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Shivtah (Heb. שִׁבְטָה) or Sobata

SHIVTAH (Heb. שִׁבְטָה) or SOBATA, former town in the Negev, 35 mi. (56 km.) southwest of Beersheba, near the Nessana highway. It was founded in the first century B.C.E. by the *Nabateans (only pottery and an inscription mentioning Dushara are known), but it expanded considerably under Christian rule during the course of the Byzantine period (4 th to 7 th centuries) and thrived until the Abbasid period (c. 800 C.E.), at which point it was finally abandoned. The original Nabatean name for the site may have been Shubitu. The town is mentioned in the later story of St. Nilus and in the Nessana papyri. The settlement (covering an area of about 22 acres) is unwalled and comprises many sumptuous residences, stables, various public buildings, three churches, public squares, and winding streets. Three types of stones of varying quality were used for building houses: a very hard limestone for the foundations and the walls of the lower stories a yellowish medium-hard stone for the middle parts of the walls and the voussoirs of the arches and a soft chalk for the upper stories and the cover-stones of the roofs. Wood was hardly used in private houses, except for shelves in built-in cupboards. The roofing of the private houses was based on a system of arches and cover-stones, and only in the churches were large quantities of wood used. The southern and older part of Shivtah is centered on two large pools. The nearby southern church was built after the other buildings. The northern part, covering 40 dunams (10 acres) with 340 rooms, contained a church with a tower, perhaps a public building, at its southern end and a large church dedicated to St. George at its northern extremity. This church consists of an open court, a narthex, a mosaic-paved side chapel, and a baptistry the main church (66 × 37 ft.) has a nave and two aisles separated by six columns. It has three apses and its walls were once covered with white marble. Near the church was a large square surrounded by 36 shops and workshops (for potters, dyers, etc.).

The Byzantine-period inhabitants of Shivtah cultivated an extensive area in the Lavan Valley, amounting to 4,945 dunams (over 1,270 acres) rainwater from a drainage area of 77 sq. mi. (197½ sq. km.) was carried by means of a series of complicated channels into their fields. An excavation of farm buildings and a columbarium was made by C. Baly at the time of the Colt expedition, but remains unpublished. All the valleys, large and small, were traversed by dams, and an elaborate system of channels collected the rainwater from afar, in a ratio of 1:20 or 1:30 of catchment area per unit of arable field. Experiments in ancient methods of farming and water use are being carried out by M. Evenari of the Hebrew University on a reconstructed farm at Sobata. The presence of a number of wine-presses (described by the excavators as baths of a very economical type) indicates that grapes were probably one of the main crops. In the city itself, water was based on rainwater collected in cisterns and the cleaning of the reservoirs was a duty to be performed by every inhabitant each house was also provided with one or two cisterns. In the 8 th 𠄹 th centuries C.E. a small Muslim community lived at Sobata and built a small mosque near the South Church.

The first European scholar to visit Sobata was E.H. Palmer (1869), who suggested identifying it with Zepath, which Simeon conquered, changing its name to Hormah (Judg. 1:17). This identification has not been accepted. The site was later visited by A. Musil (1902) A. Jaussen, R. Savignac and H. Vincent (1905), who found the first Nabatean and Greek-Byzantine inscriptions C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence (1914) and T. Wiegand, who visited Sobata at the head of the Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments attached to the Turco-German Headquarters (1916) and thus had the opportunity to correct some of the mistakes made by earlier scholars. In the years 1934� an expedition of New York University and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, under the direction of H.D. Colt, made large-scale excavations at Sobata, the results of which have not been published. In the years 1958� the Israel National Parks Authority, under the guidance of M. Avi-Yonah, carried out some clearance and restoration of the ancient buildings. The North Church was studied by R. Rosenthal in the 1970s and later excavations were conducted by S. Margalit. An architectural appreciation of the site was also made by A. Segal. In 1981 A. Negev fully published the 30 or more inscriptions found at Shivtah (see L. Di Segni 1997). In 2000, Y. Hirschfeld prepared a new map of the site and made a detailed study of the architecture of the settlement. T. Tsuk also made a study of its water systems.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

C.L. Woolley and T.E. Lawrence, The Wilderness of Zin (1915), 72ff. C. Baly, "Shivta," PEFQS, 68 (1935), 171� QDAP 8 (1939): 159 H.C. Youtie, "Ostraca from Sbeita," in: AJA, 40 (1936), 452� Y. Kedar, Ȫncient Agriculture at Shivtah in the Negev," in: IEJ, 57 (1957), 178�. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Brimer, "Shivta – An Aerial Photographic Interpretation," in: IEJ, 31 (1981), 227 A. Segal, "Shivta – A Byzantine Town in the Negev Desert," in: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 4 (1985), 317� idem, Architectural Decoration in Byzantine Shivta, Negev Desert, Israel (1988) S. Margalit, "The North Church of Shivta: The Discovery of the First Church," in: PEQ, 119 (1987), 106� L. Di Segni, ⋚ted Greek Inscriptions from Palestine from the Roman and Byzantine Periods" (doct. diss., Hebrew University (1997), 813ff. Y. Hirschfeld, "Man and Society in Byzantine Shivta," in: Qadmoniot, 36 (2003), 2� T. Tsuk, "Water Supply in Byzantine Shivta," in: Qadmoniot, 36 (2003), 18�.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.


Travel: Secrets from the Byzantine city of Shivta

Six Byzantine cities once flourished in the Negev Desert, but then the climate changed and these settlements were abandoned, leaving spectacular ruins for future generations to explore. At Shivta, the most impressive surviving structure is the Northern Church, which was once part of a wealthy monastery.

How did cities come to flourish in the Negev Desert? George Nash has gone in search of Shivta’s former glory.

The Negev Desert of southern Israel holds many secrets from the distant past. Its landscape and environment are no longer what they were during the Byzantine period, which roughly extended from the 5th century AD through to the mid 15th century (when its capital Constantinople fell), but one of its secrets is a group of six abandoned Byzantine cities – the ‘Magnificent Six’ – that once flourished in slightly cooler and wetter conditions than today. These desert cities survive as well-defined ruins, sitting at the heart of extensive formerly farmed landscapes. Such agriculture produced the necessary economic resources to sustain the dynamic settlements growing within this arid region.

One of the Magnificent Six is the town of Shivta, which stands around 350m above sea level, within the western section of the Negev Desert, close to the Israeli–Egyptian border.

The remains of one of the side aisles in the Southern Church at Shivta. Columns once supported the ceiling, while the side aisle was paved with limestone. It may not have been the first place of worship on the site, as traces of Nabatean activity have been detected here.

Streets of Shivta

Shivta lies on the Incense Route that ran between Oman, Yemen, and the Port of Gaza, via the Arabian Desert and Jordan, a distance of 2,400km. The route, which also took in the desert cities of Avdat, Haluza, and Mamshit, was used for over 700 years. The main trading commodities included frankincense, myrrh, ceramics, and metalwork, which were transported by camel caravans. Engraved images of harnessed camels from this period appear on exposed rock-outcrops nearby. Later on, a pilgrim route also developed, which ultimately led the faithful to the walled monastery of St Catherine near the foot of Mount Sinai.

It is likely that the town was first settled during the Nabatean period, from the early part of the 1st century BC. Roman occupation is also apparent in the southern part of the town, but much of the architecture in evidence at Shivta suggests Byzantine handiwork, with many houses appearing to date between the 4th and 5th centuries AD. It is at this time that communities in the Negev began to embrace Christianity.

A general view of the ruins forming the central part of Shivta, with the remains of the Northern Church (left) dominating the scene.

Based on the archaeological evidence, Shivta was slowly but surely abandoned towards the end of the 9th century AD, probably due to a gradually warming climate, resulting in reduced water supply and social turmoil following the Arab Conquest in the 7th century AD. After this point, the town’s population began to dwindle. Prior to the Arab Conquest, Shivta was probably home to over 2,000 inhabitants. In the 200-year period following the Arab Conquest, however, Shivta’s buildings fell into disrepair and eventually collapsed. Over the next thousand years or so, many areas of the site were buried beneath the shifting desert sands, thus concealing a wealth of archaeology and history until its rediscovery.

Uncovering a hidden town

The site was first excavated between 1933 and 1936 by American archaeologist Harris D Colt (a scion of the famous gunmaking dynasty). Colt lived in a house on the site that still bears a Greek inscription reading: ‘With good luck Colt built [this house] with his own money!’ The building was constructed in 1936, and stands south of the modern car park, where it now serves as a restaurant.

Colt’s excavations revealed that the city’s complex street network was flanked by dwellings, temples, and civic and commercial buildings. Surprisingly, it became apparent that the town had no natural water supply in the form of wells or springs. Instead, water was transported to the town via a complex irrigation system, which channelled rainwater from the surrounding landscape into rock-hewn underground water cisterns.

An ornately engraved lintel preserves painted infilled sections including (on the right) a curious tree painting (brought out using DStretch).

More recent excavations by Israeli archaeologist Yizhar Hirschfeld during the 1990s made full use of modern excavation techniques to identify a further 170 dwellings, revealing the full complexity of the town. Following these archaeological endeavours, when walking the streets of Shivta today, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the remarkable street scene – its roads, lanes, and buildings still readily apparent to the visitor. In many cases, though, this owes less to the city being cocooned in sand for centuries, than reconstruction work, some elements more sympathetic than others.

The most visible buildings within the town are its churches, two of which still dominate the skyline as visitors approach the ruins. The Southern Church comprises a prayer hall, nave, and two side aisles, which were capped with roofs supported by dressed stone columns. The nave was paved in marble, the aisle floors with limestone. Intriguingly, the church may not have been the first place of worship to occupy the site, as there are signs that it was constructed over a possible Nabatean-era ritual building.

Decoration around the arch of a niche within the Northern Church becomes vivid once more when the photograph is enhanced using DStretch software.

The Northern Church is even more impressive. It was the largest such structure in Shivta, and constructed in the style of a basilica, which still stands to a height of 10m. Parts of its interior, including the prominent niches, were painted, traces of which still survive. A taste of the former splendour of this decoration can be gained from running photographs through ‘decorrelation stretch’. A software package initially developed by NASA, DStretch is perfect for enhancing faded artistry, as it identifies varying hues of red, yellow, and black pigment, helping to make painted patterns, figures, or graffiti more pronounced and/or decipherable. Because of this, DStretch is particularly popular with rock-art specialists studying prehistoric paintings, but it also provides a glimpse of the former opulence of the church. No such technological wizardry is needed to make out another glimpse of the church’s religious significance, provided by the Greek letters alpha and omega having been inscribed on the entrance-gate piers. Carving the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet into the masonry created a simple metaphor for Jesus’s declaration that ‘I am the beginning and the end’.

This is an extract of an article featured in issue 100 of Current World Archaeology. Click here for more information about subscribing to the magazine.


Early depiction of Jesus discovered in Israel: Curly hair, long face, 'not like Western image'

A newly discovered artistic depiction of Jesus in the ruins of an ancient Israeli church portrays Christ differently from Western conceptions, with curly hair and a long face.

Art historian Emma Maayan-Fanar told Haaretz that the painting was discovered in the ruins of Shivta, formally a Byzantine farming village in Israel's Negev desert.

"His face is right there, looking at us," Maayan-Fanar said of the eroded painting found at the ruins of a church, meant to depict Jesus' baptism.

She explained that unlike Western perceptions that often portray Jesus with flowing long hair, the Shivta painting depicts Him with short curly hair, a long face and an elongated nose.

The exact date of the artwork is not yet known, though Shivta is believed to have been founded sometime in the 2nd century C.E.

Another painting of Jesus in the ruins of Shivta discovered earlier symbolizes the transfiguration, but does not depict His face.

Though the ancient village was first discovered in 1871 and has been the subject of much archaeological work, Maayan-Fanar believes she is the first to discover it is Christ's image underneath the centuries of dirt on the painting.

"I was there at the right time, at the right place with the right angle of light and, suddenly, I saw eyes," the art historian recalled. "It was the face of Jesus at His baptism, looking at us."

Dror Maayan, her husband, took hi-res photographs of the site, which further allow the image lost for over 1,5000 years to become clearer.

The find is said to be "extremely rare," given that early depictions of Jesus' physical appearance are practically non-existent in Israel.

The question of what Jesus really looked like has long been the subject of debate by historians and theologians. A book earlier in 2018 by Joan E. Taylor, professor of Christian origins and Second Temple Judaism at King's College London, tackled that precise question, and looking at what His skin and hair color, height, and attire might have been.

"The early depictions of Jesus that set the template for the way he continues to be depicted today were based on the image of an enthroned emperor and influenced by presentations of pagan gods. The long hair and beard are imported specifically from the iconography of the Graeco-Roman world. Some of the oldest surviving depictions of Jesus portray him as essentially a younger version of Jupiter, Neptune or Serapis," Taylor wrote in The Irish Times.

He said that in reality, Judaeans of Jesus' time were closest biologically to modern-day Iraqi Jews.

"In terms of a colour palette then, think dark-brown to black hair, deep brown eyes, olive-brown skin. Jesus would have been a man of Middle Eastern appearance. In terms of height, an average man of this time stood 166 cm (5 ft 5 in) tall," the author of What Did Jesus Look Like? suggested.


Martin Noth

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Martin Noth, (born Aug. 3, 1902, Dresden, Ger.—died May 30, 1968, H̱orvot Shivta, Israel), German biblical scholar who specialized in the early history of the Jewish people.

In his book Das System der zwölf Stämme Israels (1930 “The Scheme of the Twelve Tribes of Israel”), written when he was just 28, Noth proposed the theory that the unity called Israel did not exist prior to the covenant assembly at Shechem in Canaan (Joshua 24), where, in his view, the tribes, theretofore loosely related through customs and traditions, accepted the worship and the covenant of Yahweh imposed by Joshua. Oral traditions from the various tribes were combined in the Pentateuch after the covenant union, and it was only at the time of Ezra that the traditions were finally written down, often combining different narrative elements into a single tale. Thus, the story of the Passover and that of the Exodus, once separate traditions, were linked in the written books of Moses. The two major narrative traditions, the Jehovistic and Elohistic (so called from the name used for God in each), formed a framework around the other traditional elements.

Noth served as professor of theology at the University of Bonn from 1945 to 1965, continuing his studies after his retirement.


Explore the Ruins of an Ancient Incense Route

Frankincense and myrrh may not make the cut on many shopping lists today, but from the 3rd century BCE to the 2nd century AD, they were hot commodities. Procured from tree sap, they were long used as incense and perfume, burned frequently in many places around the world to cover up the not-so-pleasant smells of the time. But there was one problem: frankincense and myrrh were only native to trees growing in Ethiopia, Somalia, and southern Arabia.

Enter the incense route, a path spanning more than 1,200 miles and used by traders to carry frankincense and myrrh from Yemen and Oman, through the Negev desert, to the Mediterranean port in Gaza. The route took about 62 days to traverse, according to the notable Roman author Pliny the Elder, with around 65 stops along the way where traders and their camel caravans could rest, recharge and sell their goods. Generally, a day’s worth of travel would bring the caravans to the next stop.

A local population called the Nabateans primarily controlled this route, operating four major cities along the way—Haluza, Mamshit, Avdat and Shivta—as well as multiple fortresses protecting the route from robbers.

At the height of its use, the incense route aided in the transport of an estimated 3,000 tons of incense every year, following an undulating path that changed slightly with each instance that settlements along the way decided to increase taxes on passing caravans. Although some spices were also carried along the incense route, this shouldn’t be confused with the actual spice routes, which were largely maritime paths.

And like those before them, the overland incense route transitioned to a maritime route, as well, beginning around the last century BCE. Traders in southern Arabia would make inflatable rafts out of animal skin, using those to secretly float bundles of incense out to waiting ships on the Arabian Sea. From there, the boats would covertly sail up the Red Sea and deliver the incense to Egyptian ports. In approximately㺙 BCE, the south Arabian kingdoms were ultimately overthrown, bringing an end to the overland route (which was mostly controlled by Arabians) altogether, and allowing the maritime trade to flourish.

Follow the scent to these spots in modern-day Israel, where you can see what’s left of the ancient incense route today.


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Researchers believe these few trees, located a handful of kilometers outside the ruins of the ancient Byzantine settlement of Shivta, grew there through no fluke of nature. They may be among the last living witnesses to a complex civilization that built prosperous towns and farmed the Negev during the Byzantine period, more than 15 centuries before Zionists started imagining they could make Israel’s desert bloom.

Fresh research is shedding new light on these Byzantine desert dwellers – who were they? How did they shape their environment to such an extent? And why they ultimately, and quite mysteriously, abandon the lands they had fought for so hard?

Researchers say these questions are key not just for historians but for any society, including modern Israel, that wishes to develop and grow sustainably in an extreme environment like the desert.

“This was a complex society, so this question is very relevant to us, because the next time that the Negev was so densely settled was with Zionism and the creation of Israel,” says Haifa University archeologist Guy Bar-Oz. “It is very relevant for us to understand how they did it and what went wrong.”

From frankincense to farming

If we visited the central Negev 1,700 years ago, far from a barren wasteland peopled mainly by nomads and lizards, we would see a countryside dotted with farms and monasteries. Vast fields of grain, olive groves and fruit orchards lined the wadis vineyards produced some of the most popular wines in the ancient world. There were also at least seven large towns supporting trade and agriculture in the area.

Although their remains are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, archaeologists have barely scratched the surface in some of them.

The regional capital, Halutza – once the seat of a bishop, public baths, churches and a theater – has largely been left buried under the sand, mostly due to lack of funds and frequent looting by local Bedouins.

The second largest Byzantine town in the area – Ruheibe, also known as "Rehovot in the Negev" – has been partially excavated. But it is difficult to access, including because it is surrounded by an Israeli army firing zone.

Still, archaeologists have managed to glean some information about the people who lived there, says Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who in January published an article on research in Ruheibe in the Israeli journal Kadmoniot.

Tribal population of Nabateans

The inhabitants worshipped in churches and wrote in Greek, the Byzantine empire’s official language. But the architecture of towns like Ruheibe – clusters of small houses and tight winding alleys to keep the sand out and provide shade – point to a local, tribal population, Dahari says.

column capital in the ruins of Ruheibe decorated in typical Nabatean style. Ariel David

The names on the tombstones of Ruheibe’s cemetery and the morphology of dozens of skeletons that were dug up, further indicates that most of the inhabitants were Nabateans, Dahari told Haaretz during a visit to the site.

The Nabateans were a semi-nomadic Arab people best known for building the spectacular rock-cut city of Petra and a trade empire that brought spices and luxury goods from the Orient to the Mediterranean. In fact, the Byzantine towns of the Negev started out in pre-Roman times as Nabatean trading posts on the spice route between Petra and the port of Gaza. Later they also profited from the passage of Christian pilgrims between Jerusalem and St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

So why would rich merchants, fat on the profits from selling frankincense and myrrh, decide to settle down and become farmers?

“Imagine if we stopped using oil: what would happen to the Saudis?” says Dahari. “They could not go back to being nomadic shepherds, also because their numbers have increased, so they would have to use their money to create something else.”

How to capture the rain

And that’s probably what the Nabateans did. In the 3rd century C.E., the Roman empire underwent a political and economic crisis that disrupted trade routes. During the next two centuries, the fall of the Western empire and the spread of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean further reduced the demand for the luxury goods that the Nabateans had supplied.

“They could not move north, because during the Byzantine period, the Holy Land was very densely populated. So they had to settle and farm this land, possibly with the support of the Byzantine administration and outside experts,” Dahari explains.

The climate would not have been much different from today, with rainfall averaging around 100 millimeters a year, he says. So, their entire lives were centered on capturing and storing the rains that each year fall in the Negev during brief, violent showers.

The entire city was plastered and paved to channel water toward the cisterns dug in the courtyard of each house. Larger cisterns and open-air reservoirs were built in the surrounding countryside, along with wells that could reach the underground aquifer – up to 63 meters deep, like a 20-story building.

This system would have been just enough to provide water all-year round to satisfy the basic drinking and washing needs of the inhabitants, according to Dahari. But what about the fields?

An open-air reservoir outside Ruheibe, used to collect winter rain in the Byzantine period. Ariel David

For this, just around the town of Ruheibe, the inhabitants built 250 kilometers of terraces, dams and canals, using a vast 180,000 cubic meters of stone, according to a survey conducted by Dahari and his team. This system would be used to control the violent floods that usually follow the rare storms in the Negev. Instead of running off into the desert, the water would be channeled into the terraces, where it would soak the ground, helping to keep it moist for the rest of the year.

Importing parrot fish

Similar systems have been found around other settlements in the area, including at Shivta, where a solitary olive grove still survives atop a stone terrace which, judging from the pottery archaeologists found there, was built in the Byzantine period. (Scientists are still working to try to date the trees).

“Once this system is working, it can provide the equivalent of 500 millimeters of rain instead of the average 100,” explains archaeologist Yotam Tepper. “But it’s very labor intensive. It requires constant maintenance: if one dam is breached, one terrace is damaged, the water escapes, the ground doesn’t get soaked and you lose everything.”

Despite the backbreaking work required, from the 4th to the 7th century C.E., the communities of the Negev did not merely survive, they thrived. Locals could afford to import exotic goods, like parrot fish from the Red Sea, hundreds of kilometers away. Meanwhile, they shipped their produce, including fruits, olive oil and especially wine across the Mediterranean and beyond.

The distinctive amphorae in which the sweet, highly alcoholic wines of the Negev were packaged have been found as far as Italy, France and Britain, says Bar-Oz.

And then, almost overnight, it all ended.

If you walk through the streets of Shivta and other Byzantine desert towns you notice something strange about the crumbling houses: most of the entrances were neatly sealed with large stones.

It’s as if one day the inhabitants packed up their belongings, sealed their homes and left, never to return.

Why that happened remains a mystery, and is one of the key questions behind a project, led by Bar-Oz and funded by the European Union, to investigate the Byzantine Negev using advanced scientific methods.

Go north, young Nabatean?

Many theories have been put forward. It is however too early to draw conclusions, Bar-Oz says.

One preliminary study, based on dating samples from the ancient garbage dumps outside Halutza, suggest that organized refuse collection in the city abruptly ended around the year 540. This could point to a crisis connected to the Plague of Justinian, a pandemic that is estimated to have killed millions in Europe and the Middle East at that very time.

But there is little or no evidence in the area of mass graves or other signs of such a catastrophe, Bar-Oz notes.

A 63-meter-deep well dug near Ruheibe. The well still works and the grooves in the stones were left by ropes over centuries of use. Ariel David

Other data from the garbage dumps of Halutza indicates that as the years went on, locals used an ever-increasing amount of low-quality wood as fuel, which may suggest they were facing climate change.

Finally, one theory that historians have long favored, connects the decline of the Nabatean settlement of the Negev to the Muslim conquest in the first half of the 7th century.

However, there are few signs of violence and destruction in the Negev towns associated with the arrival of Mohammed’s followers. Many of the settlements, including Shivta, continued to be inhabited in the early Muslim period – albeit by a smaller population.

Dahari, the archaeologist who dug at Ruheibe, explains it all by theorizing that the Muslim takeover of the Middle East and the collapse of Byzantine control in the region meant the inhabitants of the Negev simply became freer to leave and seek greener pastures in more fertile areas of the Levant.

“You only live in the desert if you have to,” Dahari says. “The inhabitants here were Arabs, just like the new conquerors, so many probably converted to Islam and went north with their brethren.”


Archaeologists Discover an Ancient Portrait of Young Jesus in an Abandoned Israeli Church

The 1,500-year-old wall painting was found in a Byzantine church in Israel's Negev desert.

One of the churches in Shivta. Photo by Dror Maayan.

A 1,500-year-old wall painting of Jesus Christ has been found in an abandoned Byzantine church in Israel’s Negev desert. The site has been known to archaeologists for almost 150 years, but new research has identified the faint image as a youthful Messiah with short, curly hair, rather than traditional depictions of him with long hair and a beard.

“His face is right there, looking at us,” art historian Emma Maayan-Fanar told Haaretz of realizing that the painting depicted Christ. She is the lead author of an article published over the summer in the journal Archaeology about recent findings in the ruins of the Byzantine farming village Shivta, discovered in 1871 by explorer Edward Henry Palmer.

At its peak in the fifth to sixth century, Shivta, which was active for some 650 years, was home to three early Christian churches. The poorly preserved painting is located above the baptismal font, and likely depicts Christ’s baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, a popular scene in early Christian and Byzantine art.

The wall painting “belongs to the iconographic scheme of a short-haired Christ, which was especially widespread in Egypt and Syro-Palestine, but gone from later Byzantine art,” the article explains. “Christ’s depiction as a youth corresponds to the symbolic notion of baptism as a rebirth.”

A plan of Shivta showing the locations of its churches. Photo by Dror Maayan.

Archaeologists had noted the presence of murals in the church back in the 1920s, but no one had investigated further. A fact that isn’t surprising given that they were located high up on the church ceiling, badly damaged and covered in centuries of dirt.

A second painting in Shivta shows Jesus’s transfiguration, but his face has been erased over the century.

The discovery of early Christian art at Shivta is especially significant as little Byzantine art from this period survives. In the eighth century, the use of religious imagery was banned during the first of two periods of Byzantine iconoclasm.

The face of Jesus as seen in an ancient painting discovered in a church in Shivta. Photo by Dror Maayan.

The earliest known image of Jesus dates from between 233 and 256, and was found at the Dura-Europos church in Syria.

There are very few surviving images of Jesus from antiquity in Israel and, according to Maayan-Fanar and her team, no other examples of a baptism of Christ scene from the pre-iconoclasm period have ever been found on an archaeological site. As such, the article notes, these artworks “can illuminate Byzantine Shivta’s Christian community and Early Christian art across the region.”


Shivta (Subeita, Isbeita)

Ruins of ancient city in Negev south of the Beersheba-Nizzana road, 9 miles to the west of Sede Boqer.

Originally it was a Nabatean road station, which was apparently built in the 1st century BCE it reached its prime in the Byzantine Period when it became a transit city for commercial caravans from Egypt northwards, and from the east to the Mediterranean shores and Europe.

The Nabateans also cultivated extensive farming areas based on a special irrigation system which has been discovered in and around Shivta. In 6th century it prospered as a result of heavy pilgrim traffic and was about 400 meters by 300 meters in size.

After the Arab conquest it declined until it was completely abandoned in 12th century. Its building stones remained in situ because of its relative isolation and it was thus better preserved than other ancient Negeb cities.

Its ruins, restored since 1958, include 3 churches, one in the north and two in the south. In front of the northern church is a square and alongside it ruins of a monastery, caravanserai and bathhouse. Alongside one of the southern churches is a 9 th -century mosque, streets lined with houses, each with a central courtyard and many with a second storey.

Remains: Around the city are remains of canals, dams and terraces which were built to utilize rainwater for farming. In nearby fields are mounds of flint stones which were probably cleared to allow a free flow of water along the cultivated slopes. A nearby farm has also been restored.


Miẕpé Shivta

Arkiyolohiyang dapit ang Miẕpé Shivta (Inebreo: Mitspé Shivta, מצפה שבטה) sa Israel. [1] Ang Miẕpé Shivta nahimutang sa distrito sa Southern District, sa habagatang bahin sa nasod. 407 metros ibabaw sa dagat kahaboga ang nahimutangan sa Miẕpé Shivta. [1]

Miẕpé Shivta (Mitspé Shivta)
Khirba el Mushrifa, Mitspe Shiuta, Musheirifa, מצפה שבטה
Arkiyolohiyang dapit
Nasod Israel
Distrito Southern District
Gitas-on 407 m (1,335 ft)
Tiganos 30°55′02″N 34°36′36″E  /  30.91732°N 34.61°Ö  / 30.91732 34.61
Timezone EET (UTC+2)
- summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
GeoNames 294165

Ang yuta palibot sa Miẕpé Shivta kasagaran patag, apan sa habagatang-sidlakan nga kini mao ang kabungtoran. Miẕpé Shivta nahimutang sa usa ka gitas-on. [saysay 1] Kinahabogang dapit sa palibot ang Har Boker, 629 ka metros ni kahaboga ibabaw sa dagat, 11.4 km sa sidlakan sa Miẕpé Shivta. [saysay 2] Dunay mga 42 ka tawo kada kilometro kwadrado Hapit nalukop sa desiyerto ug kamingawan ang palibot sa Miẕpé Shivta medyo gamay nga populasyon. [3] Ang kinadul-ang mas dakong lungsod mao ang Midreshet Ben-Gurion, 18.1 km sa sidlakan sa Miẕpé Shivta. Sa palibot sa Miẕpé Shivta. [4]

Ang klima init nga kamadan. [5] Ang kasarangang giiniton 23 °C. Ang kinainitan nga bulan Hulyo, sa 33 °C, ug ang kinabugnawan Enero, sa 11 °C. [6] Ang kasarangang pag-ulan 130 milimetro matag tuig. Ang kinabasaan nga bulan Enero, sa 31 milimetro nga ulan, ug ang kinaugahan Hunyo, sa 1 milimetro. [7]


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