Moab and Edom
28. Betomarsea also Maiumas- ('Ain Sara?)
On the foot of Karakmoba mountain is a building with a dome with a representation of water running from it. The inscription reads: Bethomarsea, h kai Maioumas. The marzeah, which appears in Aramaic and Nabataean at Beida, near Petra (rabb marzeah) was a religious association, well known in Nabataean culture as the Symposium or Thiasis. It is note-worthy that Beth Marzeah in Jeremiah 16:5 is rendered by the Septua-gint as Thiasis. Where is this symposium or bath to be located?In the geographical book of Abu al-Fida (1321 AD), the Taqwim al-Buldan, the author notes, "Below Karak is a valley with a bath (hammam) and gardens planted with excellent fruits of apricots, pomegranates, pears and others". This is no doubt a reference to Wadi al-Karak, where the spring of 'Ain Sarah irrigates the gardens. The remains of a bath were also noticed by the authors who visited the site. The abundant spring of 'Ain Sarah is not a hot spring, and the hammam was most probably in the Wadi al-Karak. But the waters of the spring provided a good water reservoir for the festival of the Maiumas. It is well known that this water festival originated at Gaza where the port (called Maiuma in Aramaic) provided a good place for a water festival. According to Avi- Yonah (1954: 41) there were thirteen such festivals in Palestine. It was a licentious festival in which men and women bathed together, in the night, in torch light. Such a festival is attested at Jerash in the sixth century AD at the water reservoirs of Birkatein, two km to the north of the city. The two basins were surrounded by a portico dated to the time of the Emperor Geta (209-211 AD).
Fawzi Zayadine, "The Karak District in the Madaba Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 229-230 (extract)
See also the complete article: The Karak District in the Madaba Map, by Fawzi Zayadine
P. O'Callaghan (Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, ad v. "Madaba", col. 667-668)
This city exercised a lot the sagacity of the savants. The Marzeah was a big licentious feast of the Syrians; the greek form Maioumas expresses that in an elegant way. The mosaic therefore refers to the fornication of Israel with the daughters of Moab according to the impure rites of Baal Peor (Num 25:1ff). It is noteworthy that this is the only vignette where all the houses are represented with round vaultings - is this meant to indicate houses of amusement? One might indicate in this regard the city of Maioumas, the harbour of Gaza and the Maioumas of Ascalon, where, until recent times, similar rites were known.
The popular tradition perhaps localizes Baal Peor to the west of Kerak, in order not to compromise Madaba, the site where the mosaic map was to be realized. A Jewish tradition that identified Kerak with the mount Pisgah confirms this point of view; it also explains the reason why the mosaic here does not follow Eusebius (Onomasticon 48,3-5) who localizes Bethphogor in front of Jericho sex milibus supra Liviadem... In order to explain the Madaba map, P. Abel proposes Bab ed-Dra , 6 km east of the Dead Sea. "
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 41)
Maiumas was a popular licentious feast, connected with water festivals. According to the there were thirteen such festivals in Palestine. Maiumas has been here connected with the Beth Marzeah (translated 'house of morning' in AV Jerem. 16,5, but rendered thiasos by the Septuagint) and this in turn was localized at Ba´al Peor where the Israelites sinned with the Medianite women (Num 25:3-9). Eusebius places this Ba´al Peor 'opposite Jericho' six miles above Livias (On. 48,3). The mosaicist seems rejected this suggestion. Quite possibly he was influenced by Midrash Sifri and its parallels according to which the tents of the Ammonites and Moabits in which Israel sinned stretched for three parasangs from Beth-jeshimoth to Tur Talga (the 'Mountain of Snow'). Possibly, as P. O´Callaghan suggests, the artist was motivated by the desire to remove the impure place as far as possible from Madaba. The locality itself cannot be identified; Musil´s sggestions of el Mezra´ and Kh. el Blede are dubious.
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 40-41)
The most probable identification is with 'Ayn Sara at the foot of the hill of al-Karak, now a recreation center with restaurant, park and swimming pool. The spring itself provides the necessary water for modern al-Karak. Betomarsea was the house of a cultic congregation or club, and Maiumas the name of a popular licentious feast with water amusements and symposia, widespread in the ancient Near East, but in the vicinity of al-Karak only attested on the Madaba map.
For more sources and bibliography see:
F.-M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine.II (Paris 1938), s.v. "Betomarsea", 284.
Map Section 4 Place Sources