The Mountain of Judah
and the Shephelah
75. Thekoa - (Tuqu'a)
Tekoa, city of Judah connected with the family of Hezron, the son of Perez (I Chron. 2:24; 4:5). It was the birthplace of Ira the son of Ikkesh, one of David's "mighty men" (II Sam. 20:26; I Chron. 11:28; 27:9). From Tekoa came the wise woman who, at the instigation of Joab, persuaded David to pardon Absalom (II Sam. 14). Rehoboam included it in his line of fortifications; it is mentioned together with Etam and Beth-Zur (II Chron. 11:6). In this way, he hoped to safeguard the road leading from En-Gedi to Jerusalem; it proved effective later when Jehoshaphat warded off there an invasion of the Moabites and Ammonites who came from the Dead Sea (II Chron. 20:20). Jeremiah refers to Tekoa as being on the southern approaches to Jerusalem (6:1). It was renowned, above all, as the birthplace of the prophet Amos (1:1); in later times, his tomb was worshiped there and in the Byzantine period, a church was built in his honor, remains of which are still visible. According to the Greek version of Joshua 15:59, it was in the district of Beth-Lehem in Judah. After the return from the Babylonian exile, it was possibly the capital of one of the districts of Judah. The people of Tekoa-but not its nobles-repaired sections of the walls of Jerusalem, one part near the Old (Yeshanah) Gate, the other on the Ophel (Neh. 3:5, 6, 27). In the time of the Maccabean revolt, Bacchides fortified it (Jos., Ant., 13:15; I Macc. 9:50, as Tepho (Tappuah), which should be corrected to Theko). In the First Jewish War, it served as an encampment for Simeon Bar-Giora (Jos., Wars, 4:518) and later for Cerealis, the Roman commander (Jos., Life, 420). Eusebius places the village 12 mi. (c. 19 km.) from Aelia. It was a benefice of the Holy Sepulcher in Crusader times. It is identified with Khirbet Taqu'a, a ruin southeast of Bethlehem and 2,760 ft. (850 m.)
Michael Avi-Yonah, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Tekoa"
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 66)
The Greek spelling differs slightly from that of On. 86, 12, while the LXX has Thekoa. North-west of Thekoa we notice the fragmentary representation of a red-roofed building, i.e. a church. This might be the church at Migdal Ader (Siyar el Ghanam) south-west of Bethlehem which was supposed to be the Shepherd's Field; but it is much more likely that we have here a pictorial representation of the burial place of Amos, mentioned in On. 86,12, by Petrus diaconus (ed. Geyer, p.110), and in the Life of St. Sabas, 36 (ed. Schwartz, p. 123). A similar separation of church and village might be noted in the near-by sites of Bethzacharia and Morasthi. The fact that Thekoa (Kh. Taqu') was an inhabited village can be concluded from the same source (90, ed. Schwartz, p. 199). Remains of the church were noted by recent visitors. As the mosaicist was not interested in monasteries (except at Jerusalem) the red-roofed building cannot be the New Laura near Thekoa, erected in 507 (ib,p 123).
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)
Theqo'a, Kh. Thequ'a
The village recalls to biblical scholars the hometown of the prophet Amos and to devotees of Christian archeology the beautiful monolithic baptismal font which has been visible for centuries.
The Byzantine Period. For these reasons the town has been visited since antiquity. In 1847 Father Cassini (La Terra Santa II, 209ff, Firenze), describing one of the customary trips made by the Bethlehem friars for devotional and recreational reasons each year, expressed his disappointment in the face of the reality: "Everything was razed, everything destroyed, everything turned upside down." However, he notes with satisfaction: "One solitary pier chiselled outby the force of the knife out of the hardest red-colored rock rose proudly amid these humbled ruins and looked like a reef in the middle of the storming sea, or the pavilion of a great general abandoned in the middle of the battleground after a defeat. As it could be seen from all directions, we ran there from all directions to learn what it was and we found that it was a Greek font for adults; from which we conjectured that there had been a church near there." His confrères had seen it on such visits as early as 1654.
A dissertation submitted to the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem by J. Escobar (partially published as Tecoa , Jerusalem 1976) synthesizes both biblical history pertaining to Theqo'a and an analytic study of the ruins. The town was large in the Byzantine period, as appears even today from its quite extensive ruins. Two churches are mentioned - the memorial of Amos which had a cave under the floor in which the remains of Amos and of many other prophets were venerated, and a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. Escobar places the first toward the northeast where there is a grotto with ancient mural arrangements and above some ruins of walls which seem to belong to the destroyed building - probably a square construction. He bases his opinion both on existing ruins and on the writings of those who had the same impression when the monument was in better condition.
The church of St. Nicholas is found south of the well-known baptismal font. An American archeological mission began the excavation of some courses of the apse but the inhabitants did not permit them to continue. Examining the ruin with the help of confrères, Escobar was able to determine the plan of a three-nave church paved in mosaic with rooms to the west and a complex set to the north, near the basin, with other rooms. That they are of the Byzantine period is clearly indicated by the numerous sherds found there.
He noticed some columns not in situ, one of which with niches for relics, and some Ionic capitals with the cross in the volutes.
Medieval Period. When the Crusaders came, the local Christians helped their co-religionists. In regard to Theqo'a, William of Tyre relates how in the siege of Jerusalem "the natives of Bethlehem and Christian men who lived near Thecue, the city of the Prophets, were numerous in the army. The Christian people used them as guides to go out to the springs which were four or five miles away from the siege lines" (De Sandoli, Itinera I, p. 31).
Escobar studied a castle of the medieval period which was still seen in the seventeenth century; for example, by Fr.E. Roger who writes: "There can also be observed the ruins of a castle which gives evidence of having been a stronghold where the Moors still are who retire there and cultivate the land which is very good and pleasing" (La Terre Sainte, Paris 1664, p. 212). One can see a wall of this castle oriented from north to south and especially a part of the great moat cut into the rock. Today there is a beautiful orchard where various ancient remains, brought there in order to preserve them, can be seen (Pl. 11).
Toward 1628 Father Quaresmi noted that "it is not easy in our day to go to Theqo'a because of the Arabs living there and encountered along the way. Once, like Bethlehem, it was inhabited by Christian of the Greek rite. There is a beautiful church but today it is half destroyed" (II, p. 317). The Jesuit, Father Nau (Voyage , p. 440), visiting the place between 1666 and 1670, found an old man who told him that the church was dedicated to St. Nicholas and that he had seen it still intact and served by Greek Orthodox priests. The memory is still alive today -in fact a Latin rite Christian who was fixing the motor of a mill in the village in 1976 told us that his family came from Theqo'a and that its older members remember the time when the church was in use.
Regarding the friars' excursions, documented as far back as the seventeenth century and including also a visit to Theqo'a, Father Cassini (La Terra Santa II, p. 230) notes that the groups were numerous. A confrère of his also recounted that "while he was preparing dinner for the twenty of us, the dragoman advised him to consider at least forty mouths because on similar picnics, which are made only once a year, the bedouins are on the lookout for at least a month beforehand so as not to miss that scrounged-off meal which for them had since become as much of a rule as Christmas dinner is for us."
Besides the visit to Theqo'a, the trip also included a stop at the Laura of St. Chariton, located on the western ridge of the wadi bearing the saint's name (Bagatti,TS 1971, pp. 336-45). A tower spur still marks the site of the laura which was destroyed by age. The dinner was held near a tiny spring - whose precious water trickled slowly-said to have been made to flow by St. Chariton. At a certain time of day one can find a bit of shade there. Nearby are the caves of the laura. The main one is called "The Franciscans' Cave" because they sometimes scratched their names on its walls on their visits.
The monolithic baptismal font
as was seen, until lately, at Kh. Thequ'a
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Thekoa", 248.
Map Section 6 Place Sources