Ascalon, Gaza, Negev and Sinai
128. Betylium - (Shaykh Zuwayd ?)
Bitylium, not to be confused with Bethelia (A. Alt, "Bitolion und Bethelea", ZDPV, 1926, 236-242), was a small town lying right on the seashore, as is mentioned in the life of Theognios, one of its bishops in the sixth century (Paul Elus. Theog. 21). It was situated 12 miles from the two road-stations, Rhinocorura to the southwest and Raphia to the northeast. The original site of the latter is today represented most probably by Tel esh-Sheikh, in the region of Sheikh Zuweid, where important ruins from the classical period were discovered and partly excavated by Cledat in 1913 (J. Cledat, "Fouilles a Cheikh Zouede", Ann. Serv. Antiq. Eg. 15, 1915, 15-48; A. Ovadiah - C. Gomez de Silva - S. Mochnik, "The Mosaic Pavements of Sheikh Zouede in Northern Sinai", in Tesserae. Festschrift fur Joseph Engemann, Münster 1991, 181-191.). Pilgrims used to visit this place for its supposed connections to the imaginary Bethulia in the book of Judith (Theod. 3). Already Jerome had identified the two places, Bethulia and Bitylium, in his narration of Hilarion's departure from the Gaza region (Jer. Vit. Hil. 30, in the Latin text published by Relandus 1714:639). Travelers and pilgrims could also cross the border between Egypt and Palestine more inland, in the village of Butaphis or Butaphion, that probably lay situated along the road (P. Figueras, "Bytilion and Boutaphis", Israel - People and Land (Eretz Israel Museum Yearbook) 5-6 [23-24], 1987-89, 121-124 [Hebrew]).
P. Figueras, "The Road Linking Palestine and Egypt along the Sinai Coast", The Madaba Map Centenary, p. 223 (see also the complete article)
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 77)
The ancient names of this village vary slightly (Bitylion, Bitolion, Betulia, Bethelia). It is identical with one of the ruins near Kurum as-seh, 15 km southwest of Rafah as the crow flies, either Tall Ganin, or Tall Abu Salima, or - most likely - Tall as-Seh Zuwayid (A. Alt, ZDPV 49, 1926, p.236-242.333ff.; RB 48, 1939, p. 227f.544-547; RB 49, 1940, p. 224-227). The vilage has often been confused with Bethelia, the home town of the famous historian Sozomenos (hist. eccl. V,15; VII,28.32; VIII,14), situated not very far from Bet Lahya northeast of Gaza. A pagan temple was there, erected on the top of a hill, transformed into a church by the monk Hilarion in the early 4th century. Did the mosaicist fall a victim of this confusion as well?
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)
Sheikh Zuweiyd, Bitylion
Some identify Bitylion or Betylion, an episcopal city known in the sixth century (Le Quien, Oriens Christianus III, p. 671), with Bethelea, a village north of Gaza; but others believe that they are two separate places. Thus, Fr. Abel (Géographie, p. 285), following the Madaba Map, places Bitylion south of Gaza, between Raphia and Rhinocurura, precisely in the locality called Sheikh Zuweiyd.
Br. Liévin (p. 201) notes that this sheikh was considered very powerful by the Moslem inhabitants and that he was buried in the weli which bears his name. He saw a well built with dressed stones of medium size along with other ruins; he thus thought that the site must have been an important place in antiquity. He was of the opinion that the sand covered ancient structures. The well contains drinkable water. See Tabula Imperii Romani , s.v. Bitulion.
Beit Lahia, Bethelea
In the Life of St. Hilarion (ch.20; PL 23, col.44), St. Jerome says that the saint, wishing to leave Palestine, set out for Egypt and "reached Betilium with an immense group of companions. There he convinced the crowds to return home and selected forty hermits who had some provisions and could fast as they walked until after sunset. The third day, therefore, he reached Thaubastum"
Hilarion was known in Bethelea because he had been teacher of the noblemen Fuscus, Malachion and Crispius who lived in a monastery they built there (thus Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica VI, 32). The same Sozomen (Historia Ecclesiastica V, 15) informs us that his grandfather in Bethelea had converted from paganism to Christianity with the family of one Alaphion after a miracle worked by St. Hilarion. Alaphion was possessed by the devil; he tried pagan and Jewish magics in order to be freed, without success. St. Hilarion, on the contrary, freed him by invoking Christ's name. The historian calls Bethelea "a village of Gaza." Sozomen (Historia Ecclesiastica VII, 28) also tells of an ascetic called Aias of Maiuma of Gaza, who became bishop of Bitoulion, a place which is believed by some scholars to be identical to Bethelea itself. (Bagatti evidentemente propende per il sì, ma di fatto l'identificazione è inaccettabile)
In his panegyric on St. Theognius (E. Schwartz, Kyrillos von Skythopolis, Leipzig 1939 [TU 49ii], pp. 241-43; Festugière, III, 3, pp. 65-67), Cyril of Scythopolis informs us that the saint, once a monk in the monastery of St. Theodosius, was elected bishop of Bitylion ,"a seaside town" 90 Roman miles (ca. 132 km) from the holy city. Once the stormy sea threatened to invade the town; and the town people went in fright to implore the saint's help. He went to the shore and, having planted a cross in the water, set the sea back within its limits. Theognius, a native of Aratheia in Cappadocia, arrived in Jerusalem in 454 or 455, was a disciple of St. Theodosius and later founded a monastery of his own near his master's; he was bishop of Bitylion from 494 until his death in 522. Manuel succeeded him and was at the Council of Jerusalem in 536.
Among the documents pertaining to the origins of the Monophysite church published by J. B. Chabot, there are lists of Monophysite archimandrites and monks spread over different areas with their signatures affixed. At the bottom of a letter sent by the archimandrites of Arabia to the "orthodox" bishops about the middle of the 6th century, there is also the signature of David, abbot of the monastery of Bitylion; he signed in his own hand (Documenta ad origines Monophysitarum illustrandas , Louvain 1952 [CSCO 103], p. 149). Clearly the monastic life had continued and, during the conflicts which arose after the Council of Chalcedon, the monastery had embraced the Monophysite faith.
As noted by Thomsen (Loca Sancta, pp.30-31), the toponym is transcribed in various ways and perhaps not all refer to Bethelea. In fact Father Abel (Géographie, p. 285) is of the opinion that two different places are involved and he places Bitylion at Sheik Zuweiyd, south of Gaza on the road to Egypt.
Bethelea is identified with present-day Beit Lahiya. The authors of SWP (III, pp. 233-34) saw an old, very small mosque in the village which they thought had been erectedwhere the ancient pagan temple mentioned by Sozomen (Historia Ecclesiastica V, 15) had stood. Guérin (Judée II, p. 176) says merely that Beit Lahiya is located in a small valley and the inhabitants, about 250 of them, were fighting the invasion of the sand.
In a Latin text of 1339, which gives a list of the Moslem possessions, there appears also a civitas Ficuum or "city of the figs" which has been identified with Bethelea (autore?, Syria 23 [1942-43], p. 96). For Beit Lahiya the Schedule notes: fragments of columns, capitals, bases, Maqam of Sheikh Salim Abu Musellam.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Bitulion", 91.
Map Section 9 Place Sources