behalf of the Ben Gurion Univeristy of the Negev. His campaigns led to the discovery of three more churches in Nessana: the double church (= Church no. 4-5), and a small monastic chapel (= Church no. 6). As for the history of epigraphical research, Auja Hafir had been surveyed by several scholars interested in inscriptions well before the Colt expedition. They were: the Dominican Father La Grange, the German military chaplain Father Hänsler, Theodore Wiegand and Albrecht Alt, and two more Dominicans, Fathers Abel and Tonneau. The epigraphic finds of the Colt Expedition were first published in 1962, in the first volume of Excavations at Nessana. The expedition's epigraphist, George Eden Kirk, who made the transcriptions in the field, was, however, unable to finish the edition due to his induction into military service. The draft was forwarded to, and revised by, C. Bradford Welles, who claimed responsibility for the final shape of the text. A small group of new fragmentary inscriptions, found by Urman's mission, were published by Pau Figueras in 2004. This collection, however, yields no new evidence for the cult of saints.


The editors, Kirk and Bradford Welles, aided by Carl Kraeling, suggested that Inscription 1 contains 'either a litany ... or a calendar'. Jean-Baptiste Yon (2007, 404), who briefly referred to our text, repeated this ambiguous tag. Louis Robert (1965) favoured the second option, and so did Yiannis Meimaris (1986). Pau Figueras (1995, 427) says that 'the list was possibly used as a sort of a calendar'. Kirk, Bradford Welles, and Kraeling argue that the initial names were arranged according to the chronological order of feasts in the liturgical year: Mark (23 September), Isidoros (January, February), Pamphilos (1 June). They see here the influence of the Church of Alexandria, and identify Mark and Isidoros as *Mark (the Evangelist, S00293), said to have been martyred in Alexandria, and *Isidoros (martyr of Alexandria under Decius: they mean probably Isidoros, soldier and martyr of Chios, born in Alexandria, S00425). They also note that the names Pamphilos (here of a saint), Romanos, and Germanos (here borne by people termed abbas), are those of martyrs of Caesarea in Palestine, mentioned by Eusebius (see E00298; E00389), whilst Zenobios may refer to a martyr of Sidon under Diocletian. In his comments, Figueras (1995, 427) presents the list as a very interesting document and notes that among the figures we find 'some ... well-known Egyptian monks, others who had been famous in Palestine', and 'others [who] belonged to the Western Church' (presumably referring to Amrbasios/Ambrosios). However, as the list played a minor role in his paper, he did not further develop his thoughts, nor did he attempt to offer precise identifications.. In fact, the identifications suggested by the first editors are highly hypothetical. Moreover, they do not discuss the clear division of the list into people termed hagios/'saint', abbas, and ommana. In our opinion, in this context hagios seems unequivocally to refer to 'proper' saints, accepted as such at the time, whereas abbas and ommana (the latter is literally a transcribed Arabic expression 'our mother') are more problematic. The terms may denote respectively 'abbots' and 'abbesses', but they can also be elements of personal names, or used to denote other people of religious authority (e.g. monks, holy men, or even martyrs). Jean-Baptiste Yon (2007, 404) rightly notes that, although abbas/abba/apa occurs very frequently in Christian texts, ommana is rare. One of the intentions of the author of this list was to group and distinguish the people described by these terms, which means that they almost certainly denote a different status of the figures mentioned. It therefore seems likely that we have here a list of 'proper' saints, followed by lists of abbots and abbesses (we know that the North Church was a monastic establishment). It also seems likely that they are listed for commemorative purposes, though the argument that this was some sort of calendar is implausible, given the absence of any dates (whereas the highly fragmentary Inscription 2 might have served some such purpose). The practice of commemorating, for example, bishops alongside the martyrs is well known from other texts (e.g. the so-called Chronography of 354, see E01051). The 'proper' saints who open our list are very interesting, but problematic, since so few of them can be identified with any confidence - many were presumably purely local figures, perhaps local martyrs. *Markos/Mark who heads the list may be Mark the Evangelist (S00293), whose body rested in Alexandria, comparatively close by. Pamphilos may be the martyr of Caesarea in Palestine (S00140), recorded by Eusebius (E00391). His tomb at Caesarea was visited by the Piacenza Pilgrim E00528; and his feast is mentioned in the Syriac Martyrology of 411 on 16 February (E01435); in the Georgian version of the Lectionary of Jerusalem on 6 February (E03017), and in the Church Calendar of Ioane Zosime on 6 February (E03636). A certain *Isidoros was commemorated in nearby 'Aila/'Aqaba as a soldier saint (E01723), and (the same person?) is twice mentioned in the Georgian version of the Lectionary of Jerusalem (11 May: E03148; 20 May: E03157). He may be *Isidoros, the soldier and martyr of Chios, a native of Alexandria (S00425). *Ambrasios' name is, of course, very close to that of Ambrose/Ambrosius, the famous late-4th c. bishop of Milan (S00490), but the similarity is almost certainly coincidental, since there is no evidence that Ambrose attracted cult in the East at this early date, let alone in a small town of the Negev. He is presumably a local saint, perhaps a local martyr (S01739), as must be *Bleiphemos (S01737), *Manikos (S01738), and *Novios (S01741), who are otherwise unattested. Dating: It is difficult to judge the date of these inscriptions. The room where they were found was certainly built before 464 (see E04336), but even after the construction of the Justinianic church in the early 6th c., this part of the complex was still used for religious purposes. As our presumed list of abbots does not mention anyone from the family of the late 6th c. and 7th c. abbots, well attested by the Nessana papyri (Patrikios I, ob. after 560; Sergios I, ob. 592; Patrikios II, ob. 628; ?Georgios, ob. after 684; Sergios II, ob. after 690 , see P. Nessana 3, p. 7), we can suppose that it was drafted in the 5th or first half of the 6th c.


Edition: Kirk, G.E., Bradford Welles, C., "The inscriptions", in: H.D. Colt, and others (eds.), Excavations at Nessana (Auja Hafir, Palestine), vol. 1 (London: British Schools of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1962), nos. 38, 41. Further reading: Figueras, P., "Monks and monasteries in the Negev desert", Liber Annuus 45 (1995), 427. 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), 236, no. 1177, XXXX. Yon, J.-B., "De l'araméen en grec", Mélanges de l'Université Saint-Joseph 60 (2007) [= Mélanges en l'honneur de Jean-Paul Rey-Coquais], 404. Whately, C., "Camels, soldiers, and pilgrims in sixth century Nessana", Scripta Classica Israelica 35 (2016), 121-135. Reference works: Bulletin épigraphique (1965), 441.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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