Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
62. Bethoron - (Bayt Ur)
BET(H)-HORON: Upper (Elyon), and Lower, (Tahton), two adjacent biblical towns named after the Canaanite deity Horon mentioned in Ugaritic literature and other texts. The towns, known as Upper and Lower Horon, were strategically located on the Gibeon-Aijalon road and guarded the important "ascent of Beth-Horon." Biblical tradition attributes their founding to Sheerah, daughter of Beriah, son of Ephraim (I Chron. 7:24). They were located on the border between the territory of the tribe of Ephraim and that of Benjamin (Josh. 16:3; 18:13-14). One or both of the towns was a levitical city (Josh. 21:22; I Chron. 6:53). Solomon fortified Beth-Horon (the lower town only, according to I Kings 9:17; both towns according to II Chron. 8:5). Beth-Horon is mentioned together with Gibeon in the list of towns conquered by Pharaoh Shishak (tenth century B.C.E.). It then became part of the kingdom of Judah (cf. II Chron. 25:13). In the Persian and Hellenistic periods, Beth-Horon was in Judea. During the Hasmonean Wars, Bacchides fortified both towns (I Macc. 9:50). The Mishnah (Shev. 9, 2) states that the Maritime Plain begins at Beth-Horon. It is located by Eusebius (Onom. 46:21) 12 (Roman) mi. from Aelia Capitolina (i.e., Jerusalem) and within its territory; on the Madaba Map the two villages are marked as one place. Upper Beth-Horon is now identified with the Muslim Arab village Ur al-Fawqa (pop. 298 in 1967) and Lower Beth Horon with Beit Ur al-Tahta (pop. 920 in 1967). The road passing the two and the ascent between them were of military importance in ancient times. Joshua pursued the Canaanite kings along this ascent after the battle of Gibeon (Josh. 10:10-11); the Philistines passed this way after their setback at Michmas (I Sam. 13:18); here also Judah Maccabee defeated Seron, the Seleucid general (I Macc. 3:16), and a Zealot force defeated the Roman governor Cestius Gallus on his retreat from Jerusalem (Jos., Wars, 2:538ff., 546ff.). Archaeological finds indicate that Lower Beth-Horon, where potsherds from the Late Bronze Age onward have been uncovered, was established before Upper Beth-Horon, where the finds date only from and after the Iron Age (the Monarchy). An ostracon found at Tell el Qasile (north Tel Aviv) mentions a consignment of gold for "Beth-Horon," but it is uncertain whether the name of the place Beth-Horon is meant or "the temple of [the god] Horon."
Moses Aberbach, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Beth-Horon"
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 60)
The two villages called thus (Eus. On. 46, 21; Hieronymus, Peregr. Paulae, VI-ed. Tobler, p. 32; id. Comm. in Sophon. I, 15Patr.lat. 25, col. 1354) are represented by a single locality. The steplike descent near-by might be meant to represent the famous 'Descent of Bethoron', the scene of the victory of Judas Maccabaeus over the Greeks and of the Zealots over the Romans (I Macc. III, 16; Josephus, War, II, 516).
Israel Roll (in The Madaba Map Centenary, 112)
Several sites depicted on the mosaic map of Madaba indicate that its makers used data drawn from road-maps and itineraria. Between Jerusalem and Jaffa, a series of places known to be located along the two connecting highways between them, are shown on that map. These are: Bethoron, Kaperouta, Modeim, Adita and Lydda/Diospolis, which bordered, in that sequence, the northern highway - known as the Bethoron road. Also are mentioned Nicopolis, Enataba and Betoannaba, that belonged to the parallel southern road, via Emmaus. The very mentioning of two mile-stations, the fourth (to tetarton), and the ninth (to ennaton), clearly indicate a road-map origin. Those two sites could be identified with two traditional road-stations of the southern highway which possessed plenty of water, that is, Colonia (today Motza) located at the distance of four miles from Jerusalem, and Kiriat Jearim (today Abu Ghosh) - at nine miles from it.
See the complete article: "The Roads in Roman-Byzantine Palaestina and Arabia", by Israel Roll
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
Bethoron, Beth Horon
Two villages today preserve the name Bethoron: Beit Ur el-Fauqa or Upper Bethoron, and Beit Ur et-Tahta or Lower Bethoron, both located not far apart on the road going down from Ramalla to the plain. They recall the events narrated in the book of Joshua. Eusebius'Onomasticon mentions the 'twin villages' and St. Jerome describes them as 'little hamlets' (On..46); and such, it seems, they have always been. Christian remains have been observed in the sacred buildings.
Upper Bethoron. Visitors noted only that the houses were built of ancient materials. An anepigraphic milestone was found set in the wall of a house.
Lower Bethoron. In the centre of the village is the Weli Ur with a palm in the courtyard. Remains of ancient foundations and rock-cut cisterns were noticed here. On the south, close to the threshing floors, a tomb was discovered in 1881, said to have contained treasures. The authors of the Survey examined it and saw that it was only a single loculus about 180 cm long (SWP III, 86). Father P.M. Séjourné in revisiting the site also noticed also the ruins of a large church, and so he writes: 'The mosaic pavement of an important church located northeast of the village has disappeared, at least for the moment, under a watermelon field. The scattered spoils of the Christian building have enriched the neighbouring modern mosque and many hovels nearby. Fragments of a graceful frieze, capitals with Corinthian acanthus carved in white marble, columns and dressed stones lie unused along the roads (RB 7 , 122). Guérin (Samarie II, 397), noticed two columns from the church inside the mosque.
From these pieces of information we can infer that the village was once Christian and had a large three-nave church.In the Calendar of the church of Jerusalem the entry for August 14 in the early MSS reads: 'In the village of Bethoron, memorial of blessed Eglon of Scetis and of the holy martyrs Dometius and Aelianus' (Garitte, Calendrier, 301-302). The first was a monk, perhaps the abbot Eglon mentioned in an inscription in the monastery at Kh. Makrum near Bethlehem (V. Corbo, Gli scavi di Siyar el-Ghanam [Campo dei Pastori] e i monasteri dei dintorni, Jerusalem 1955, 153), the second was a Persian martyr, and the third, a weaver of Philadelphia-Amman (Bagatti, LA 23 , 271-2). In the later MSS of the Calendar mention is made also of a synaxis in honor of the Theotokos; but Garitte is inclined to see it as a later addition and one that may have nothing to do with the place. Whatever the case, the village church was subject to the church of Jerusalem.
Father Séjourné (RB 7 , 122).reports that in 1898 the Mo'arref of Jerusalem sent him an inscribed fragment found in Bethoron, asking him to decipher the inscription before it was placed in the serail. It was a broken slab of white marble belonging to a sarcophagus. On the upper part the letters ..ACIAC..were preserved perhaps part of the word Anastasis which can indicate either the Christ's resurrection or the round church of the Holy Sepulchre. On the lower part were the letters ...PIROBOUANDR... , apparently the names Probus and Andreas. The sentence might be restored with the common formula 'For the salvation (or: the rest) of Probus and Andreas.' We thus have the names of some well-to-do Christians who frequented the church and were buried close to it.
A stone angular base reused as a cistern-mouth
Visit. Since we passed through Bethoron quite often, it was worth a stop at least to check what others had reported about the site. Father Piccirillo and I did so on June 24, 1976.
Walking down the main street, Father Piccirillo noticed a large base set up on the northern edge and reused as the mouth of a cistern. It is a typical heart-shaped base, with lobes 54cm in diameter. As can be seen from the photo, the moulding is very rich (20cm high) and in a rather good state of preservation. The base could have been used in some temple or synagogue, hardly in a church. [Heart-shaped bases, however, were often used in churches, and not only in buildings with a central plan (e.g. the Cathisma Church recently excavated on the Jeusalem-Bethlehen road) but also in monastery church like that of Castellion in the Judean Desert. L.D.S.] We have the impression that it had been brought from some other place.
The visit began in the mosque, renovated not long before; in a wall we noticed a fragment of a cornice with a frieze of acanthus leaves. In another wall a marble pillar with simple fluting was set horizontally above a little window.
In two houses we discovered various capitals, some lying on the ground near some bases with the usual moulding with a low dado, others set in the walls as ornaments. They are not perfectly preserved but show clearly enough the classical type with acanthus leaves often employed in churches. In the abacus they have bosses with rosettes or a pine-cone motif.
The villagers tell us that the Department of Antiquities has transferred to Jerusalem a large monolith empty on the inside, as are baptismal fonts. On this occasion we observed how the village was almost deserted in daytime because the men go out to work for the Jews.
Er-Ras. The authors of the Survey write: 'Half a mile east of Beit Ur et-Tahta a ruin is marked on the Roman road, at the foot of a steep ascent. It appears to have been a little chapel of the Byzantine period. The north wall, of roughly dressed stones, about 2 feet long, remains, with pillar shafts, 15 inches in diameter. On the road lies a lintel stone 4 feet by 1 foot 8 inches, with a medallion; in the chapel near the east is a second, 6 1/2 feet by 2 feet, with three medallions. The designs in these medallions appear to have been purposely defaced. North of the chapel is a large wine-press with two chambers 12 feet square. Many well-cut stones and voussoirs are built into the terrace-walls near the ruin' (SWP III, 86). Father Séjourné adds that the site is called er-Ras and describes the ruins as 'jolies.' As to the decoration of the lintels, one can guess that they were the usual circles in relief enclosing a cross or other Christian emblem, which are usually found in churches.
According to Pseudo-Ephiphanius, Bethoron was the home of the prophet Daniel (Prophetarum vitae fabulosae, ed. Th. Schermann, Leipzig 1907, 14, 64); but although the Calendar of the church of Jerusalem commemorates the prophet many times, the feast is never connected with the village.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Bethoron", 84-85.
Map Section 5 Place Sources