The Region of Tyre and Sidon

by Patricia M. Bikai

The 'Biblical world' portrayed by the Madaba Map is a small world. By the time of Paul and the Apostles, that world would expand to include a good part of the Roman Empire, but for most of its history, the Biblical world was limited. Its northern border was at modern Sarafand in Lebanon, ancient Sarepta. Places to the north of that were mentioned in, for example, Ezekiel's (26-28) jealous excoriation of Tyre and Sidon, and Jesus is said to have visited that same region, but no specific Biblical event took place any farther north than Sarepta.(1)
According to 1 Kings 17, the Prophet Elijah visited Sarepta and performed two miracles. It was a time of drought and famine, but the jar of meal and jug of oil in the widow's home continue to feed the widow, her son, and Elijah. Later, the prophet either cured her son of a serious illness or raised him from the dead (the text is not clear on this point). In remembrance of those events, Sarepta became a place of pilgrimage early on. In AD 382, the pilgrim Paula left "the ancient city of Sidon; on the shore of Sarepta, she entered the tower of Helias, in which she adored the Lord and Saviour ."(2) A century and a half later (AD 530), the pilgrim Theodosius recorded that there was a church of St. Elijah at Sarepta.(3)
The location of the shrine the early pilgrims visited is uncertain; however, during the excavations at Sarepta, James B. Pritchard uncovered part of the foundations of a Byzantine church measuring approximately 17.5 m by 19.5 m.(4) It had at least three apses and is quite similar in plan and size to the first church at Mount Nebo which may be as early as the second half of the fourth century.(5) Coins found in the foundation trenches of the Sarepta church dated to the fourth and fifth centuries,(6) so it may be the church mentioned by Theodosius.
For those pilgrims travelling from the north, as many did, Sarepta would have been the first site of a supposed Biblical event that they encountered. It is thus very likely that it would have been included on the Madaba Map. Was it? What all the literature calls Fragment C of the map was first reported by J. Germer-Durand in 1895 on the basis of copies provided by the Latin Patriachate.(7) He described it as an "Inscription en mosaïque dans le pavage d'une habitation privée." We are not told where that "habitation" was. The piece itself has since disappeared and is now known only from what Germer-Durand said about it. The transcription he reported was correctly interpreted by C. Clermont-Ganneau,(8) and there is little doubt that it is to be read as: "Sarepta, the large village where the child was raised to life that day."
Fragment B, which lies close to the northern wall of the modern church, is the farthest extent of the map to the north now in existence. It was also first reported by Germer-Durand in 1895 on the basis of copies.(9) He said: "La mosaïque, aujourd'hui detruite en grande partie, représentait une barque de saint Pierre, auquel l'église aurait été dédiée." The information in this sentence is extremely enigmatic: How do we know that the boat belonged to St. Peter? What church is meant? Perhaps, since he saw only a drawing of that section, Germer-Durand simply assumed that the body of water was the Sea of Galilee; that the boat must be the one belonging to St. Peter; and, consequently, that the mosaic must come from a church dedicated to that saint. Since we now know the context, the presence of a boat indicates that water was originally visible on the mosaic, so it would seem that Fragment B once included the Mediterranean. What remains now are hills and two fragmentary inscriptions.
The lower (westernmost) inscription on Fragment B has been interpreted as a citation of Genesis 49:13: "Zebulon lives by the shore of the sea, he is a sailor on board the ships, he has Sidon close by him." The most logical explanation of this is that, in fact, Sidon was the northernmost extension of the map. There being no real justification for including Sidon, or even the region of Sidon, within the Biblical world, the map-makers stretched for a reason and included the quotation from Jacob's blessings to his sons.(10) On Fragment B, east of the Zebulon inscription is a second inscription to which we will return.
First, however, if the Zebulon inscription is at the location of Sidon, with the sea to the west, Sarepta could well have been portrayed to the south of Fragment B. Fragment C could not have come from north of Fragment B as there is too little space between Fragment B and the north wall of the church.(11) Was Fragment C part of the original map? The time-frame in which it is reported as being located in a house is 1890 to 1895; but that time-frame can perhaps be narrowed, as C. Clermont-Ganneau implies that Germer-Durand was aware of the copy of Fragment C as early as 1890.(12)

The Greek Orthodox chapel, which was the predecessor of the church over the map, lay to the north of the map. (13) It may be that a room ancillary to, and south of, the chapel is the 'house' reported by Germer-Durand.(14) Alternately, Fragment C may have been unearthed during construction of the chapel,(15) and Germer-Durand's report that it was found in a house was simply incorrect.
The assumption that Fragment C was part of the original map makes much more sense than the assumption that it was part of a second, otherwise totally unknown but similar map, as some have suggested.(16) In the more than one hundred years since the first report of Fragment C, not a shred of evidence for such a second map in Madaba has come to light.
So there is at least some evidence that both Sidon and Sarepta were once portrayed. If so, Tyre must also have been there. The Biblical justification for including Tyre is much less tenuous than that for Sidon. In Mark 8:24-31, Jesus "set out for the territory of Tyre," where he cured the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman; he then returned "from the district of Tyre by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee."(17)
Tyre was a place of pilgrimage for two reasons: the pilgrims wanted to see the evil city, the birthplace of Jezebel and the home of Baal and Astarte of the Hebrew scriptures. Ezekiel's oracle (26:14) over Tyre said: "I will reduce you to a naked rock, and make you into a drying-ground for fishing nets, never to be rebuilt." Isaiah (23:16) had written of the city: "Take your lyre, walk the town, forgotten whore, play your sweetest, sing your songs again, to make them remember you." And Tyre was (and is even today among some groups) thus remembered.
Tyre was also remembered for its role in the beginnings of Christianity. Paul spent a week in the city in AD 58 (Acts 21:3-6); there may once have been a shrine commemorating his visit, but if so, we know nothing of it.
There are, however, the remnants of other monuments that may have been visited by the early pilgrims. The first of these is the great basilica of Tyre. Immediately after the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 312/13, Bishop Paulinus of Tyre began its construction. At the dedication ceremony, Eusebius gave an oration in which he described the building (10.4.37-45). This was partially excavated in the 1960s, but never published. It measures 75 m by 125 m (more than 2 acres), making it quite similar in size to Rome's St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, but considerably larger than old St. Peter's and St. Mary Major, the other great early Christian basilicas. Would it have been shown on the map? Perhaps not as it had no Biblical ties, although the Church Father Origen was reportedly buried there.
However, there was another site that may have been visited by the pilgrims. The traveler John Poloner says that there was a chapel "two bow shots to the south of the gate" of Tyre in a place "which always remains green in the midst of the sands."(18) Two bow shots is about 700 to 900 m and, in fact, there is a small chapel that straddles the spina of the Roman hippodrome-about 950 m from the northern gate of Tyre.
Apparently, the Egyptian red granite obelisk that had stood on the spina of the hippodrome during the Roman era had fallen over.(19) The 10-m long section of the obelisk that was re-erected in the early 1970s was found at the northern end of the hippodrome, and had no doubt already been covered by sand by the time of the Crusades, and probably even earlier. The now-missing upper section probably existed during the era of the early pilgrims at the location of the chapel. A legend arose among the pre-Crusader pilgrims that Jesus had stood on that great stone when he cured the Syrophoenician woman. An anonymous 12th century pilgrim says: "This stone remained untouched from [Jesus's] time down to that when the [Muslims] were driven out of the Holy City; but afterwards pieces were broken off it by the French and the Venetians."(20) A chapel, still exists that marks the likely place where the stone was; it was probably built in the Crusader era.(21) That stone itself may have been a focus for pilgrimage at Tyre in the pre-Crusader era. However, we do know that the hippodrome was in use into the Byzantine period,(22) and that, presumably, the obelisk was still standing in that era. It is possible that the stone did not fall until the earthquake of AD 502.(23) If so, it would be a late entry into the list of pilgrimage sites.

There is a second legend at Tyre that Jesus visited one of the springs in the area. This could have been the so-called Well (or Spring) of Hiram in Tyre,(24) or the springs at Ras al-'Ayn that are sometimes called the Fountains of Solomon and associated with Song of Solomon 4:14: "A garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon." Finally, near Tyre is the so-called Tomb of Hiram, of the Persian period, but associated with the 10th century king of Tyre. A Byzantine church dedicated to St. Christopher existed just next to it.(25) Any one of these might have been portrayed on the Madaba Map, but we will never know for certain.
So Sidon, Sarepta, and Tyre were likely included on the Madaba Map, but now only a remnant of the Sidon part remains on Fragment B. But there is a remnant of another locale on Fragment B. Donner called the inscription to the east "Unrestored and unidentifiable."(26) But is it unidentifiable? If the Zebulon inscription marks the area of Sidon, an inescapable conclusion if Fragment C, the Sarepta inscription, comes from the south of it, then the unidentified site is inland from Sidon and one must look for a candidate in that location. Here, I wish to call attention to a legend little known outside of Lebanon. The legend has it that when Jesus went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon, his mother accompanied him, at least part of the time. Part of the time, however, she waited and the place where she waited is now remembered in the town of Maghdouche at a shrine called "Saïdet el-Mantara" (from the Semitic root ntr, to wait), "Our Lady Who Waits."(27)
The site is 5 km SSE of Sidon and 3 km inland from the Mediterranean at an altitude of 150 m. Its location gives it a commanding view of the coast. The shrine itself is a natural grotto measuring 12 m by 5 m, and has certainly been a place of pilgrimage since the early 18th century. Was it a place of pilgrimage in the Byzantine era? It is difficult to say. It is reported, by non-experts, that in the vicinity of the shrine of Notre Dame de Mantara are the remains of a cultic area dedicated to Astarte, and of what are described as a Crusader-era house, monastic installations, and ancient stairways and cisterns, and even a temple.(28) It is well known that in Lebanon shrines to Astarte reappeared in the Christian era as shrines to the Virgin, and thus it is not impossible that this shrine was in use in the Byzantine era. What is known is that the grotto was rediscovered in 1721 and was immediately taken to be an ancient chapel, as there were reported to be an altar and some type of representation of the Virgin in the grotto. A connection was then apparently made between the cave and the story of Jesus's trip into the region.
On the one hand, the shrine may be a creation of the early 18th century; but on the other, it may be an old shrine that was in fact rediscovered in 1721. For a shrine that was in use through the Crusader era to be forgotten after that would not be surprising. The area fell to the Mamluks in 1291 and many of the citizens of the coast were killed or sold into slavery.(29) This was done as part of the Mamluk "scorched earth" policy,(30) to thwart any attempt by the Crusaders to return. Indeed, by 1350, the coastal area was almost completely depopulated.(31)
It must be noted that east of Sarepta is an area called Tell el-Mantara that has never been explored archaeologically. It is possible that the legend of the waiting Virgin Mother survived the Middle Ages, but that the location migrated and settled at Maghdouche in 1721 with the discovery of the grotto. Either way, the legend belongs to the "region of Tyre and Sidon."
Does the remnant inscription MO/PER(32) refer to the legend of Saïdet el-Mantara? If the northeasternmost inscription, the Zebulon inscription, is identified with Sidon, then it is difficult to name a site inland from Sidon with any known Biblical connection. The makers of the Madaba Map, it must be said, would have had the very same difficulty-they would have had to fill the area east of Sidon with sites of tenuous and even, perhaps, dubious Biblical connection, as they did with Sidon itself. Thus the emendation: MO(NTARA opou) PER(iemeine) or(33) MO(NTARA opou) PER(iemeine Maria(m), "Mantara where she (or Mary) waited" is more than tempting.(34)
To summarize, I propose that: 1) The lost Fragment C (the Sarepta inscription) belonged to the map and, since it can not fit north of Fragment B (the Zebulon inscription), it must have been south of Fragment B. Hence Fragment B marks the actual location of Sidon; it is not just a vague reference to Sidon being somewhere in the vicinity as per Genesis 49:13.
2) The unidentified site is east of Sidon. The only known story with even remote Biblical ties to that area is the legend of Saïdet el-Mantara and it is here assumed that the legend itself is ancient.(35)
3) The proposed emendation fits epigraphically.(36)
4) The site presently associated with the legend, the grotto at Maghdouche, may be a creation of the 18th century, but a proper archaeological survey of both of the sites named Mantara may yield evidence that one of them was a place of pilgrimage associated with the Virgin in the Byzantine era, and thus might offer a solution to one of the last remaining puzzles of the Madaba Map.

The legend MO/PER
before the 1965 restoration
(cfr footnote 32)


1. Assistance with locating materials for this paper was given by Madame Tania Arab, Madame Joumana Jamhouri, Fr. Jack Lee, and the Melkite (Greek Catholic) Archbishopric of Sidon and Deir el-Kamar. Dr. Pierre M. Bikai was the first to suggest that Maghdouche was a site worth investigating. Dr. Robert W. Daniel gave advice on the emendation. Their efforts are appreciated.

2. St. Jerome, The Pilgrimage of the Holy Paula. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1887, vol. 1, p. 4; see James B. Pritchard, Recovering Sarepta, A Phoenician City. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978, p. 39.

3. Theodosius, On the Topography of the Holy Land. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1893, vol. 2, p. 16; Pritchard, loc. cit.

4. Pritchard, op. cit., pp. 68-69, fig. 35; James B. Pritchard, The Roman Port at Sarafand (Sarepta). Preliminary Report on the Seasons of 1969 and 1970. Bulletin du Musée de Beyrouth 24, 1971, 39-56, see pp. 51-52, pls. V and VII.

5. Michele Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan. Amman: American Center of Oriental Research, 1993, p. 144, fig. 179.

6. Pritchard, Roman Port, p. 51. There was also one coin dated to the 7th century.

7. J. Germer-Durand, Inscriptions romaines et byzantines de Palestine. Revue Biblique 4, 1895, pp. 587-592, see pp. 588-589.

8. C. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological and Epigraphic Notes on Palestine 6: The Land of Promise, mapped in Mosaic at Mâdeba. Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement, 1901, pp. 235-246; see p. 242.

9. Germer-Durand, op. cit., p. 588. He reports only on the inscription in the lower part of Fragment B.

10. Herbert Donner and Heinz Cüppers, Die Restauration and Konservierung der Mosaikkarte von Madeba. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 83, 1967, pp. 1-33, esp. pp. 32-33 and pl. 11.

11. There are 17 cm between the top or eastern part of Fragment B and the north wall of the modern church and 30 cm between the lower part of Fragment B and the wall. Piccirillo (op. cit., p. 27) has suggested, no doubt correctly, that the map would have had a frame around it; the frame would have measured between 10 and 20 cm. However, he believes the frame was destroyed when the interior walls of the present church were built, i.e., that the modern walls are wider than the ancient walls and covered that frame. According to Germer-Durand's transcription (op. cit., p. 588), there were three lines of text in Fragment C, the longest of which contained 14 characters. Four samples of fourteen characters on the map were measured (by Pierre Bikai) and their widths were 33, 37, 39 and 47 cm for an average of 39 cm. Thus there would seem to be too little space for Fragment C, the Sarepta inscription, to fit between the lower part of Fragment B and the modern wall.

12. Clermont-Ganneau, op. cit., p. 241, n. 1.

13. See the 1891 plan of the chapel in G. Schumacher, Madaba. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 18, 1895, pl. II.

14. Such a structure would have covered at least part of the map itself. The existence of such a room over what is now the large gap in the map might even explain how that large area came to be destroyed.

15. Such a scenario might explain why the two fragments were reported simultaneously by Germer-Durand: the two drawings in the possession of the Latin Patriarchate were together.

16. E.g., Herbert Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba: An Introductory Guide. Kampen, Netherlands: Kok Pharos, 1992, p. 98.

17. A curiously circuitous route which makes it likely that Sidon is a gloss by someone unfamiliar with the geography. Matt 15:21-28, begins "Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon," and he then departs to the Sea of Galilee without the detour to Sidon.

18. John Poloner's Description of the Holy Land. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society,1894, vol. 6, pp. 31-32.

19. Patricia Maynor Bikai, Medieval Tyre. Pp. 72-83 in The Heritage of Tyre, M. S. Joukowsky, ed., Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1992, esp. p. 72.

20. Ludolph von Suchem's Description of the Holy Land. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1895, vol. 6, p. 50. A similar text is given by an anonymous traveler of ca. A.D. 1130: Description of the Holy Land (attributed to Fetellus). London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1892, vol. 5, p. 50, but he adds "above the remains of it on its own site a church has been begun in honour of the Saviour." John of Würzburg, Description of the Holy Land [A.D. 1160-70]. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1890, vol. 5, p. 63: "Outside of Tyre is the large marble stone upon which Jesus sat, which remained uninjured from the time of Christ to that of the driving out of the heathen from the city, but was afterwards broken by the Franks and Venetians. However, over the remains of that stone a church has been built in honour of the Saviour." The Pilgrimage of Joannes Phocas in the Holy Land [A.D. 1185]. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1889, vol. 5, pp. 10-11: "Outside of the city, at a distance of about two bowshots, is a very great stone, upon which, according to tradition, Christ sat when He sent the holy Apostles Peter and John into the city to buy bread: they went away, brought it, and set out together with the Saviour to the neighbouring fountain, distant about one mile, where the Saviour sat down, and after having eaten with the Apostles, and drunk of the water, He blessed the fountain." (There follows a long description of the fountain.)

21. The chapel has never been published so it is difficult to say whether it was originally Crusader or whether the Crusaders rebuilt an earlier structure. When it was uncovered in the 1960s, the plastered walls were covered with Crusader-era graffiti.

22. John H. Humprey, Roman Circuses. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1986, pp. 461-477.

23. Bikai, op. cit., 72.

24. Note 19 supra, Joannes Phocas; see Bikai, op. cit., fig. 3.2.

25. Ernst Renan, Mission de Phénicie. Paris: Imprimerie Impériale, 1864. Nina Jidejian, Tyre through the Ages. Beirut: Dar el-Mashreq, 1969, pp. 5-6, 32, 120, figs. 7, 9, 12-13.

26. Donner, loc. cit.

27. Joseph Goudard, La Sainte Vierge au Liban. Paris: La Bonne Presse, 1908; [2d edition, Henri Jalabert, ed., Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1955]; Maximos Constantin, Notre Dame de Mantara. Maghdouche, Lebanon, 1963; Georges Kwaiter, Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Mantara. Typed ms., available from the Melkite Archbishopric of Sidon and Deir el-Kamar, 1994.

28. Goudard-Jalabert, op. cit., 30; Constantin, op. cit., p. 10; Kwaiter, op. cit., p. 2. William M. Thomson, The Land and the Book. New York: Harper, 1882, vol. 2, p. 638: "We have now reached the river Sanik The name of the high ridge on the southern bank of the river is called el Muntarah, and from the ruins of the temple on the summit there is an extensive view northward over the gardens of Sidon."

29. Bikai, op. cit., 78.

30. Philip K. Hitti, Lebanon in History, 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin, 1967, p. 323.

31. See Ludolph von Suchem's Description of the Holy Land [A.D. 1350]. London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1895, vol. 6, p. 49: Sidon is "utterly deserted"; p. 50: Tyre is "almost deserted".

32. The third letter of the second line can be read as R or H; see Donner and Cüppers, op. cit., p. 33. However, the emendation PEH is highly unlikely. This reading is based on the condition of the mosaic prior to the restoration. See Donner and Cüppers, op. cit., Tafel 11 (= Donner and Cüppers, Die Mosaikkarte von Madeba. Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 1977, Abb. 90), the only photograph this writer is aware of that shows the fragment prior to the restoration. The photograph of the upper inscription is somewhat fuzzy, but it is clear that inscription was in very poor condition. It was so poor that, after the restoration, the omega had disappeared completely and the upper part of the R was sliced off; see Donner and Cüppers, Die Mosaikkarte, Abb. 131. This is not to criticize the restoration as the section was in terrible condition, but simply to point out that any emendation should be based on the pre-restoration photographs.

33. As suggested by Dr. Robert W. Daniel.

34. Objections beyond the question of whether either of the sites named Mantara is ancient can be raised: First, such a shrine anywhere in the area of Sidon is not mentioned by the early travelers. However, over twenty per cent of the known places on the Madaba Map are not listed in any of the extant travelers' accounts; See Piccirillo, op. cit., pp. 30-33. Secondly, the Virgin appears nowhere else on the map, but almost all of the area of Galilee, where such references might have occurred, has been destroyed.

35. If not, the whole proposal collapses. However, the transference of the Phoenician cult of Astarte to the Virgin is hardly a modern phenomenon. The cult of the Virgin is so persistent that it exists even among the Muslim Shiites of south Lebanon today. One has little trouble believing that in that atmosphere the story of Jesus's trip to the region would very easily and very early have gained the accretion of his having been accompanied by his mother.

36. Even with the alpha/omega switch, a not uncommon occurrence with Byzantine transcriptions of Semitic; see Francis Thomas Gignac, A Grammar of the Greek Papyri of the Roman Byzantine Periods I: Phonology. Milan, Istituto Editoriale Cisalpino, 1975, pp. 286-289.

This article was first published in: The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 238-241

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