Ascalon, Gaza, Negev and Sinai
107. Gerara - (Tell Abu Hurayrah)
A city and region in the Negev in which Abraham and Isaac dwelt (Gen. chs. 20, 26). Gerar was located on the way to Egypt and is mentioned in connection with Kadesh (identified in ancient sources with Petra and now mainly with Ayn Qudayrat) and Shur (the fortifications on the Egyptian frontier). In the north it bordered on the territories of Beersheba and Gaza (Gen. 10,19; 26,1-2; II Chron. 14,12-13). Its area included Rehoboth (which some scholars identify with the later Ruheibah, 12 1/2 mi. (20 km.) south of Elusa, Sitnah, Esek, the valley of Gerar, and the royal city of Gerar. Through Abraham's oath to Abimelech, the land of Gerar was excluded from the territory destined to be conquered by the Israelites (Gen. 21,22-32; cf. Hul. 60b) and it was outside the area of Israelite settlement (Josh. 15). According to the patriarchal tradition, the land of Gerar was inhabited by Philistines originating from Casluhim who lived in Gerar as shepherds ruled by a king; a treaty existed between them and the Hebrew Patriarchs (Gen. 10,14; 21,32-34; 26,1, 15ff.). These references to the Philistines, however, are considered an anachronism. Gerar is again mentioned in the time of Asa king of Judah (c. 908-867 B.C.E.) who pursued Zerah the Ethiopian from Mareshah to Gerar and destroyed all the cities in its vicinity (II Chron. 14,8-14). If the Septuagint version of I Chronicles 4,39-41 is correct (reading Gerar instead of Gedor), the land of Gerar was inhabited in the period of the monarchy by remnants of Ham and by Meunim. The name Gerar survived as a geographical term even after the destruction of the city and designated the district occupied by the former land of Gerar. The reference to it in II Chronicles 14,12 may already have this meaning and it certainly has it in II Maccabees 13,24 (cf. I Macc. 11,59). The district was later known by its Greek name Geradike (TJ, Shev. 6,1, 36c; Gen. R. 52,6; 64,3) or Geraritike (Eusebius, Onom. 60,6ff.) which was identified with the biblical Gerar. Eusebius (loc. cit.) locates it 25 Roman miles "from Eleutheropolis (Bet Guvrin) toward the south"; it is similarly represented on the Madaba Map southwest of Beersheba. Various scholars have accordingly proposed to identify it with Tell al-Sharia, 12 mi. (19 km.) northwest of Beersheba or with Tell Yamma further to the west. Y. Aharoni, however, has suggested a site midway between these two moundsóTell Abu Hurayra (Tell Haror), the largest tell in the area and containing pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age and later periods.
Yehoshua M. Grintz, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Gerar"
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 71-72)
The text is an excerpt from Eusebius, supplemented by the political-administrative term saltus Geraticus "the domain of Gerar" which is often mentioned in Byzantine sources. The lacation is not quite clear; either Tall as-Saria or, more probably, Tall Abu Hurera, both of them about 20-25 km southeast of Gaza, apparently displaced on the Madaba map. By the way, Gerar did not belong to the Philistine city territories. The phrase "royal city of the Philistines" is based upon Gen.26,1 where king Abimelech of Gerar is made anachronistically a king of the Philistines.
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)
Kh. 'Irq, Gerar, Arda/Orda, Kh. el-Far, Birsama, H. Beer Shema'
A. Alt, following the Madaba Map, maintains that Gerar is to be located at Kh. 'Irq, 6 kilometers east of Gaza. There are Byzantine remains in this site (JPOS 12 , p. 139). Bishop Marcian of Ardon attended the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Two bishops went to Jerusalem for the two sixth-century councils.
Nearby Kh. el-Far is identified with Birsama, that was the military center of the Saltus Gerariticus (the imperial estate of Gerar) just as Orda was its religious centre. At el-Far extensive elements of the Byzantine village (wells, cisterns, etc.) are still preserved, albeit in a dilapidated state (Abel, Géographie, p. 443). Gerar, however, is identified by others with Umm Jerar which would would preserve the ancient name. According to Y. Aharoni (IEJ 6 , p. 28), Kh. 'Irq-Orda would be the episcopal city which succeeded ancient Gerar, this would be located at Kh. Abu Hureira on the northern side of Wadi Jerar-Wadi Shari'ah (the latter name derives from the tell east of Kh. Abu Hureira). Orda on the other hand is south of the wadi after the crossroads (see Aharoni's map, ibid., p. 29).
Near Wadi Shari'ah, the monk Silvanus had built his monastery in the river bed (Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica VI, 32). He was a Palestinian who had visited Egypt and Sinai but later had returned to his homeland. In 415 the monastery was in the charge of Zacharias his successor (PO 8, pp. 100, 177).
Map of Southern Negev
based on the Nissana Papyri
Addition by Leah Di Segni (Jerusalem):
A church with a splendid mosaic pavement and Greek inscriptions has been recently discovered at H. Beer Shema'. The pavement has the well-known motif of the vine tendrils issuing from an amphora and forming populated scrolls: the fifty-five medallions contain figures of objects. animals and humans. Amomg those is an unprecedented representation of a sitting woman nursing a baby (D. Gazit & Y. Lender, in Ancient Churches Revealed, pp.273-76).
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Birsama", 91; "Orda", 198; "Saltus Gerariticus", 220.
Map Section 9 Place Sources