The Jordan Valley

9. Archelais - (Kh. al-Bayudat)

According to the testimony of Josephus (Antiquités XVII: 340), this city was founded by Archelaus, at the very beginning of the Christian area. The site located near Nedjmeh and Khirbet el- 'Audja el-Fôqah was famous for its palmtrees. As Koreus and Phaesalis, also Archelais is lacking in the Onomasticon of Eusebius. J. O'Callaghan (Dictionnaire de la Bible,col. 639), by referring to Josephus (Antiquités XVI: 145; XVII: 198; XVIII: 31; Jewish War I: 418) describes Archelais as a center of agricultural wealth, still flourishing in the Byzantine period. (Editors)

Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 36)
Its importance as a road station warrants its inclusion in spite of its lack of Biblical associations. East of Archelais we find the representation of a tower on the banks of the River Jordan, near a river passage. The upper storey is built upon an arch and a ladder leads up to it. There is no identifying inscription, but it seems likely that what is meant is Magdalsenna. Eusebius places it eight miles north of Jericho; equating it for some obscure reason with the Zin of Num 34:4. Abel suggests an identification with the Sennah in Ezra 2:35.

Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 45)
This site was also mentioned on the Peutinger Plates. Archelais was one of the road stations on the road from Jericho to Skythopolis (Besan), built by Archelaus, son of Herod the Great. It is identical with Hirbat al-'Oga at-Tahta.

Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994, 67)
Remains of church. Excavated site.
More sources and bibliography are found thereafter.

H. Hizmi, "The Byzantine Church at Khirbet el-Beiyudat", in Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land. New Discoveries. Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo ofm (SBF Collectio Maior 36), Edd. G. C. Bottini - L. Di Segni - E. Alliata, Jerusalem 1990.

The Byzantine Church of Archelais is found

In June-July 1986 the author directed a rescue excavation at Khirbet el-Beiyudat, organised by the Judea and Samaria Region Headquarters Archaeological Office. The site (Israeli Grid Reference 1945/1522) is some 12 km north of Jericho, on the eastern edge of the Jordan Valley road (which runs from Jericho to Beth Shean). It is situated on the run-off delta of the Wadi 'Ujah in a fertile agricultural area. Though archaeological research in the region has revealed a great many finds associated with the Byzantine periods, literary sources of the period make no mention of any settlement in this particular area. The rescue excavation of the church and a number of other trial sites has considerably enriched our knowledge of the area in that period - in particular through the discovery of five inscriptions in the church complex.
The discovery of a wall some 80 em wide with remnants of white plaster was one of the reasons that the site was selected for excavation, as was the fact that the site stood somewhat higher than its surroundings. Excavation revealed a church in the form of a basilica divided into three parts by two rows of columns. In its external dimensions the church was 23.60 m long and 15.50 m wide, with the apse projecting to the east. The walls are preserved to an average height of some 2 m... Only a little pottery was collected: mostly fragments of amphorae, bowls, cooking pots and lamps. There were also a number of coins found, but their condition is such that it is impossible to identify them. A survey made in the vicinity of the church revealed a number of coins which could be identified: they date from the 1st and 2nd centuries A. D.
It is possible to distinguish three major phases in the construction of the church, as well. as intermediate phases when rooms were added.

The First Phase
When first constructed, the church was in the form of a basilica with the apse projecting out to the east. The location of the church was probably influenced by the amount of building materials (i.e. walls, column drums) in the area, and possibly also by the existence of the road. The main entrance of the church was from the road to the south. To the cast of the main entrance there was an additional entrance to the southern aisle, but this was later blocked. The entrance from the narthex, too, is to be associated with this phase, as are the mosaic floor in the southern apse and the inscription dedicated to the priests, Aphleos and Lukas who were probably involved in the initial construction of the church. The phenomenon of two priests serving together in a single church was not uncommon - especially taking into account the size of the project. The white mosaic floor under the present level of the apse and the platform is also to be included in the first phase.
Some time after this, a side-room was added to the south of the southern aisle (room E). It was built on the initiative of the priest, Lukas, who is to be identified with the priest mentioned in the first inscription. The room was added, probably as a result of the church's increased activity, possibly to supply further ceremonial needs. It is possible to date this phase to the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth centuries.

The Second Phase
During this, the most important phase of the church's construction, the majority of the changes which were made in the church's structure occurred. The nave was made slightly smaller as the narthex was built. A service room for the priests (Room C) was built to the south of the apse: it was entered through an opening in the wall of the southern aisle. Two benches were also built on the southern side of the wall dividing the apse from the southern aisle. An opening was made in the eastern wall of the northern aisle, which led to a paved passageway out of the church. This entrance was later blocked, and, in fact, seems only to have been meant as a temporary entrance during the replacement of the mosaics. This was also the phase in which the whole floor of the church (apart from the southern aisle) was replaced. On the bema and in the apse, a new mosaic was laid on top of the earlier floor - though only a small part of this (second) mosaic now remains in the middle of the bema. The tesserae which were removed were dumped in a large pile in the outer court to the north of the apse. Other changes included the construction of a bench around the walls of the church and the addition of an ambo on the edge of the platform.
These changes may be attributed to the period of Bishop Porphyrius and Eglon the priest who are mentioned in the inscription at the foot of the platform. Neither of these figures appears in the sources, but it seems as if Porphyrius might have served in the mid-sixth century. The changes attributed to his period of office may perhaps bear witness to a change in the church's status; they are so far reaching that it seems possible that the civil authorities might have joined with the Church in the financing of the project.
At a later stage a second side-room was added to the south-western corner of the southern aisle. The table legs found in the room, built on the initiative of John the priest and his assistant, Abbosobos, seem to indicate that it might have been used as a chapel.

The Third and Final Phase
The changes carried out during this phase were centred around the apse and the platform. The most important was the replacement of the mosaic floor, during which the altar table remained in place and a five line inscription was inserted in front of it. According to this inscription, the work was carried out during the fourth indiction of the Emperor Flavius Justinus. For the reasons given above, it seems more likely that this refers to Justinus 11 and that the year in question is 570/ 1 A. D. The church was abandoned a number of decades after this: this seems to have been done in an orderly fashion, as the small quantity of finds would seem to indicate. Rioters later burnt the church, as the burnt beams and patches of ash found in various places on the floor of the church bear witness.
Finally, it seems that as the builders of the church used material available on the ground, there may well have been an earlier settlement on the site. The architectonic items that were in secondary use in the Byzantine period, as well as the Roman pottery found both on the surface and in test pits would seem to strengthen the hypothesis that Kbirbet el-Beiyudat is to be identified as the site of the village Archelais.

Fig. 3 General view of the church, looking east.

Map Section 2 Place Sources

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:39:00
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
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copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000