Moab and Edom
24. Balak also Segor, now Zoara - (Ghor al-Safy)
Zoara lies west, and slightly south of the Sanctuary of St Lot at Dayr 'Ayn al-Abata [see no. 23], on the Dead Sea plain. A large walled building is depicted with an arched entrance and three towers, each with a square window. It is surrounded by six date palm trees, indicating a well-watered agricultural settlement.
Today, evidence for ancient Zoara can be found in the fertile neighbourhoods of Kh. Sheikh 'Isa and al-Naq', which form part of the modern town of Safy at the mouth of the Wadi Hasa. Those sites have been investigated during the past hundred years by a number of scholars (Tristram in 1873, Albright in 1924, Philby in 1925, Frank in 1934, Glueck in 1935, Abel in 1938, Rast and Schaub in 1974, King in 1982 and MacDonald in 1986), who suggested that they may be the site of Byzantine Zoara, based on architectural elements found on the surface (Politis 1998b). During the installation of underground water canals in the 1970s and 1980s more archaeological remains were discovered in support of this identification (Politis 1994: 12-15). Since then great interest has been aroused for the antiquities of the Ghor es-Safy. Unfortunately much of the discoveries have come from illicit activities, particularly in al-Naq' where the Byzantine cemetery is located.
In 1995 test excavations revealed part of a large structure at Kh. Sheikh 'Isa which might be related to the large building of Zoara depicted on the Madaba map. Consequently, a rescue survey and collection was undertaken to salvage as much information as possible about Kh. Sheikh 'Isa and al-Naq'. The most significant finds were over 300 inscribed funerary stelai from the 4th-6th centuries AD. Most of these stones were inscribed in Greek and belonged to Christian burials, although a small percentage were in Aramaic from Jewish tombs. Such a multi-ethnic community corroborates descriptions of Roman-Byzantine Zoara in the documents of Babatha.
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)
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 42)
The three names occur together in On. 42,1-5 (cf. Also 94,2; 150,20), where mention is also made of the balsam groves and the date palms growing on the spot, and of the local garrison. Zoora served Eusebius as a point of reference in many items (On. 100,4-5; 122,29; 138,21; 168,10). The garrison there is also mentioned in Notitia dignitatum (73,26); it probably served to protect the imperial state of which Zoora was the administrative centre. The balsam and vineyards on the spot are also mentioned in the Peregrinatio Paulae XII. Jewish tradition (Mishna Yebamoth XVI,7; Tosephta Shebiith VII, 15; Josephus War IV,482) as well as Christian sources place Biblical Zoar at the south end of the Dead Sea and connect it with the area of Sodom. The form Balak is taken from the A & B MSS of the Septuagint, Gen 14,2 and differs from that used by Eusebius and St. Jerome (Baléa, Bala). The site of the Roman and Byzantine city is identified with ruins in the Ghor es-Safy.
José M. Blázquez ("The Presence of Nature in the Madaba Mosaic Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 250)
The palm tree does not appear very often in mosaics. Several medallions, each with two horses, face a palm tree that separates them in the mosaic of the House of Sorothus in Hadrumetum. The mosaicist placed a palm tree in the mosaic of Dominus Iulius in Tabarka, and in Carthage, Bordj-Djedid from the end of the fifth century or the beginning of the sixth century, and in the Villa Pompeianus in Oued Athmenia. Three date palms can be seen on a pavement with scenes of daily life in Deir el-Adas in Syria dated to 621. A mosaic in the Church of Saint George at Khirbet el-Mukhayyat, the town of Nebo, shows two deer facing a palm tree. Finally, a palm tree placed in a large cylindrical vase between two peacocks appears in the Byzantine church of the palm tree at Umm al-Rasas. Piccirillo mentions palm trees in mosaics in the Church of the Lady of Madaba, from the end of the sixth century or the beginning of the seventh; in the Church of Khadir, from the second half of the sixth century, and in the Church of Saint George in Khirbet el-Mukhayyat. Palm trees were placed as well next to the villae rusticae in a Hispanic pavement of the fourth century, with the Muses, found in Arróniz (Navarra), with a clear African influence in the depicted flora and fauna. (See also the complete article)
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.
For more sources and bibliography see:
F.-M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine. II (Paris 1933-1938), s.v. "So'ar", 466.
Map Section 4 Place Sources