The Mountain of Judah
and the Shephelah (south)
80. Bethzachar(ia). The (place) of Saint Zacharias - (Tell Zakariyah)
Tell Zakariye, Tel 'Azeqa. After the Arab village, now Jewish, the mound appears on the right side of the road. In 1944 we observed there also several sherds of Byzantine pottery resembling red terra sigillata. The position is most beautiful because of the panoramic view. The whole surrounding countryside appeared to us well cultivated.
Some walls of the city and caves can still be seen. At the end of the last century Bliss and Macalister (Excavations in Palestine, pp. 217-23) excavated a bell-shaped tomb which had several crosses incised on the walls: isolated and cosmic crosses enclosed within a circle. In a large cavern they noticed Christian graffiti accompanied by crosses; these contained the sacred names K(yrio)s and I(esou)s and the word INONON (Fig. 21, 2), regarding which the excavators claim: "It has a cabalistic ring to it that suggests Gnosticism." The inscriptions, naturally, cannot tell us how long ago the caves were in use; but they do attest to a Christian occupation at a time when Greek was the prevailing language. The pottery noticed by us are well in keeping with a Christian occupation in the Byzantine period.
The Madaba map shows a large church inscribed "St. Zacharias' (shrine)" at Beth Zacharia. Many modern geographers agree in referring it to this locality, especially guided by sixth-century sources like Theodosius and the Anonymous of Piacenza who locate the shrine on the Jerusalem-Beth Govrin road (Avi-Yonah, The Madaba Mosaic Map , p. 68). On the map the church is situated at the lower end of the village (Pl. 20). Modern authors discuss which Zacharias was this: seemingly he is the prophet mentioned in 2 Chr 24, 20-22, who was killed between the temple and the altar, rather than the Baptist's father, who was also killed in the temple, according to the apocrypha.
H. Ben-Adi writes in The Jerusalem Post (August 8, 1978, p. 6): "Tell es-Zaharieh was inhabited up to the Byzantine period and afterward was abandoned. There are traces of a Byzantine church or monastery, and Dr. Oren hopes to find the mosaic floor of the structure."
According to the same writer, a Byzantine bath-house dated to the fifth century was discovered. It has a hypocaust of red bricks and water channels built under the floor.
The village was visited by pilgrims who took the Jerusalem-Ascalon route in order to get to Gaza. The Itinerary of Theodosius (CCSL 175, p. 116) gives a distance of 5 miles between Eleutheropolis, present-day Beth Govrin, and the "place where St. Zacharias is laid"; it was 20 miles away from Gaza. The distance agrees with that given by Sozomen (Historia Ecclesiastica IX, 17) when he speaks of the discovery of the prophet's body. The Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza, about 570, finds the church "beautifully decorated," and staffed by many servants of God (CCSL 175, p. 168).
The pilgrimages continued even after the Arab conquest of 638; in fact, Willibald, returning from Gaza toward Jerusalem in 724-726, visited the site. This route seemed more secure to the pilgrims even if they had to cross the mountain to take it. According to the author of the Life of St. Willibald, this Zacharias is not John's father but another prophet (Tobler-Molinier, p.268).
The guides leading the group of Fathers Fabri (II, p. 358) and Walther (p. 189) in 1483 kept to the same Jerusalem-Hebron-Tell Zakariye-Gaza itinerary too. The travelers were housed in a walled enclosure and when they tried to go out to visit the surroundings, they were forced to get back inside because the inhabitants pelted them with stones. Later, however, the inhabitants supplied them with chickens, bread, and water.
Fabri noted a "pulchra" mosque but because of the imprudence of a pilgrim, who attended to his bodily needs there, the group ran a serious danger of reprisals.
Tell Zakariye or Tel 'Azeqa is the site of the biblical city of Azeqa: the tell itself has no Byzantine remains. Eusebius (Onomasticon, p.18) writes that at his time a village called Azeca existed between Eleutheropolis and Jerusalem: this can possibly be Kh. el-'Almi, a Byzantine ruin at the foot of the mound. However, the Madaba map calls the site Beth Zachar(ia) and other Byzantine sources call it Caphar Zacharia - today Kafr Zakariye that has given its name to the mound. But no traces have been found of the large village and of the handsome shrine pictured in the Madaba map. Some scholars suggested to locate Beth Zacharia at Dikhrin (see below, pp.140-41), although no church has been discovered there as yet. The identification of the village and shrine of St. Zacharias, therefore, is still unknown.
Bellarmino Bagatti, Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 62)
Bethzachar(iah) is mentioned by some Christian authors, e.g. Sozomenos, Hist. eccl. IX: 17 (PG 67,1628f.; GCS 50,407f.) a.o. It is identical with Zakariya (coord. 144-124), 12 kin north of Bet Jibrin, the ancient Eleutheropolis (nr. 87). During the Synod of Lydda in 415, the bones of the prophet Zechariah were found at Kafr Zakariya, and they produced a specific Christian holy place and cult. In the following times the Christian tradition mixed three persons called Zechariah (Zacharias): the Old Testament prophet, the High Priest of II Chron. 24:20-22 who was killed by king Joash (Matth. 23:35), and the father of St. John the Baptist (Luke 1:5). The representation is very interesting. On the left, we see a medium-sized symbol of a village with three towers. On the right, separated from the village and seemingly outside of it, there is the sanctuary of St. Zacharias: a red-roofed colonnaded portico (or narthex), above it the façade of the church with three gates, and above that behind the church is a semicircular court surrounded by one more red-roofed portico. The tomb of the Saint was situated in the open court behind the basilica attached to it, usually called Martyrium. The next parallel to this representation we find in Jerusalem: the church of Holy Sepulchre (section 11, no. 7). It is interesting to see that the mosaicist did not depict the basilica in the usual manner: not looking askance at it, but to the front of it, and omitting the nave and the roof. West of Socho (no. 79) and northwest of Bethzachar there is an unnamed village in the mountains: a representation of Biblical Aseka (Tall Zakariya, coord. 144-123) as described by Eus. On. 18:10-12?
Leah Di Segni ("The Onomastikon of Eusebius and the Madaba Map", in The Madaba map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 118)
Beth Zacharia is called Caphar Zacharia by Sozomen, who reported the discovery of the tomb of Zacharias the prophet there in his time, and Kefar Dikhria in the Jerusalem Talmud; so the map depends on neither one for the name. Eusebius does not mention the place. (See also the complete article)
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Caphar Zacharia", 99.
Map Section 6 Place Sources