The Mountain of Judah
and the Shephelah (south)
84. Eleutheropolis - (Bayt Jibrin)
Identical with Bet-Jibrin. Eleutheropolis was a bishop's see, often mentioned in ecclesiastical and administrative Byzantine source. The dedication of the basilica is unknown. They may have been the two martyrs Zebinas and Petrus, mentioned by Eusebius (Martyrs in Palestine, ch.9-19). The central building with a yellowish-white dome could be connected with what the anonimus pilgrim of Piacenza describes on ch.32:"From there we struck off from a side road and came to the city called Eleutheropolis, which is where Samson killed a thousand men with a jawbone of an ass, from which a spring came forth which to this day provides water for the whole area, for we also visited the place where it rises". This report, however, does not have the air of describing a place inside the city. Moreover, the jawbone hill of Judg.15:14-19 seems to have been in the open fields, according to the Biblical account. Probably the domed building is nothing but a public fountain. It is flanked by two houses with sloped roofs, the right of which is red.
Donner H., The Mosaic Map of Madaba, 63
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 69)
South-west of Morasthi we notice part of the representation of a town of which the name has disappeared save for a fragmentary E above it; but its position would in any case indicate the city of Eleutheropolis. The city is walled, with a big church in the centre of a curving street, along which are two colonnaded porticoes. Inside the curve stands a white domed building with pillars. It is flanked by two buildings with sloped roofs, one of which is red. From Antoninus (ed. Geyer, p. 210) we learn that Eleutheropolis was identified with the spot on which Samson defeated the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. The source flowing from that jawbone was shown to pilgrims in the city and it is most likely represented by the domed building shown in the Madaba map. The resemblance of this construction to that represented in the Ma'in mosaic with an inscription "...poleis" shows that the text is to be completed 'Eleutheropolis' rather than 'Georgioupolis' as suggested alternatively.
Amos Kloner (in: The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 244)
The city of Eleutheropolis is depicted in the Madaba mosaic map as a large settlement to the southwest of Jerusalem. Only a portion of the representation of the city remains, and its toponym has almost completely disappeared. The only remnant of the inscription is four black tesserae which can be identified as the lower part of an Epsilon, slightly larger than other letters of the map's inscriptions. The location of the depiction is geographically correct. Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) was located some 53 kms south-southwest of Jerusalem, in the midst of the Judaean Shephelah (hilly region), 39 kms east of Ascalon (Ashkelon). The scale of the Madaba mosaic map is accurate and quite precise in the area south, southwest and west of Jerusalem. A line running from Gaza to Mampsis delineates the change to a different scale further south.
The depiction of Eleutheropolis in the sixth century Madaba mosaic map includes a domed and colonnaded circular building (Avi-Yonah 1954). It is not inconceivable that this building could have been intended to represent the amphitheater, transformed into a public building with a roofed portico during the Byzantine period.
See the complete article: "The City of Eleutheropolis", by Amos Kloner
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)
Beit Jibrin, Beth Govrin, Eleutheropolis
Two studies published in Liber Annus (Bagatti, LA 22 , pp. 109-129; Baramki, pp.130-152) treat specifically of Christianity in this city. The reader is referred to them for citations and fuller information. Beth Govrin was called Eleutheropolis in the Roman period and this name stuck to it for the whole Byzantine period. It was in these periods that the city experienced great development.
The Early Period. Christianity penetrated the city very quickly because it was located on a very important crossroads on the route between Jerusalem and Gaza, whether one chose the Beth Shemesh road, the Hebron road or the mountain route west of Bethlehem. Some late Christian sources tell us of the apostolate in the city of Simon, called also Judas, one of the twelve apostles. Its first bishop was Justus, one of the seventy-two disciples. Other sourcesmention the apostolate of Ananias, he who baptized St. Paul; and others, finally, tell of the work of Junias, mentioned in the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (16, 7). In any event, the first truly historical information on the local Christianity is the story of the martyrdom of Zebina in 308, and of Peter Absalon, which took place the following year.
The Bishops. Macrinus was present at the council of Nicea in 325; however, there is no reason to believe that he was the city's first bishop. He is only the first one known by name, because he subscribed the Council's decisions with all the other bishops. In the synod of Antioch, held 341, Aetius endorsed the decisions; he then intervened also at the council of Sardica in 347. He was one of the partisans of orthodoxy, adhering to the ideas of St. Athanasius. Later the city had Cleophas as bishop, then Theophilus, and afterward Euttchius who held semi-Arian doctrines. Eleutheropolis became accordingly a center for exiles deported because of their faith.
The deacon Turbo, who succeeded Eutychius, was one of the persecutors of these deportees who wanted to keep the faith of Nicaea. Among the latter, the most famous was Lucifer of Cagliari who suffered many persecutions. In the first half of the fifth century, the bishop Zebennos discovered the bodies of two prophets -Habakuk at Keila and Micah at Biratsati. These places became centers of pilgrimage. Zebennos took part in the council of Lydda, which occurred at the time of the discovery of St. Stephen's body at Cafar Gamala (not far from Beth Govrin). Two sixth-century bishops are known, namely Gregory and Anastasius, who attended the councils of Jerusalem in 518 and 536.
The Monasteries. Two are mentioned-one for men, the other for women. The first had the title St. Thomas the Apostle. The second is known because of the martyrdom of St. Susanna, a deaconess, which took place in 363 during the pagan reaction under Julian the Apostate. Her feast is celebrated on September 19. A certain Hermione is mentioned as head of the nunnery: she helped Bishop Ephesius and his partisans who had come from Rome because they opposed the party that supported the election of Pope Damasus.
Some Inhabitants. The Life of St. Hilarion (ch.13; PL 23, col.33)) tells of a lady of Eleutheropolis who was cured of sterility by the holy man. Remembered at this time are the tribune Severus who welcomed Bishop Ephesius and an anonymous nobleman who lived in Jerusalem and built a church near the cave at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where the relics of St. James, "brother of the Lord," had been discovered. The Roman poet Marianus lived in the city; he had been made a patrician by Emperor Anastasius. A certain Claudian lived there too; he was administrator of the property of the church, and at the end of his life he retired to the monastery of Romanus, located at Kefar Torban 5 miles away from the city.
In relating the miracles of SS. Cyrus and John, St. Sophronius, who was first a monk in the monastery of St. Theodosius and then patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 638), tells a story about a gentleman of Eleutheropolis called Procopius who had a servant by the name of Theodore. This Theodore was afflicted with an abnormal growth on his face. Seeking a cure, he went to Alexandria and, while bathing in the sea there, was seized by a shark. By invoking the two saints, he was freed from the monster's jaws and was also cured (PG 87, cols.3019-22). Sophronius got his information from the subject of the miracle himself.
Religious Buildings of the Byzantine Period. Important vestiges of three churches remain: one north of the wadi, one on the hill, and one far off to the south. The one on the hill was the first to be explored owing to its beautiful mosaics depicting the seasons, which at first were thought to be of the second century. On the southern side of this church a chapel was built with the Greek inscription: "I have adorned the house of Christ, universal king, the floor and the entrance, through of my disciples (or: in memory of His disciples), I), Obodianus the gentle, His blameless priest." During the 1948 war these fine mosaics were defaced and now have been transferred. No stratigraphic study of the place was done because the hill was inhabited and the mosaic lay in a private house. However, the visitors were allowed to enter; on April 21, 1944, we could observe that the mosaics were well preserved. We judged the work beautiful, calm, and sober. These mosaics were published by the Dominicans in several articles.
The other church north of the wadi, with several attached rooms and a chapel on the southwest corner, was discovered and excavated in 1941-1942 by the Department of Antiquities. Because of the change caused by the departure of the Mandatory power, a notice was published only in 1972 in our Liber Annuus by D. Baramki, then a member of the Department of Antiquities. Here too we have a succession of buildings which are not yet completely clarified. It is impossible to check anything at the moment because they are completely covered. Floor mosaics have octagons with representations of birds, quadrupeds, and scenes from the story of Jonah depicting the prophet being thrown out of the boat or resting. This pavement was defaced, perhaps by iconoclasts.
Under the pavement of the atrium is a subterranean tomb with several arcosolia; it is partly cut into the rock, partly built with dressed stones. Other painted tombs in this area had been studied even before because they were decorated with birds and winged figures. Some caves are also known - like those at 'Araq el-Ma' - that are decorated with graffiti, some of them of a Christian character, and other caves have graffiti of beautiful birds and winged creatures.
The southern and farthest church bears the name Sandahanna and was studied back in the nineteenth century. It is built of beautiful stones and is of large dimensions. Nothing now remains except the round apse with arched windows. Some think it was dedicated to St. Anne; others, to St. John (Hanna in Arabic).
The Ancient Arab Period. The country was occupied in 638 by the Arabs who, on their arrival at Gaza, tried to force sixty soldiers of the city garrison to apostatize. These resisted and, brought to Jerusalem, were martyred. Their remains were deposited in the church of the Trinity at Eleutheropolis.
The year 796 was deadly for the city because "it was laid waste, and its inhabitants carried off into captivity," as the monk Stephen, a contemporary author, puts it. The systematic destruction was part of a plan for the annihilation of the Christians that affected also other cities, such as Ascalon, Gaza, Sarifea, etc.
The Crusader Period. In 1134 Folque (check name) occupied the city and entrusted it to the Hospitalers. It became an episcopal see, as appears from documents which mention at least five successive bishops. They all, naturally, have western names. They erected a large church, which later went by the name of Qal'a or fortress and was occupied by Arab families after the fall of the Latin Kingdom. The north nave is still clearly visible; some erroneously took it for a corridor. In the apse there is a niche for relics. Part of the capitals were in secondary use.
The city was called Beit Gebelin or Gibelot or Gibeline in this period. Crusader documents mention a church of St. Mary but we do not know if it must be identified with the one that is partially extant, since in the same documents a church of St. George is also mentioned (R. Röhricht, ZDPV 10 , p. 240).
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Eleutheropolis", 118.
Map Section 6 Place Sources