DISCUSSION

Moab and Edom

23. The (place) of Saint Lot - (Dayr 'Ayn Abbata)



Recent archaeological excavations in Ghor es-Safy have identified the Sanctuary of Agios Lot depicted on the Madaba map as the site of Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata. On the basis of this discovery a reassessment of the topography of the southeastern Dead Sea shore is necessary. Additional new surveys and surface collections have confirmed the location of the city of Zoara and suggest a more probable course for the Zared River.
The triple-apsed basilical church found at Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata, perched high on a mountain cliff above the south-eastern Dead Sea coast, occupies a location matching that of the Sanctuary of Lot portrayed on the Madaba map. The building depicted as the Sanctuary is apparently a church with a central entrance facing west, three adjacent rectangular windows on the south side and a gabled roof with red tiles and a circular window at the front. Such a church was unearthed at Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata. The cost of erecting such a structure and adorning it with four ornate mosaic pavements as well as constructing adjacent buildings, would have been very substantial for an average monastery, which normally would have needed only less elaborate facilities for the monks. The investment was obviously meant to serve a larger community of worshipers.
The characterisation of Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata as a "Holy Place" (as recorded on the inscription in the nave mosaic) implies that it had a connection with a Biblical passage. The discovery of two inscribed stones (reg. nos. DAA 48 and 86) in the church that invoked Lot supports the conclusion that the site should be identified as the Sanctuary of Agios Lot of the Madaba Map. The cave at the site, which had no liturgical or practical function, was incorporated into the central part of the church and was consequently the focal point of the entire site. As evidenced by pilgrim graffiti at the cave entrance, it was presented as the actual place where Lot took refuge with his daughters after the destruction of Sodom and their flight to the city of Zoara, as recorded in Genesis 19. Furthermore, the existence of large numbers of animal bones in the refuse of the monastery, whose monks would have normally been vegetarian, attests to the presence of a regular pilgrimage to the monastery. Accounts exist of such pilgrimages by St. Stephen the Sabaite in the 8th century (Garitte 1959: 365) and the Russian Abbot Daniel in the 12th century (PPTS, Vol. IV:47).
Significant material evidence was discovered through excavations attributable to a 5th-6th century church and monastery at the site. However, no structures were found in situ from this earlier period that could be associated with the church depicted on the Madaba Mosaic Map.
The identification of Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata as the Sanctuary of Agios Lot fits well with the location of Zoara on the Madaba Map as well as with the Biblical episode.
The discovery and excavation of Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata has confirmed the locations of the Sanctuary of Lot and Zoara and has demonstrated the topographic reliability of the Madaba Mosaic Map in the Ghor es-Safy. Furthermore, from the 606 construction date of the church it may be possible to argue for an early 7th century date for the Madaba map. Finally, the sanctification of Lot (who was dikaios, or a righteous man in the Old Testament), as evidenced by the designation of Agios (= saint in Greek) on both the inscription on the Madaba Map and the two inscribed stones found during the Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata excavations, alludes to a Christianisation of this Old Testament character.

Konstantinos D. Politis, "The Sanctuary of Agios Lot, the City of Zoara and the Zared River", in The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 225-227 (extract)


The reconstruction of the church of Saint Lot
at Dayr 'Ayn Abata

Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 42)
Doubts concerning the sanctity of Lot have led commentators to red the L (L) as an A (A) and to suggest the version Aaron as referring to traditional Mount Hor. However, the examination of the map by M. V. Gold and the photograph at the École des Hautes Études prove that the reading Lot is the correct one. The connection between Zoar and the sanctuary of Lot is obvious; the church might have commemorated the cave in the vicinity of the city. All doubts as regards the worship of Lot have been resolved by the find of the church at Mukhaiyat dedicated to St. Lot with such inscription as: ho theos toy hagioy Lot; hagie Lot. PP. Sallers and Bagatti are dealing in detail with the sanctity and cult of Lot which is mostly based on Apocrypha; the Acta Sanctorum on October 10 dismiss St. Lot with one line.

Michele Piccirillo ("Madaba. One Hundred Years from the Discovery", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 22)
Another interesting bit of evidence comes from the current archaeological research at Dayr 'Ayn 'Abata. If we admit that the church and the first mosaic floor of Saint Lot at Zoara were built and completed at the same time in 604 AD at the time of Bishop Jacob and abbot Sozomenus, we have a more precise terminus post quem for the Map, in which the sanctuary is recorded. (See also the complete article)

Sylvester Saller & Bellarmino Bagatti (The Town of Nebo - Khirbet el-Mekhayyat, Jerusalem 1949, pp. 5.193-199)
In 1913, when an Arab cleared the site of the church of SS. Lot and Procopius for the purpose of putting up a building, the first mosaic pavement of Kh. al-Mukhayyat became known. The discovery was communicated to Father Abel, by Father Maurice Gisler, O.S.B., in a letter dated Dec. 1, 1913; the former published a description of the mosaic and discussed the three Greek inscriptions which indicated that the mosaic belonged to a church dedicated to SS. Lot and Procopius (Revue Biblique 1914, 112ff; 1915, 91f). Both the mosaic and in particular the inscriptions were treated repeatedly since then and will be dealt in detail below...
The invocations in inscriptions 12 and 13 addressed to "the God of St. Lot" and to "St. Lot" reveal the fact that Lot was believed to be a saint and that he actually enjoyed a special veneration. As a matter of fact this belief is based on the narrative of Genesis and strengthened by the statements of the Book of Wisdom 10,6; 19,16 and the Second Epistle of St. Peter 2,7 f. So we need not be surprised to hear that this conviction led to a special veneration of him, at least in certain circles. In fact our inscriptions are not the only witnesses of Lot's sanctity and cult; we find further evidence of both in the writings of the ancient Fathers, in a number of ancient calendars and martyrologies and in inscriptions; monuments, both ancient and modern, and some legends testify the same; in short, a thin thread of tradition bearing witness to this fact can be traced through the millennia which separate us from the time of Lot. Since the time is long and the list of saints is constantly growing we need not be surprised to find that in our time the tradition has grown somewhat dim, but it has not died out completely, as visitors to the convent of the Holy Cross near Jerusalem can still ascertain. The ancient sources to which we have referred make it clear that Lot not only kept himself free from the crimes which brought down the vengeance of God on his fellow-citizens, but practiced positive virtues, such as hospitality, which made him so pleasing in the eyes of God that he himself was spared when his fellow-citizens were destroyed, and at his intercession the inhabitants of the small town of Bala, later known as Segor, were likewise spared (Gen 19).

See also the complete article: The Sanctity and Cult of Lot, by Sylvester Saller & Bellarmino Bagatti

Sylvester Saller & Bellarmino Bagatti (The Town of Nebo - Khirbet el-Mekhayyat, Jerusalem 1949, pp. 195: from the caption on Fig. 12)
The Arabic name of the place (Zoghar) was given to a local product, which we all still know by that name in our modern languages : sugar, Zucker, zucchero, sucre, etc.

Map Section 4 Place Sources

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:44:08
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
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copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000