Scientific Background

The study of Early Christian churches and monasteries of the Holy Land has a great appeal for both scholars and the general public. More and more new structures are uncovered each year, augmenting the list and rendering the available synthetic studies outdated. An electronic corpus, including maps, will enable continuous updating in years to come. Being open to all via the internet, it will constitute not only a useful source of information but also a research tool for scholars throughout the world. The chronological framework will include the Early Muslim period (up to the Abbasids). The geographical framework pertains to the three provinces of Palaestina, excluding sites that at present are within the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan but including Western Galilee, which belonged to Phoenicia in antiquity.



More than seventy years have elapsed since the first effort at a synthesis was published by Crowfoot (1941) followed in 1968 by Bagatti. The essential information up to the early 1980s was compiled in a corpus by Ovadiah (1970), with three supplements published together with de Silva (1981, 1982, 1984). The total number of churches addressed there is 318. Since then the number of churches exposed has greatly increased, now comprising more than 500, making this corpus outdated. Finds of more recent years were published in a volume of essays in honor of V. Corbo edited by Bottini, Di Segni and Alliata (1990) and in an anthology edited by Tsafrir (1993). Many of the churches were also described briefly in the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land (1992, “Churches”, by A. Ovadiah, vol. I, pp. 305–14, including a map on p. 306, and many other churches within the entries for particular sites). Of special interest are the regional studies of the Negev churches by Rosenthal‐Heginbottham (1982), Negev (1974, 1989), and Margalit (1987), and on the Western Galilee churches by Aviam (1999, 2002). Final excavation reports are few: Shavei Zion, Nahariya, Tabgha (Heptapegon), Beth Yerah, Kursi, Mamshit (Kurnub), Avdat, Nessana, Rehovot in‐the‐Negev, Horvat Berachot, and several churches in Jerusalem and its vicinity, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Comprehensive studies of the Judaean Desert monasteries (see below) have added a wealth of information on monastic chapels (a particular type of churches). A more recent synthesis was published by Patrich (2006a). About 450 structures in more than 335 sites are listed in the Tabula Imperii Romanii Iudaea/Palaestina (Tsafrir, Di Segni, and Green 1994). The most updated bibliographical references to studies and a full list of ancient sources related to each site are to be found there, as well as a map of churches.


Epigraphic material was collected, indexed, and analyzed by Meimaris (1986). The dated inscriptions were studied by him more recently (1992), and still later, with many re‐readings, by Di Segni (1997). The baptismal installations were explored by Ben Pechat (1989). Church furnishings (chancel posts and panels) were studied by Habas (1994) and burial in churches by Goldfus (1997). The mosaic floors were collected and analyzed by Avi Yonah (1932‐35; republished 1981), Roussin (1985), R. and A. Ovadiah (1987), and Talgam (2000, 2014), with the objective of establishing a firm stylistic chronology on the basis of floors dated by inscriptions, and discussing their message. The liturgical installations in the churches of Palestine in relation to those of Jordan and other Early Christian churches were examined by Duval (1994, 1999, 2003) and Sodini (1995), and a first step toward relating modifications of church architecture to a liturgical transformation was suggested by Patrich (2006b).


The survival of the Christian communities in Palestine after the Arab conquest of the country was examined in the comprehensive study of Schick (1995). His conclusions deserve reassessment in light of more recent finds and by applying different perspectives.



Unlike the case of churches, no corpus has so far been compiled for the Early Christian monasteries of the Holy Land, which number more than 200. The classic study on monasticism in the Holy Land, based mainly on the literary sources, is still Chitty 1966. More recent syntheses are those of Binns (1996) and of Bitton‐Ashkelony (2006). The archaeological finds have added much information, shedding a vivid light on the written sources, pertaining to the physical layout of the monasteries, the daily life of the monks therein, and many other aspects. The monasteries of the Judaean Desert (the Desert of Jerusalem) and of the Valley of Jericho have been studied most extensively, due to their arid setting and the relatively good preservation of the archaeological remains (see mainly the studies of Hirschfeld, Patrich, and Sion in the bibliography). The literary sources pertaining to these two regions are particularly abundant, and the most important of these, the writings of Cyril of Scythopolis, have been translated from the Greek into English by Price (1991), and into Hebrew by Di Segni (2005). This enabled a more refined synthesis between archaeological and literary sources of information (Hirschfeld 1992; Patrich 1995). But monasteries in other parts of the country have been studied as well, though to a lesser extent: the Negev (Figueras 1995; 2013); Gaza and its region (Di Segni, Hirschfeld, Neyt, in: Bitton‐Ashkelony and Kofsky 2004; Elter 2004; Elter and Hassoune 2005); the foothills of Southern Samaria and Judaea (Taxel 2008, 2009); the region of Jerusalem and the city itself (Milik 1960‐61; Di Segni 2009; Ma‘oz 2010; Seligman 2011); Judaea and Samaria (Hirschfeld 2002; Magen 2008; Carmin 2012a; 2012b); and Western Galilee (Aviam 2003; Ashkenazi and Aviam 2013a; 2013b). Rural monasticism has recently received more specific attention (Bar 2005; Taxel 2009, Ashkenazi and Aviam 2013a; Seligman 2011), while urban monasticism (Goldfus 2003) merits further study. Magen (2008) has recently drawn attention to the phenomenon of monasteries installed in former Late Roman fortresses. In addition to the basic classification of monasteries into coenobia and lauras, Hirschfeld (2006) proposed a more detailed classification into four groups: rural, urban, desert, and pilgrimage. This classification can be further refined. The epigraphic studies mentioned above (under Churches) pertain to monasteries as well. The vast majority of the monks were Greek speaking, but some monasteries were inhabited by Georgian, Armenian, or Syriac speaking monks, as is attested by the epigraphic finds (Corbo 1955; Mgaloblishvili 2007; Stone 2011). Only a few monasteries have been exposed in their entirety or to a large extent. Noteworthy among them are the monasteries of Martyrius (Magen and Talgam 1990), Euthymius (Meimaris 1989), and ed‐Deir (Hirschfeld 1999) in the Desert of Jerusalem, Khirbet es‐Suyyagh in the Judaean Shephelah (Taxel 2009), and the monastery of Hilarion at Umm‐el‐‘Amr near Gaza (Elter 2004 ; Elter and Hassoune 2005). The Impact of the Muslim Conquest on Monasticism in the Desert of Jerusalem was studied by Patrich (2011). This impact should be examined in other regions.