The Arabah and the Negev
101. Mampsis - (Kurnub)
The easternmost town of the central Negev. 25 miles southeast of Beer-Sheba. The site is at an ancient road junction where the roads running from Jerusalem to Hebron and Aila ( Elath) on the Gulf of Elath, and those from Gaza and Beer-Sheba Aila, converge. It is possible that it was also linked by road with Oboda. The Arabic name, Kurnub, has no apparent connection with the ancient form. At firs! the site was identified with biblical Tamar (Thamara in the Hellenistic and Roman periods), but this identification has been rejected by all scholars. The Hebrew form is Mamshit, The earliest source in which Mampsis is mentioned is Ptolemy's Geography according to whose lists it belonged to Idumea, west of the Jordan. Eusebius (Onom. S. 8) says that Thamara was situated a day's march from Mampsis, on the road from Hebron to Aila (Elath), and that there was a garrison there. The Medaba map shows Mampsis as a walled town, with ail arched gate protected by two towers, The town is also mentioned in some other sources of the Byzantine period, as well as in file Nessana papyri, where it is included in a tax list among towns that paid a moderate sum. Early Arabic inscriptions found at the site indicate that it was occupied by the Arabs for a time after their conquest. Large scale excavations were made in 1965-7 on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the National Parks Administration, under the direction of A. Negev: a large part of the town was cleared and two of the cemeteries were investigated.
Avraham Negev (Ed.), The Archaeological Encyclopaedia of the Holy Land, ad v. "Mampsis" (extract)
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 69)
The vignette shows a wide gate and the gable of a church between two towers. Very impressive the representation of the desert, where the site is situated on. Eus.On.8,8 ; also mentioned by other Byzantine authors and in inscripions. The site, partly excavated in 1965-67, is identical with al-Kurnub, about 37 km southeast of Beersheba. Mampsis is situated within the southern dislocation of the central Palestinian mountains towards the Negheb.
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)
Kurnub is built on a hillside that slopes down from south to north and climbs up steeply from the wadi bed, located to the south. It is enclosed by walls. Within, there are houses, some going back to the Nabataean period, a tower, baths, and two churches. It is one of the largest monumental complexes of the Negeb. The two churches have the usual basilica plan. The most recent excavations, carried out by the Hebrew University in 1965-1967 and 1971-1972, have made it possible to draw an exact plan of the two buildings. The Eastern Church is the largest complex, with a beautiful square atrium in front, entered from the north through a flight of steps, and a row of rooms on the south. The church has three naves but only one apse, flanked by two square side rooms: in each of them a reliquaries had been built into the floor and surmounted by a small altar. The church was paved in mosaic with geometric designs and crosses. On a capital found in this church was the inscription ICHTHYS, the symbolic fish enclosing the phrase I(esous) Ch(ristos) Th(eou) Y(ios) S(oter) .
The Western Church had three naves and three apses and a chapel on the south side with a small apse. The central nave has a mosaic floor with a panel of octagons filled with birds and baskets of fruit, and a geometric panel with an inscription in the center: it mentions one Nilus who built the church. He appears also in two other inscriptions, one in front of the apse, the ather near the steps of the bema. The mosaic carpet in front of the sanctuary has two peacocks flanking an amphora from which a vine issues. At the foot of the steps leading to the bema are three inscriptions. One reads: "O Lord help Abba son of Zenobius, the paramonarius" (the cleric who had charge of the church).
Unlike many other towns in the Negev, Kurnub has not yielded inscriptions from the Byzantine cemeteries located outside the wall. We can surmise that its inhabitants were farmers. The wadi at the foot of Gebel Kurnub was crossed by dams for retaining the rain water and putting it to the best possible use, in view of its scarcity in the region.
G. E. Kirk (PEFQS 1938, p. 236) saw a fragmentary Greek inscription on a block in secondary use in the wall of the police station. He interpreted it as a liturgical formula and translates the three lines: "God Savior; Holy Savior, Good Savior," taking the sigma for the beginning of the word Soter.
As in other churches of the Negeb, the architectural elements of ecclesiastical buildings were decorated with carvings which occasionally represent animals, but mainly mouldings and crosses; sometimes this decoration appears somewhat roughly done.
Kurnub, a capital carved with crosses
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Mampsis", 177.
Map Section 8 Place Sources