Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
35. Neapolis - (Nablus)
City in Erez Israel (in later times called Shechem in Hebrew). Nablus was founded by Vespasian in 72 C.E. as Flavia Neapolis on the site of the Samaritan village Mabartha ("the passage") situated between Mts. Ebal and Gerizim near biblical Shechem (Jos., Wars 4:449). Because of its favorable geographic position and abundance of water the city prospered; it was endowed with an extensive territory including the former Judean toparchy of Acraba. Neapolis was hostile to Septimius Severus who therefore temporarily deprived it of municipal status. In 244 Philip the Arab turned it into a Roman colony called Julia Neapolis; its coinage continued until the time of Trebonianus Gallus (251-3). Its temples included an Artemision and the city also had an agora, colonnaded streets, a stepped nymphaeum, etc. Christianity took root early in Neapolis; it was the birthplace of Justin Martyr (c. 100) and had a bishop as early as the Council of Ancyra in 314. In Byzantine times when it was depicted on the Madaba Map as a walled town, Neapolis was a center of the Samaritans who twice revolted and set up a "king." The city was conquered in 636 by the Arabs who retained its name in the form Nablus. It is mentioned several times in talmudic literature as Nipolis (TJ, Av. Zar. 5:4, 44d); the rabbis, as well as some early Christian authors, confused it with Shechem, and even with Samaria. Under Muslim rule Nablus contained a mixed population of Muslims, Persians, Samaritans, and Jews. The synagogue built in 362 by the high priest Akbon was turned into a mosque (al-Khadra). From 1099 to 1187 the city was held by the crusaders who called it Naples. It was the second capital of the royal domain and contained a palace and a citadel; the city itself was unwalled at that time. In 1522 a Jewish community is mentioned in Nablus; its fortunes varied throughout the 18th and 19th centuries until it completely abandoned the city shortly after 1900. Nablus remained a center of the Samaritans, half of whom still live there.
Michael Avi-Yonah, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Nablus"
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 47-48)
This is present Nablus, founded in 73 A.D. by the Roman emperor Vespasianus and named Colonia Flavia Neapolis. The settlement was the Hellenistic-Roman-Byzantine successor of ancient Shechem [no. 40]. The large representation of Neapolis is badly damaged. The following details are still visible (see F.-M. Abel, RB 1923, p. 120-132): parts of the wall with towers surrounding the city. From the eastern gate, flanked by two towers, a colonnaded street runs from east to west, the so-called Roman cardo maximus (= main street). This street seems to be crossed by a shorter one running from north to south. Left above the intersection we note a small building with a red dome on two columns, perhaps a public fountain, possibly at the place of the present an-Nasr mosque. In the southern part of the city there is a strange semicircular object, looking like a theatre, but possibly being a Nymphaion at present 'Ayn Qaryun where indeed Roman remains have been discovered. The large church in the southeast might be the cathedral of Neapolis, attacked by the Samaritans in 484 A.D. Two towers, perhaps protecting another gate, are visible in the southeastern wall. From there the Samaritans were expected when they came down from Mount Gerizim [no. 43].
Noël Duval ("Essai sur la signification des vignettes topographiques", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 138)
Neapolis - Naplouse. On reconnaît l'enceinte, surtout la partie est, où l'on distingue deux portes. Une grande rue à portiques est-ouest, partant de la porte est, traverse la ville, et semble recoupée par une autre, de direction nord-sud, près de la muraille. Au bord, se trouve une coupole reposant sur une colonnade (deux ou trois colonnes), dans laquelle Donner voit, à son habitude, une fontaine publique. Vers le Sud-Est, une église conventionnelle est parfaitement identifiable. Par contre, il est plus difficile, au Sud-Ouest, de déterminer la nature d'un édifice ou un espace cerné de courbes concentriques que Donner pense être un théâtre.
La vignette de Neapolis sur la bordure de Saint-Etienne d'Umm al-Rasas est d'un type particulier : il s'agit d'un temple, sans doute celui de Zeus Hypsistos sur le Garizim, qui sert aussi de symbole de la ville sur les monnaies d'époque romaine, mais qu'on s'étonne de voir désigner encore la ville dans une église au VIIIe siècle. (See also the complete article)
General plan of the historical sites around Nablus
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
Christianity at Nablus
In Nablus, capital of today's Samaria, founded as Flavia Neapolis in 72, Christianity established a foothold since the first Christian centuries; but it never succeeded in extending beyond a modest minority, having first faced paganism, then the presence of the Samaritans who occupied the region, and finally that of the Moslems.
Under the Romans. According to The Book of Jesus' Miracles, preserved in Ethiopian, Christianity would have been introduced in Neapolis by a miracle of the Lord. A poor man' field was flooded and Jesus would have made it dry and full of ripe corn. At this sight the man became a disciple of Christ and preached in his name; and 'many of the inhabitants of Samaria and Palestine believed, thanks to him.' (PO 14, 784-789).We do not know how reliable this account is, but it is a fact that in 165 the philosopher Justin of Neapolis was martyred in Rome, after he had dared to address the Emperor one or possibly two apologies of Christianity. St. Justin had been born of a pagan family and then, led by grace, he joined the Catholic church. Neapolis was a pagan city at the time. Yet there is no memory of martyrs killed for the faith here, as appears from the fact that even after the peace of the church there is never any mention of any local martyr. This leads one to suppose that Christianity was introduced tacitly, and possibly not at the very beginning. However, it is certain that in the beginning of the fourth century, the city had its own bishop.
The Bishops. One Germanus bishop of Neapolis is known as a untiring council-goer: in 314 he was in Ancyra (Ankara); in the same year he went to Neocesarea, today Tokat in Cappadocia, and eleven years later, in 325, he was in Nicea, today Iznik, not far from Constantinople. Evidently he had the use of the 'cursus publicus,' since he was considered not only a qashish or presbyter but also a 'Roman magistrate.' These two titles are given him in an elegy on circumcision by the Samaritan poet Marqah. The author praises Germanus who, as can be inferred from the text, permitted the Samaritans to circumcise their sons despite the prohibition of Roman law which considered circumcision a mutilation. Germanus, on the contrary, respected it as a sacred rite. This suggests that Germanus, as bishop of the capital, exercised his jurisdiction also over Christians of Samaritan originwho preferred to follow their own customs. Seemingly the Christians who dwelt near the 'Well of the Samaritan woman' belonged to this sect, which disappeared in the sixth century under Justinian.
Germanus' memory has survived among the Samaritans to our own day, although in changed form. They say that he wa a Roman soldier who, posted on guard in the house of the Samaritan High Priest, did not prevent the rite of circumcision from taking place, only asking in exchange that the faithful would pray for him (PEF 1887, 234).
Another bishop fixed his signature to the acts of the Council of Constantinople in 381; he was called Procopius. The next known bishop is Terebinthus, who had his hands mutilated by the Samaritians in the revolt under Emperor Zeno, in ca. 484. In the sixth century Procopius took part in the council of Jerusalem in 518, and John in that of 536. Ammonas, killed in the Samaritan reolt of 529, occupied the see between the two As far as we know, none of these bishops was an outstanding personality, since their names do not appear in the history of the Palestinian church.
We have reference to a bishop still in 808, when a list of sacred buildings of the Holy Land was compiled by order of Carlemagne for the purpose of raising an economic contribution for their clergy. Under the entry Neapolis (Commemoratorium de casis Dei, Tobler and Molinier eds., 304) we read: 'In Sychem which they call Neapolis, there is a large church where the holy Samaritan woman lies, and other churches; a bishop, clerics, and a recluse on a column.' Accustomed as we are to considering Palestinian monasticim almost exclusively in the context of the Judean desert and of the Gaza district, the mention of a stylite makes us understand than monasticism had flourished also in Samaria, where it has left many traces in toponyms of the Samarian hillcountry that begin with the word 'Deir'.
As to the 'holy Samaritan woman,' tradition called her Photina. She is supposed to have had two sons, one called Joseph and the other Victor, who had taken up a military carreer. They were Christians and became martyrs along with other members of their family. The Menologium Basilii commemorates them on March 20 (PG 117, 359-360).
Struggle with the Samaritans. The Christian life of Neapolis was not always peaceful. The city saw an armed conflict among the Christians themselves on the occasion of the Council of Chalcedon (451) when the Monophysites tried to prevent the return of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Juvenal, to his see, because he had subscribed to the Council, repudiating his previous adhesion to the Monophysite formulas at the Robbers' Council (Ephesus, AD 449).
The city was the theatre of bloody encounters between Christians and Samaritans. The first time was in 484 when word spread that the Christians intended to transfer the remains of Eleazar, Ithamar, and Phineas. On Pentecost, the Samaritans reacted by entering the church where the Christians were gathered. They killed the faithful and cut off Bishop Terebinhus's fingers while he was celebrating the sacrifice. This done, the Samaritans marched on Caesarea and burned the church of St. Procopius. The bishop went to Constantinople and obtained a garrison to prevent new attacks. On this occasion emperor Zeno ordered to build a church dedicated to the Mother of God on Garizim; he forbade the Samaritans to ascend Mount Garizim in order to celebrate their religious ceremonies, and confiscated. their synagogue
The Samaritans could not suffer this state of things. Under Emperor Anastasius (491-518) they rebelled again, reoccupying Mount Garizim which was then reconquered by the governor, Procopius of Edessa. Independence was so eagerly coveted that in 529 the Samaritans rebelled a third time under the leadership of one Julian Ben Saba. They kiled Bishop Ammonas and cut the priests to pieces and burned their bodies together with the relics of the saints. The same treatment was meted out to the Christian villages. Justinian intervened and reduced them to helplessness. Thus, as a small remnant, the Samaritans have come down to our day.
The Churches. Nothing certain has yet come to light from several occasional excavations as to the churches built in Nablus in the Byzantine period. The Madaba mosaic map gives a view of the city at that time. Although fragmentary, it shows a colonnaded street ending in a gate with two towers, apparently marking the eastern entrance of the city, and another colonnaded street runnung in from south to north and intersecting the former: they are the cardo maximus and one of the decumans (cf. F.M. Abel, RB 32 , 120-132). At the crossing stands a small circular building with a dome on column, in the site now occupied by the en-Nasr Mosque. IFour granite columns surmounted by Roman-Byzantine capitals can still be seen in this the moque, which probably supersede a Byzantine church.To the right of the cardo, before the intersection, the vignette shows a church with a sloping roof, approximately on the place of the Great Mosque. According to Father Abel's hypothesis, this was the cathedral. Nearby toward the south-west is represented a semicircular structure which could be interpreted as a plaza or a large building. Abel suggested that it might represent the 'Ein Qaryun apse (probably a nymphaeum, as maintained by Clermont Ganneau, ARP II, 315)). However, the semicircle of 'Ein Qaryun is only 6.50 m in diameter, so that, if this hypothesis is true,. proportionally the whole city would have been very small.(Abel rejected the hypothesis that this structure might be a theatre: but the recent excavations have uncovered a Roman theatre just in this position. See NEAEHL IV, 1356-1357.)
Other Sects. In his treatise on heresies St. Epiphanius reports that in the fourth century at least two sects differing from the Christians of the great Church existed in the city. In the chapter on to the Antidicomarianites or 'Adversaries of Mary', who desparaged the holy Virgin, he says: 'At Sicimis, today called Neapolis, the natives offer sacrifices in the name of Kore - surely a substitute of the daughter of Jephte who was once offered in sacrifice to God (Haer. 78, PG 42, 736). It is the same festival that the saint mentions as being kept at Sebaste by the Melchisedecians.
Speaking of the Massalians, who were of pagan origin but had concocted a mixture of various religions, and who tried to pass as Christians, Epiphanius says that in order to pray they build forum-like 'proseuchae', imitating the first Christians who did not have churches. He writes: 'In Sicima, today called Neapolis, in the plain outside the city, at a distance of about two miles, there was an oratory in the form of a theatre, roofless and under the open sky, in the erection of which the Samaritans imitated the Jews, as in everything else' (Haer. 80, PG 42, 757). Since later writers no longer mention these sects, apparently they disappeared without leaving traces.
The 'Proseucha.' A chance discovery in 1927 in all probability brought to light the 'proseucha' of Neapolis. It consists of 22 stone seats disposed in a semicircle (Pl. 16,1). G.M. Fitzgerald (PEF 1929, 104-110) gives a description of the finds. The dig was not completed but the semicircular disposition of the seats was very clear. The floor was paved with stone slabs. Both seats and flagstones bore Greek inscriptions containg names, sometimes accompanied by the formula eujxavmeno" ajnevqhka, 'I have dedicated following a vow'. The names are: Bernicianou, Iustus (several times), Marcellus, Matrys, Iustinus, Bubas, Frotinus, Priscus, Iulianus, Kyratos, and Sabinus (SEG VIII, nos. 120-130). Some of these names are obviously Roman; and Justin son of martyr was the Neapolitan philospher and Christian martyr. The formula eujxavmeno" ajnevqhka, repeated several times, corresponds to the Latin 'ex voto posui' and refers us to a religious setting. The excavation finds do not include reference to any deity, and the roofless, semicircular form reminds us of Epiphanius' 'proseucha.'The seats were found to the south of the city where, according the Madaba map, was the border of the city. The potsherds found in the excavation go back to the Roman and the Byzantine periods. (Recent excavations, however, have proven that the semicircular structure was a Roman theatre. See NEAEHL IV, 1356-1357.).
The Crusader Period. The Crusaders gained control of the city without a fight. At that time it was inhabited by Moslems and Samaritans and this population mix continued to prevail under Crusader rule although some 'Franks' settled there in order to take advantage of the local resources. It was in this city in 1120 that the Crusades held a general civil-religious council to stem improper customs. In 1137 Nablus suffered an Arab incursion by troops from Damascus who killed the Christians and burned the churches. From 1150 to 1161 the famous Queen Melisenda took up residence here, and in 1167 the Canons of the Holy Sepulchre built a church dedicated to the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. In 1170 the Master of the Jerusalem Hospital erected a hospice for pilgrims, as appears from an inscription copied in the sixteenth century by Father Pantaleon of Alveiro.
The Arab historian, Usama Ibn Munqidh, tells us curious episodes of this period dealing with a 'Frank,' an European wine seller who lived in Nablus. He advertised the wine of one of his friends and was not jealous of his wife (F. Gabrieli, Storici arabi delle Crociate, Turin, 1969, 77).
In 1187 Saladin occupied the city which again became Arab and so has remained up to our own day. Naturally the Latin Christians had to run away if they could. The native Christians, on the other hand, stayed on, at least for some time. We learn this from the colophon of a liturgical manuscript in Syriac copied in 1166 by an amanuensis in Nablus, that was purchased from the Syrian church in the city and brought to Egypt in 1190 (F. Nau, Quatre Ménologes jacobites, PO 10, 30).
Scholars have looked for Crusader buildings and three churches were identified under their present guise of mosques. A general survey is given by Clermont Ganneau (ARP II, 311-322). What is believed to have been the cathedral church was replaced by the Great Mosque, Jame' el-Kebir, which preserves some of its structural features. Another, three-nave church was transformed into the en-Nasr mosque (Fig. 17) and was destroyed in the 1927 earthquake. A third is preserved as the Jame' el-Masakim or 'mosque of the lepers'. In addition to these churches, other remains have been recognized as Crusader buildings, e.g. the Masbanet el-Ghazzawy where a typical Crusader cross with two horizontal arms, has been observed, and Hizn Ya'qub, or 'Jacob's wailing,' also called Sittna el-Khadhra. According to Samaritan tradition the latter represents the place where Jacob wept for the supposed death of Joseph, when his bloody garment was brought to him. According to the Survey (II, 185), it is a twelfth- or thirteenth-century chapel built in three bays, with groined roof and pointed arches and dedicated to St. George (el-Khader). A Gothic capital is placed on the right side of the mihrab. A stone inscribed with the Decalogue in Samaritan characters was built into the east wall of the minaret, and other Samaritan inscriptions on stone were also found there, but were sold to travellers. According to the Samaritans, the building was originally a synagogue. Dr. T. Canaan (JPOS 4 , 45) describes the interior of the Sittna el-Hadra: a room spread with carpets, whose walls are decorated with rough pictures and Qoranic verses; on the west a side room, small and dark, the Hizn Ya'qub itself, built on another subterranean room reached through 52 steps, where Jacob is supposed to have spent his days of mourning.
The cult of el-Khader exists also in other places in Nablus. The same Dr. Canaan (JPOS 5 , 199) mentions several, among them the mosque called Suetra, a room with mihrab in the el-'Aqabah quarter, a dark room near the Great Mosque, and a basin in the the Hammam ed-Darajeh, where according to the popular belief el-Khader takes a bath every Friday. Because of this association, women use to bathe there with their newborns (cf. Canaan, JPOS 4 , 67, n.2) .
Besides the churches seen or glimpsed by Clermont-Ganneau, another was studied by Father J.L. Federlin in 1895 and published in La Terre Sainte (January 1, 1896, 7-10). This church too was in ruins and was only noticed when workers carried away its stones for building purposes. The walls had almost entirely disappeared but it was possible to make out the plan of an edifice with three naves divided by four pillars and three apses (Fig. 18). The walls were massive, like in all Crusader buildings. It had two entrances, one to the west and the other to the north. This church was located to the left of anyone coming along the road to Jerusalem from the north, before the barracks. Nothing is to be seen today. A photo taken on the occasion shows several architectural elements, some of them with clearly medieval mouldings. Father Federlin noticed cornices, two of which bore painted Latin inscriptions, unfortunately fragmentary. One says: + FERT PUERUM VATE... The other: ..NA PR PHE... And underneath: COMITA + TUR ETA... The columns were of granite, and therefore in secondary use from some classical monument. Inside the church was also a sarcophagus of hard stone.
The detailed description given by ClermontGanneau is precious because little by little the monuments have given way to modern buildings. Leafing through various reports of pilgrims, we can see that the change came slowly according to the necessities of life. Thus, for example, Aquilante Rocchetta, who visited Nablus in 1598-9 (Peregrinatione, 318), relates that he stayed there on Tuesday and Wednesday of the Holy Week in a very uncomfortable khan located in the middle of the city where 'Turks, Moors, Jews, and our Christians dwell'; and elsewhere writes: 'We saw many large temples built in the Italian style, with beautiful and decorated entrances and façades, some with three rows of columns, others with four. The cornices and entablatures are all made of well-worked foliage, and if nowadays they are mosques, all the same they appear to have been once churches of Christians' (ibid., 119). The pilgrim also notes some very large porphyry columns.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Neapolis", 194-195.
Map Section 5 Place Sources