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A. Ovadiah
The volume on Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land offered to Father
Virgilio C. Corbo on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, is the work of
twenty-five scholars.
This is truly the most handsome gift that a scholar
and scientist can be awarded by his comrades, friends, colleagues and ad-
mirers. With the thirty-one articles this book embraces, it forms a collec-
tion impressive in content and form, quantity and quality. Researchers in
fields related to Christian archaeology whose contributions are not included
in this volume join in the general admiration, regard and esteem elicited by
Father Corbos lifelong scientific archaeological activity in the Holy Land.
The varied and comprehensive works of Father Corbo include: Gli sca-
vi di Khirbet Siyar el-Ghanam (Campo dei Pastori) e i monasteri dei
dintorni (Jerusalem 1955), Ricerche archeologiche al Monte degli Ulivi
(Jerusalem 1965), Cafarnao: Gli edifici della citt (Jerusalem 1975), Il
Santo Sepolcro di Gerusalemme, I-III (Jerusalem 1982), Herodion I. Gli
edifici della Reggia-Fortezza (Jerusalem 1989), and numerous others. These
have brought him recognition as one of the most prominent archaeologists,
particularly in the field of Christian archaeology in the Holy Land, main-
taining the tradition of the Franciscan Fathers such as the late Fathers B.
Bagatti and S.J. Saller. Father Corbos research represents a combination of
meticulous field work on the raw material of archaeology, coupled with
painstaking study and publication. These two aspects are mutually comple-
mentary and when matched with intellectual curiosity lead to creativity,
while always bearing in mind the objective imperative in a search for an-
swers and solutions to the questions that present themselves. The investiga-
tion and follow-up entailed in excavating arouse curiosity and create tension
which in themselves give rise to a deeply-felt emotional experience. The
1. This article was presented as a lecture on the 28th April 1991 at St. Saviours Monastery
in Jerusalem, in honour of Father Virgilio C. Corbo on the occasion of his Seventieth birth-
day. Some annotations and changes were made, but otherwise it remained the same as the
lecture delivered.
2. G.C. Bottini, L. Di Segni, E. Alliata (eds.), Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land. New
Discoveries, Jerusalem 1991.
LA 41 (1991) 469-481
written words that go to make up a scientific article or book equally em-
brace a spiritual uplifting and a creative experience. And indeed, it is this
aspiring to scientific creativity, to intellectual activity and to unravelling the
mysteries of the Holy Land that forms some of the goals that the Fathers of
the Franciscan Order have set for themselves.
Christian archaeological research has produced impressive findings
which aid in understanding the broadly ramified activities of Christianity
that caused a revolution in intellectual life, thinking and religious belief, and
introduced a new era. This critical stage rested upon the ruins of paganism
and its tradition, adopting its forms but not its contents. The new eras te-
nets and conceptions were incorporated not only on the level of abstract
philosophical thought, but on the pragmatic level as well.
Christian archaeology is wide-spread, with remains found not only in
the Mediterranean basin but even in far-distant regions such as the British
Isles. The Holy Land, however, was always its focus, arousing tremendous
interest and inspiring creativity in various fields: literature, philosophy, ar-
chitecture, sculpture and painting. Ties with the Holy Land, which were
extremely strong, rested upon a religious-emotional base; one manner of
expression for these ties was pilgrimage to holy sites connected with the
life and work of Jesus, the Apostles and the saints. Archaeological research
provides clear evidence of these links, as do the copious epigraphic mate-
rial, church architecture and other monuments. The various discoveries shed
light on the centrality of the Holy Land vis--vis other lands of the Chris-
tian world. In other words, the Holy Land played a leading role, taking cen-
tre stage in events, consolidating her spiritual and religious status. The Land
of Israel equally represented the spiritual and the material, serving as the
impetus for creation. In this connection, representations deriving from the
Old and New Testaments came into use, such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and
Christian archaeology not only uncovers the secrets of the Holy Land,
but also makes a significant contribution to the understanding of other
fields as well. Christian archaeology is their fountain-head which in its
turn evolves into an interdisciplinary scientific field. This fact is inescap-
able for anyone involved in this science, if his aim is to understand this
period of history with its attendant problems. With your permission I shall
refer to some of the aspects discussed in the book dedicated to Father
Corbo: art, architecture, symbolism, liturgy and epigraphy. In relating to
the various disciplines the scholar expands the scope of his research and
his outlook gains additional profundity and enlarges the pool of informa-
tion shared by all.
It is by means of the artistic aspect that dogmas and belief were grasped.
Items of artistic value turned up in archaeological excavations of the period
were created as religious ceremonial objects and not by way of ars pro arte.
These objects of artistic and art historical significance were meant to arouse
religious identification by illustrating Christianity on its various levels the
intellectual and the emotional. The finds now in our possession demonstrate
that Christianity in its incipient stages created a unique artistic language.
The transition from the dying Greek-Roman world to Christianity
triumphans was an involved and lengthy process. At the outset paganism
and Christianity existed side by side. At the end of this co-existence the art
of the ancient world was exhausted, while Christian art gave birth to com-
plex creations with a new scale of imagery and an artistic language of its
own. As early as the fourth century C.E. Christianity adopted the Imperial
modes of expression to describe its own heavenly hierarchy, in that the
modes of portraying the Caesar and his entourage are now transferred to
depiction of Jesus and the Apostles; to these are added symbolic images
drawn from the Bible. In Early Christian art the human figure still takes
pride of place, but the depictions forego the illusion of depth to develop a
flat two-dimensional effect. Indeed, free monumental sculpture gradually
disappears during the Early Christian period, with emphasis now placed on
the relief. By the seventh century C.E. monumental sculpture no longer
constitutes a means of artistic expression. Mosaic, painting, metal-work and
ivory-carving are now prominent, while monumental sculpture will reap-
pear only in the late eleventh century with an impact and a new means of
expression unknown hitherto.
Earlier generations of scholars have presented artists of the Early Chris-
tian period as bereft of any artistic ability or understanding of the consum-
mate art of the ancient world. The last few generations have, perhaps
correctly, grasped Early Christian art as an expression of the new concepts
of Christianity protesting against the realism and sensuousness of Greek and
Roman art. Early Christian art is extreme in its tendency to lean towards
the spiritual and the general, a tendency already noted in Late Roman art.
Just as Christianity as a religion condemned all forms of paganism as pruri-
ent and sensuous, and sought to bring about redemption by means of ra-
tional Christian belief as per its own definition, so Christian art aimed for
the same goal. This art consciously created a visual language to depict the
heavenly order. Christian art made no attempt to describe the real world,
but rather to develop a new visual language that would serve to depict, in
keeping with its own dogma, a world which it considered more real. Two-
dimensional art was not intended to imitate nature even in its idealised
form but to create a language of signs and symbols, by means of
schematisation of the natural forms of man and his surrounding. Human
portraits were flat, with the expression standardised rather than spontane-
ous. While Roman art, from which Christian art evolved, availed itself by a
variety of forms for expressing any one mood, Christian art, in its rejection
of Classical art, reduced the means of expression to a minimum, to the point
of turning them into mere symbols. The gestures depicted by means of
movement and expression in Classical art, be they sorrow, fun, mourning,
ecstasy and dance, became pure convention in Early Christian art. Take for
example, a figure standing calmly, chin in hand this represents mourning
or meditation or death; the raised hand of Jesus represents benediction, and
so forth. Human emotions were no longer expressed directly, but rather by
indirect means such as a flapping robe, harsh colours and the like. Sponta-
neous landscapes also disappear the Garden of Eden, for example, is
planted with a standard selection of trees and flowers chosen as symbols,
such as the lily, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. In depicting
the outside, one tree and a building viewed from the outside sufficed, while
interiors were represented by house furnishings, such as a curtain, a chair
or a table. The real world was thus not expressed in the Early Christian
period; its central themes represented the hierarchies of heaven by means
of recognised signs.
Artistic depictions of topics from the holy writings were not limited to
merely illustrating the story but also acted as a commentary upon it. Illumi-
nations derived from all-embracing theological perceptions were presented
with a view to both illustrating the basic tenets of faith while creating a vi-
sual language capable of conveying the Christian message. Christian art is
thus conceptual art presenting religious dogmas, notions of heavenly hier-
archies, divinity, cosmogony, ethical values, etc., both by illustrating holy
stories and by depicting images borrowed from the tangible world but serv-
ing as conventional symbols and signs. The combination of illumination of
parables with an agreed range of symbols created an artistic language in
which the figurative image and the symbolic image are of equal valence.
Early Christian art, in addition to its symbolic aspect, is also didactic in
character, in that stories from the Old and New Testaments could convey to
3. See: Isidore of Seville, Patrologia Latina, 81-84, 1862-1878; Rabanus Maurus, De
Universo, Patrologia Latina, 111, 1864. G. Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art,
London-Oxford-New York 1971; A. De Vries, Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery, London
and Amsterdam 1974.
an illiterate audience the basic principles of belief and the stories of redemp-
tion and salvation.
Architecture developed in the Early Christian period as an official art.
Archaeological findings demonstrate that monumental architecture of this
period is consciously and deliberately a dual entity: in pragmatic terms serv-
ing the functions and goals for which it was intended, while lending tangi-
bility to an abstract idea. The architectural aspect is amply noted in churches
and monastic complexes.
Christian thought perceives the Church as a mi-
crocosm reflecting the macrocosm, that is, as manifestation of the hierar-
chical order of the kingdom of heaven. The actual church edifice was
perceived by numerous theologians and historians from Eusebius onwards
as a symbol reflecting or representing an idea alongside of a reality. The
architectural elements of the church were assigned a symbolic significance
beyond their actual existence: the ceiling or dome symbolised the sky; its
supporting pillars the Apostles or Prophets; the apse the symbol of the
light and the faade the porta triumphalis of cosmic Christianity. The
philosophical essence of the church building is also revealed by a
sixth-century Syriac text describing the Cathedral of Edessa present-day
Urfa in south-east Turkey; this text provides images and symbols drawn
from the heavenly sphere to suit the various parts of the edifice: Its ceiling
is stretched like the heavens without columns, vaulted and closed and
furthermore, it is adorned with golden mosaic as the firmament is with shin-
ing stars. Its high dome is comparable to the heaven of heavens; it is like a
helmet, and its upper part rests solidly on its lower part. Its great, splendid
arches represent the four sides of the world; they also resemble, by virtue
of their variegated colors, the glorious rainbow of the clouds.
Other theo-
logical doctrines, deriving from the Platonic tradition, view the church
building as the actual substantiation of the idea of divinity. Christian com-
4. See: A. Ovadiah, Corpus of the Byzantine Churches in the Holy Land (Theophaneia, 22),
Bonn 1970; A. Ovadiah and C. Gomez de Silva, Supplementum to the Corpus of the Byzan-
tine Churches in the Holy Land, Colchester-London 1984 (repr. from Levant, XIII, 1981;
XIV, 1982; XVI, 1984); S. Vailh, Rpertoire alphabtique des monastres de Palestine,
Revue de lOrient Chrtien, 4 (1899), pp. 512-542; 5 (1900), pp. 19-48, 272-292;
O. Meinardus, Notes on the Laurae and Monasteries of the Wilderness of Judaea, Liber
Annuus, 15 (1964-1965), pp. 220-250; 16 (1965-1966), pp. 328-356; 19 (1969), pp. 305-327;
J. Leroy, Monks and Monasteries of the Near East, London 1963, pp. 70-97; D.J. Chitty,
The Desert a City, Oxford 1966; Y. Hirschfeld, List of the Byzantine Monasteries in the
Judean Desert, in Bottini, Di Segni, Alliata (eds.) (above, n. 2), pp. 1-90.
5. C. Mango (ed.), The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453 (Sources and Documents),
Englewood Cliffs 1972, p. 58 (lines 5-7) and n. 8.
mentary also perceives in the church the ship of Jesus, with the congrega-
tion its passengers.
St. Ambrose of Milan, in his writings, compares the
Church to a ship, and the Cross to a ships mast. The miracle of the Sea of
Galilee, when Christ calmed the waves and saved the vessel of the Apostles
from disaster, likewise served to give the ship a symbolic religious mean-
And indeed, the unusual ground-plan of the Church of St. Cyricus
found in excavations some years ago near Kibbutz Magen in the
north-western Negev, recalls the stern of a ship (Building A Phase II: sixth
century C.E.). The churchs planners may have intended thereby to point
up the symbolic-religious significance of the building as perceived in Chris-
tian symbolism.
The churches discovered to date in the Holy Land generally follow the
conventional ground-plan with no real innovations, with the exception of
said St. Cyricus. Examination of churches dated by excavations from the
fourth to the seventh centuries indicates that their architectural plans are not
uniform. Although most were built as a basilica or chapel, on the simplest
and most convenient plan, even these plans show numerous variations.
There were, in addition, churches with a centralised plan: cruciform, round
and octagonal. Architectural study of the Byzantine churches in the Holy
Land shows that no independent or novel developments are encountered,
but rather a consolidation of the forms already widespread in the Roman
Empire. The Christian basilica clearly reveals the influence of the secular
Roman basilica; in churches or baptisteries built on a round or octagonal
plan, influence can be felt of the Pantheon in Rome and other circular Ro-
man temples, mausolea and bath-houses from the Roman period.
Among the most emphasised architectural elements in the church is the
arch leading to the apse, which was embellished with mosaic and paintings.
It may be regarded as a transference to the church of the imperial triumphal
arch, now representing Jesus conquest of death. Throughout the Early
Christian period, Christian architects continued to add elements to the ba-
silica, foreign to Roman architecture but fulfilling specific functions in the
Christian ritual. One of these elements also found in Holy Land church ar-
6. A fifth-century source states that a church should resemble a boat: navi sit similis; see:
Constitutiones Apostolicae, Patrologia Graeca, 1, 1886, cols. 723-738.
7. See: Ferguson (above, n. 3), p. 181.
8. V. Tsaferis and E. Dinur, The Church of St. Cyricus near Kibbutz Magen, Qadmoniot,
XI, 1(41) (1978), pp. 26-29 (Hebrew); V. Tsaferis, An Early Christian Church Complex at
Magen, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 258 (1985), pp. 1-15.
9. Ovadiah (above, n. 4); Ovadiah and Gomez de Silva (above, n. 4).
chitecture is the transept, one of the prime inventions of Early Christian
architecture which cannot but attest to the originality and innovativeness of
these builders. While the significance and function of the transept are un-
clear, one may assume that it was intended to invest the structure with the
form of the cross, thus underlying the symbolic significance of the whole.
It also allowed a larger number of worshippers to see the altar and watch
the ceremonies taking place around it.
In these cases where a relic was
installed at the intersection of the longitudinal and latitudinal halls, access
was simplified by this configuration.
Several churches in the central Negev reveal an unusual architectural
element that points up their unique character: a niche let into the eastern
wall of each of the side apses, or a similar niche in the rear wall of the
pastophoria rooms. Since small niches of this sort are also found in Roman
architecture, this element is obviously of a pre Christian origin, to be
adopted by the church builders.
The large number of churches and monasteries in the Holy Land bear
witness to the spread of Christianity, to the consolidation of Christian com-
munities in various parts of the country, and to the prosperity that accom-
panied widespread cultural and religious activity during the period of
Byzantine rule.
Archaeological finds of Early Christianity sculpture, paintings, mosa-
ics, etc. abound in symbolic and allegorical significance. For indeed,
Christianity developed a widely ramified system of symbols which injected
new contents into forms borrowed from the Classical world.
on the Old and New Testaments develops making use of standard formu-
lae: the allegorical, the historical and the literal. Jerusalem is a good illus-
tration of these modes of interpretation: allegorically, Jerusalem is the
heavenly Jerusalem; historically it represents the bitter fall of the Jewish
nation and in literal terms, Jerusalem (Yerushalayim), is the perfection
(Shlemut) of the future.
The main mode of interpretation is the allegorical, regarding the de-
scription of biblical events, figures or objects as alluding to and predicting
events in the life of Jesus, His martyrdom and Resurrection. In other words,
the presentation of scenes or figures from the Bible, such as Moses and the
Prophets, is never exempt from impressing a certain Christian theological
10. Ovadiah (above, n. 4), pp. 190-192; Ovadiah and Gomez de Silva (above, n. 4), p. 150.
11. See: Ovadiah and Gomez de Silva (above, n. 4), p. 151.
12. Cf. Isidore of Seville (above, n. 3); Rabanus Maurus (above, n. 3).
perception. Thus the Crossing of the Red Sea, as depicted at Santa Maria
Maggiore in Rome, symbolizes the Baptism.
Abel, as at San Vitale and
SantApollinare in Classe in Ravenna, prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus;
the Binding of Isaac symbolizes the Crucifixion.
The story of Jonah and
the Whale is a foretaste of the entombment and the Resurrection;
was three days in the belly of the Fish, as was Jesus in His tomb. The
depiction of two men carrying between them a single, enormous cluster of
grapes, illustrates part of the episode described in the Book of Numbers
(13:1-25) in which Moses sent men to spy out the Land of Canaan. The
tremendous size of the cluster of grapes leaves little doubt that we have
here an illustration of the biblical account (Num. 13:23-24): And they
came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with
one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; The
place was called the brook Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes which
the children of Israel cut down from thence. According to St. Augustines
interpretation, the bunch of grapes hanging on the pole prefigured the hang-
ing of Christ on the cross, and the figures supporting the pole represent the
Jewish and Christian peoples: Ipse est enim botrus ille qui pependit in
ligno. The subject was similarly treated by his contemporary, the presby-
ter and monk Evagrius, and by St. Eucherius, bishop of Lyon in the fifth
Various texts show how the Church, in its attempt to overpower
Orphism, tried to merge Orpheus with Jesus and to turn them into one be-
13. A. Grabar, Byzantium. From the Death of Theodosius to the Rise of Islam, London 1966,
p. 147 (fig. 158).
14. Grabar (above, n. 13), P. 156 (fig. 168); G. Bovini, Ravenna. Art and History, Ravenna
1979, p. 95; ibid., p. 68 (top left and bottom).
15. Grabar (above, n. 13), p. 157 (fig. 169); Bovini (above, n. 14), p. 61. This scene also ap-
pears frequently in Early Christian sarcophagi, see: G. Wilpert, I sarcofagi cristiani antichi,
II, Roma 1932, pp. 231-235, Pls. CLXXX(2), CLXXXII, CLXXXIII(1-3, 5), CLXXXIV.
16. This episode appears on the mosaic pavement of the Cathedral of Bishop Theodore
in Aquileia and probably on the floor of a church at Beth Guvrin; see: A Grabar, The
Beginnings of Christian Art 200-395 A.D., London 1967, p. 22 (fig. 19); Ruth and A.
Ovadiah, Hellenistic, Roman and Early Byzantine Mosaic Pavements in Israel, Roma
1987, Pls. X, XI(2), XII. It is also depicted on Early Christian sarcophagi, see: Wilpert
(above, n. 15), pp. 201-222, Pls. CLXI-CLXII(2-4), CLXIII, CLXIV(1, 3-5), CLXV,
CLXXIV(1-9), CLXXV(1-5, 7-9), CLXXVI(2), CLXXVII(1-2, 4-5), CLXXVIII,
17. Cf. A. Ovadiah, The Relief of the Spies from Carthage, Israel Exploration Journal,
24(1974), pp. 210-213.
ing. This is further reinforced in De Laudibus Constantini by Eusebius,
who compares the Logos which tames mankind, with Orpheus who tames
wild animals. This passage of Eusebius is, no doubt, evidence of the blur-
ring of the functional differences between Orpheus and Jesus; it helps to
understand the attempt of Christians to adopt Orpheus for their religious
needs and to identify him with Jesus, with the Logos or with the Good
Animals depicted in various artistic media, which were found in ar-
chaeological contexts of the Early Christian period, have been usually in-
vested with symbolic meaning by Church Fathers. For instance, the bird
may symbolize the soul of the just, based on the Third Book of Baruch
(10) of the second century C.E., and of the deceased in heaven as in the
vision of St. Antony, the hermit. The leopard (Panthera pardus) is per-
ceived as the symbol of Christ, for he sleeps during three days and then
awakes with a loud roar, but it is also the symbol of the Anti-Christ. The
swine sometimes symbolizes a devil (Mark 5:11ff.); if a boar, could repre-
sent a devil destroying the Lords vineyard. The pelican symbolizes the
Resurrection, probably because it revives its young by sprinkling its own
blood on them. According to St. Augustine, it may also symbolize the Eu-
charist: magnam similitudinem carnis Christi, cuius sanguine vivificati
sumus. Another animal that can be considered as a symbol is the rabbit or
hare. It stands for the humble, symbolizes Easter and the Church perse-
cuted, as well as the men who put the hope of their salvation in Christ and
His Passion. The crossed fishes forming a chi-shape is a well-known Early
Christian representation which symbolizes Jesus Christ as the son of God
and the Saviour (l\:). This symbolic significance is referred to by sev-
eral Church Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, St.
Augustine and St. Jerome. The fish is also considered as the symbol of the
Eucharist. The peacock was already used as a symbol in the Greek and
Roman period. In Early Christian tradition and art it symbolizes eternal
life and the resurrection of the believer. According to St. Augustine, it is
the symbol of immortality because its flesh does not decay. It is also the
symbol of the ever-vigilant Church, the grace of the Sacrament and heav-
enly glory. When it has a folded tail it may symbolize remorse. The deer
may symbolize the catechumen about to undergo baptism, as well as the
soul desiring to come to Christ.
Although the vintage scene is a frequent genre theme in the Early Chris-
tian period, which is represented in various artistic media, we must how-
ever take into consideration the symbolic meaning of the vine and the bunch
of grapes. The vine symbolizes Jesus Christ as mentioned in the Gospel of
John: I am the true Vine and my Father is the husbandman (15:1ff.), and
I am the Vine ye are the branches (15:5ff.). Grapes symbolize the Eucha-
rist and the Resurrection, as being the opposite of the fatal Apple of death.
Moreover, the vintage often symbolizes the work of the good Christian in
the vineyard of Christ.
The highly developed and sophisticated Early Christian range of sym-
bols proved, in later periods, to be indispensable for the understanding of
the depictions in Christian remains and various artistic media, such as sculp-
ture, architecture, painting and mosaic. In this connection the monumental
seventh-century work of Isidore of Seville and of Rabanus Maurus (ninth
century) with their compilation and detailed description of a wealth of sym-
bols, are an essential tool for grasping the mind-set and Weltanschauung of
This religion seems to have produced systematically and in-
tensively, more than any other in the Mediterranean basin, its symbolism
and allegorical concepts. Christianity gave birth to an established symbol-
ism which still holds fast.
The symbolism and allegories of the Church Fathers are universal in
character. Among their goals are the aspiration to harmony, coexistence and
cooperation, even in the face of objections and disputes. These can be
solved through dialogue which forms an essential ingredient in human rela-
tions, opening the way to the solution of complex problems, to bridging
gaps and diminishing and even erasing enmity, conflict and hatred between
peoples and nations.
The liturgy of Early Christianity is still not fully clear, but some of the
excavations in Israel lay bare an important aspect which helps to understand
the changes that took place in the second half of the sixth century. These
changes in the liturgy entailed certain changes in the ground-plan of the
church disappearance or modification of function of the rooms of the
pastophoria. This is to be seen in both its architectural and epigraphic as-
pects in the church at Kursi, and in its architectural aspect at St. Michaels
18. Cf. A. Ovadiah and S. Mucznik, Orpheus from Jerusalem Pagan or Christian Image?,
The Jerusalem Cathedra, 1(1981), pp. 152-166.
19. Cf. A. Ovadiah, C. Gomez de Silva and S. Mucznik, The Early Byzantine Reliefs of
the Church of Deir el-Adra in Middle Egypt, Studia Orientalia Christiana Collectanea,
22(1989), pp. 33-36; P. Testini, Il simbolismo degli animali nellarte figurativa paleocri-
stiana, Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sullalto medioevo, XXXI: Luomo
di fronte al mondo animale nellalto medioevo (Spoleto, 7-13 aprile 1983), Spoleto 1985,
pp. 1107-1168, Pls. I-XLIV.
20. See Isidore of Seville (above, n. 3); Rabanus Maurus (above, n. 3).
at Lower Herodion, at Kh. Zikrin, and in some of the churches in cities of
the Negev (Elusa, Nizzana and Shivta). In these churches, the rooms of the
pastophoria have lost their original function. And in at least three (Kursi,
Lower Herodion and Kh. Zikrin) the diaconicon has turned into a baptis-
tery (photisterium).
The epigraphic aspect, so handsomely represented in the volume dedi-
cated to Father Corbo, definitely makes a significant contribution to our
understanding of the Early Christian period in the Holy Land. Archaeo-
logical excavations of churches and monastic complexes in various parts
of the country have turned up a vast number of inscriptions which can be
divided into various subjects according to their content: dedication, fac-
tual, prayers for deliverance or salvation and request, burial, blessings,
commemorative, quotations from the Bible, monograms, poetic descrip-
tion, etc.
An intriguing Greek poetic inscription, worded in a polished style which
bears witness to the mixture of pagan and Christian notions current in the
Early Byzantine period was discovered in the early church at Apollonia. The
inscription reads as follows:
1. a3c.; .`.). -a. ..-a; .-|; a....
2. -a. . Ma..; ..u;. ).. -`u|.. a.|..
3. uc|.-. aaa.. a.. .. ...u..
In translation: I am a church better then ambrosia and nectar, and
Marinos erected me exalting God-extolled-for-His wisdom and ever ruling
his pure and mystic spirit. The writer of the verse is a man well versed in
Classical Greek literature. He makes use of poetic words, a minority of
which are specific to this literature, while most are commonly employed by
the Church Fathers, either with their original connotation or with derived
meanings. The study of Classical Greek literature and its dissemination in
Palestine were widespread at this time, so that the writer of this poem is no
exception. The most surprising element is the Church s declaration that it
21. Cf. A. Ovadiah, Two Notes on the Early Byzantine Complex at Kursi, Palestine Ex-
ploration Quarterly, 109(1977), pp. 123-124; Ovadiah and Gomez de Silva (above, n. 4),
p. 152; M. Fischer, An Early Byzantine Settlement at Kh. Zikrin (Israel), Actes du XI
Congrs International dArchologie Chrtienne, Roma 1989, pp. 1796-1797; S. Margalit,
The North Church of Shivta: The Discovery of the First Church, Palestine Exploration
Quarterly, 119(1987), pp. 106-121.
22. Cf. Ovadiah (above, n. 4), pp. 208-209.
surpasses ambrosia and nectar. In employing this metaphoric language,
taken as it is from the pagan lexicon, the writer may have been promoting
the Church over paganism, which was waning at around this time. Thus the
inscription might lean towards religious propaganda and mirror the
Churchs struggle against paganism.
This inscription from the Early Byzantine church at Apollonia together
with other documents and the testimony of pilgrims like The Bordeaux
Traveller, Egeria (Aetheria), Antoninus of Piacenza, Arculfus and others, as
well as descriptions penned by historians and local men of letters like Cyril
of Jerusalem, Mark the Deacon, Choricius of Gaza, John of Gaza, Cyril of
Scythopolis, Peter the Iberian and others undoubtedly made a notable com-
bination towards understanding the various facets of the intellectual history
of the period.
These men were educated in the Classical tradition as testi-
fied by their writing. The Classical world was no stranger to them for in-
deed they knew it well and they tried their best to resurrect it by means of
language, literature and art despite the bitter fight waged by the Church
against paganism.
The intellectual requires time, experience and a fund of knowledge to
reach the point at which he is ripe for embarking upon creative work which
results from curiosity, intensive search and a personal spiritual reckoning.
Socrates, in the Apology, says: the unexamined life is not worth living.
As human being thirsting for knowledge we cannot withstand the test of
Spinozas holism
to arrive at the absolute or perfection, for as Socrates
has said in the Apology: I neither know nor think that I know.
Both the
simplicity and profundity of this statement reveal how limited we human
beings really are.
Christian archaeology in the Holy Land has developed over a long
period together with other branches of the discipline; its achievements in
the way of discoveries have been impressive. The lengthy and fruitful
23. Cf. R. Birnbaum and A. Ovadiah, A Greek Inscription from the Early Byzantine Church
at Apollonia, Israel Exploration Journal, 40(1990), pp. 182-191.
24. See J. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, Jerusalem 1977, passim.
25. Plato, Apology 38a.
26. Cf. A. Gilead, The Way of Spinozas Philosophy Toward a Philosophical System, Jerusa-
lem 1986, pp. 122-126, 129, 162, 173(n.), 188, 191-192, 194, 196, 200, 305, 309, 311,
314-316, 337, 344, 349, 358, 359, 363, 370-371, 386, 466(n.), 471, 475, 476, 476(n.) (He-
27. Plato, Apology 21d.
archaeological activities of the Franciscan Order, with Father Virgilio
C. Corbo as a noteworthy representative, are the continuation of the
tradition passed on by eminent scholars like Fathers F.M. Abel, L.H. Vin-
cent, A. Mader, B. Bagatti and S.J. Saller, and Professor M. Avi-Yonah.
They laboured untiringly in the Holy Land and in their work and research
in interpreting their finds they laid a firm foundation for Christian
archaeology. The following generation built additional and magnificent
courses of this edifice with the hope of reaching the rafters. Among the
builders of these courses, who all excelled in field work and research, thus
strengthening the foundation of Christian archaeology and imbuing it with
spirit, content and form, is Father Virgilio C. Corbo, who celebrates with
us his Seventieth birthday.
Asher Ovadiah
Tel Aviv University