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Tina Shepardson, Durham / North Carolina

Stones and Stories:
Reconstructing the Christianization of the Golan

In a 1985 article Zvi Uri Ma'oz claimed that there was "a distinct dividing line between Jewish and Christian territories" in the ancient Golan.[ 1 ] Until recently the ancient Golan has received little attention in modern scholarship, and what archaeological work has been done in the area has, like Ma'oz's work, largely been a search for the history of Jewish occupation of the land.[ 2 ] This has left the history of Christianity in the Golan all but unexplored for pre-Islamic times. Ancient sources, too do not tell us much about the history and the people of the Golan. Since the only large towns in the region were geographically on the periphery of the territory, we have little direct information about the religious and political affiliations of the Golan's ancient village inhabitants. By supplementing scattered literary sources with modern archaeological evidence,[ 3 ] we can begin to reconstruct the development of Christianity in the Golan. While the earliest evidence is sparse and primarily limited to literary references, the amount of extant archaeological evidence increases dramatically for the fifth and sixth centuries. Surveying the literary and archaeological data will reveal that extant evidence for Christianity in the Golan first survives in the northern region of Baniâs and the southwestern district of Hippos, and then in the eastern village of Ramsâniyye. Supplementing this evidence with the political history of the area and a history of the neighboring Arab tribes will suggest that Christianity first permeated the northern Golan through Syria and the southwestern Golan through Palestine, and that its appearance in the eastern Golan may reflect the influence of Christian Arab tribes to the east. Thus, this reconstruction suggests that the Golan may have served as a point of intersection for three different fronts of Christian expansion in the fourth through sixth centuries. This paper will use the historical, literary and archaeological data available in an attempt to reconstruct the complex process of the Christianization of the ancient Golan.

Political History of the Golan

The apparent distinctions in the ecclesiastical histories of Baniâs, Hippos, and the eastern Golan can best be understood through a brief survey of the earlier political history of the region. The Golan is the area east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, west of the Wâdî er-Ruqqâd, north of the Yarmûk River, and including Baniâs (Caesarea Philippi) on its northern border.[ 4 ] While the earliest evidence of human habitation in the Golan dates to the Upper Paleolithic period,[ 5 ] the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine history is most relevant to the discussion at hand. Under Ptolemaic rule, the ancient Persian region of Karnaim was divided into smaller districts, one of which was Gaulanitis.[ 6 ] This did not include the city district of Hippos in the south, or of Baniâs in the north. When the Seleucids later gained control of the area, they combined Ptolemaic hyparchies into larger eparchies, which placed both Gaulanitis and the Hippos district in Galaaditis, while Baniâs remained in the northern eparchy of Phoenicia.

In the first century B.C.E., under Hasmonean rule, Alexander Jannaeus and his army gained control of ancient Gaulanitis,[ 7 ] an area which extended far north and south of the Golan. When the Roman army, under the leadership of Pompey, captured Jerusalem in 64 B.C.E., however, Pompey divided the Hasmonean territory and granted the area of the Golan, not including the area around Hippos, to the Itureans. Both archaeological and literary evidence suggest that in the process of capturing Judea the Roman army largely destroyed earlier settlements in the Golan.[ 8 ] Hippos, on the other hand, joined other nearby Greek cities to form the Decapolis. Because of this split, Hippos and its surrounding area in the southwestern region of the Golan experienced a different political and cultural history than the rest of the Golan. Culturally and politically, Hippos belonged with the Greek city districts south of it while the rest of the Golan looked north and east to its Iturean rule.

In 40 B.C.E. Herod was granted control of Palestine. In 23 B.C.E., the Roman Emperor Augustus also gave Herod control over the territory to the east of Gaulanitis,[ 9 ] including the southern region of Hippos. Three years later Herod also received Gaulanitis itself.[ 10 ] Upon Herod's death in 4 B.C.E., Archelaus, Herod Antipas, Herod Philippus, and Salome, inherited his territory. Herod Philippus became the ruler over Gaulanitis as well as the regions to the east of the Golan, while the city district of Hippos became part of the province of Syria. Under Herod Philippus, then, the central Golan was again grouped politically with territory to its east.

For a brief time after Herod Philippus' death, Syria took control of Philippus' territory. The Emperor Caligula, however, after his accession in 37 C.E., gave Agrippa charge of the territory that had belonged to Philippus (including the central Golan but not the district of Hippos).[ 11 ] Agrippa II inherited this land in 48 C.E., but left no heirs himself. Upon Agrippa II's death his lands "were divided between the Roman provinces of Judaea and Syria."[ 12 ] Most of Gaulanitis became part of Judea, but the northern area around Baniâs became part of Syria. This separation of the central Golan, which was connected with the land to its east, from Baniâs, which was attached to the area to its north, and Hippos, which was joined with the region to its south, continued through the next centuries.[ 13 ] It is impossible, of course, to draw sharp boundaries between areas of cultural influence. Nonetheless, based on the political history of the area, it is not surprising that the Bishop of Baniâs was later under the northern Patriarch of Antioch,[ 14 ] that Hippos was influenced by the area to its south and west, and that the central and eastern Golan retained a cultural connection with the land to its east, land with which it had been politically bound for centuries.

Early Arab Tribes

The Arab tribes living in and near the Golan in the fourth through sixth centuries also appear to have influenced this process of Christianization. Several nomadic Arab tribes that had migrated north from the Arabian Peninsula either settled in or wandered about the regions south and east of Roman Palestine. In 106 C.E. Trajan annexed the land belonging to the Nabateans and created out of their territory the Roman Province of Arabia to the east of Palestine. This new province served as a buffer zone between the Roman and Persian empires, and by the fifth century both of these empires had begun to employ Arab tribes on their borders as military patrol forces.[ 15 ] It is not always possible to trace the precise locations of these nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, or to determine if and when these tribes became Christian, and what form of Christianity they practiced. Nonetheless, there is literary evidence about the conversion of some Arab tribes that scholars such as Shahîd believe lived near the Golan in the fourth through sixth centuries, namely the Tanûkhids, the Salîhids, and the Ghassânids.

By the fourth century C.E., the Tanûkhids had gained supremacy among the Arab tribes east of the Golan, and they served as the main patrol troops there for the Roman Empire.[ 16 ] Shahîd believes that the Tanûkhids lived just east of the Golan, and that they could have at times traveled into Gaulanitis itself.[ 17 ] Although the Salîhids did not gain significant power in the area until the following century, they too lived east of the Golan at this time.[ 18 ] Both the Tanûkhids and the Salîhids were therefore in a geographical position to influence the eastern Golan culturally in the fourth and fifth centuries.

In his ecclesiastical history, the fifth-century church historian Sozomen recorded the story of a certain Arab tribe's early interaction with Christianity.[ 19 ] Both Trimingham and Shahîd agree that the story is about the Tanûkhids.[ 20 ] Sozomen noted that in 375 C.E. the king of the Arab tribe died, leaving his wife, Queen Mavia in control.[ 21 ] Upon the death of Mavia's husband, the tribe's contract with the Roman Empire dissolved. Although it appears that Mavia easily could have renewed the contract, she did not and instead began raiding the Byzantine Empire. Shahîd suggests that it was under Queen Mavia's rule that the Tanûkhid tribe moved as far west as Gaulanitis. We do not know with any certainty the reason for Mavia's discontent with the Empire, but Shahîd speculates that the reasons were religious.[ 22 ] Sozomen records that Mavia refused to negotiate about military matters with the Emperor Valens unless Moses, an "orthodox" (non-Arian) holy man living in the desert near her people, was consecrated as bishop for her people. The Arian Valens agreed that Moses could be consecrated as a bishop, but assigned Lucius, the Arian bishop of Alexandria, to perform the ceremony. Moses refused to adhere to the Arian doctrine. Forced by Mavia's demands and Moses' obstinacy, Lucius sent Moses to the Nicene bishops who had been exiled by Arian authorities. Finally consecrated as a Nicene bishop, Moses became the bishop for Mavia and her people, who once again became subject to Byzantine authority.

Sozomen also records a story of the Salîhids' adoption of Christianity during Valens' reign after a miraculous birth to the wife of the Salîhids' leader, Zocomus.[ 23 ] The Salîhids, living mainly east of the Golan and west of the Tanûkhids, gained control over the other Arab tribes in the area by the end of the fourth century. By the fifth century they replaced the Tanûkhids as the primary Roman Arab military force in the area.[ 24 ] According to Sozomen, Zocomus, the leader of the Salîhids in the early fourth century, did not have any children and went to a monk who promised him the miracle of a son. After the birth of the promised son, Zocomus and all his tribe were baptized into the Christian faith. An additional story of the conversion of an Arab tribe to Christianity is the story recorded in Cyril of Scythopolis of the conversion of Aspebet, and the creation of the Christian "Encampments" of Arabs in the desert near Jericho.[ 25 ] This last is supported by the attendance of the Bishop of the Encampments at fifth-century councils.[ 26 ] These stories demonstrate the early tradition that by the fourth and fifth centuries the dominant Arab tribes on the eastern border of Palestine had become Christian. Even if these records of Arab conversions actually reflect a Christianity imposed by Rome as a condition for a political treaty, as Maurice Sartre suggests, rather than a Christianity freely chosen by the Arab tribes, the tradition of the Arabs' Christianization during this period remains.[ 27 ]

Monophysite Ghassânids

While the Arab conversions related in Sozomen pre-date the monophysite controversy, this intra-Christian struggle is integral to the stories surrounding the Ghassânids, the Arab tribe that rose to power east of the Golan in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Monophysitism was the main focus of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where bishops from around the empire gathered to discuss whether Christ's human and divine attributes constituted one or two natures. Despite the similarity to the recently rejected views of Nestorius, the majority of bishops at the council voted to accept the diphysite doctrine. They labeled the dissenting bishops (most of whom were eastern) "monophysites" and condemned their views as heretical.[ 28 ] Despite the outcome of this council, much of the eastern Roman Empire remained monophysite, including Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch who controlled Baniâs in the northern Golan, and also Cassian, the Bishop of Bostra, the capital of Arabia east of the Golan.

W. H. C. Frend concludes that most of the monks living in the Judean desert in the fifth century were also monophysite. These monophysite monks remained safe in their desert cells until the reign of the diphysite Emperor Justin who persecuted monophysite Christians. In 518 Justin expelled the monophysite bishops Cassian and Severus, and in 521 he sent the monophysite desert monks and clergy fleeing further east into the desert. Scholars such as Trimingham connect these monophysite monks with the Arab tribes who were then bordering Palestine and the Judean desert. Trimingham claims that in 521 "large numbers [of monks] were turned out into the desert to share the hospitality of the Arab tents and spread their propaganda."[ 29 ]

One of the Arab tribes these monks would have encountered along the eastern border of Palestine, in addition to the Tanûkhids and Salîhids, is the Ghassânids. By the sixth century, the Ghassânids had become the most powerful Arabs in the area.[ 30 ] Although early evidence for the history of the Ghassânids is sparse, Trimingham believes that they began heading north from the Arabian peninsula in the second or third century C.E., arriving in the area of Mesopotamia by the middle of the third century.[ 31 ] Regardless of the details of their arrival, they clearly moved east toward the Golan, and over time gained power and authority over the other Arab tribes. By the beginning of the sixth century the Ghassânids had become the most powerful Arab tribe in the region, and in 528/529 C.E. Emperor Justinian recognized them as the primary Arab military force in northern Arabia. Justinian even created a new military position by placing the leader of the Ghassânids in control not only of his own tribe but of all the other local tribes as well. At this time, Hârith ibn Jabala was the ruler of the Ghassânids, so it fell to him to oversee the patrolling of the eastern borders. Although he was primarily responsible for the Province of Arabia, he sometimes also moved into Palestina Secunda.[ 32 ]

No record of the Ghassânids' conversion to Christianity survives, but by the sixth century both literary and archaeological sources witness to the fact that the Ghassânids were vocal adherents to the monophysite doctrine.[ 33 ] In 541 C.E., Hârith ibn Jabala sent to Empress Theodora requesting an "orthodox" bishop to serve his community.[ 34 ] While Emperor Justinian was strictly orthodox (diphysite), his wife Theodora fought staunchly for the monophysite cause. Hence, Hârith's request for an "orthodox" bishop from Theodora actually betrays the adherence to the monophysite doctrine of himself and the Ghassânid tribe. In 542 C.E. Justinian allowed Theodora to grant Harith's request and Theodosius, one of the exiled monophysite bishops, consecrated Jacob Baradeus and Theodore as monophysite bishops for the Arabs. Jacob traveled primarily in Syria, but Theodore went to serve among the Ghassânids in Palestine and Arabia, assuring the perpetuation of monophysite Christianity among the Arabs near the Golan.

Through the Centuries: Sifting the Evidence

Given the above history, it is now possible to survey and interpret the fragments of data specifically from and about the Golan. While not all the available evidence is datable to a precise year, the information that can be dated forms a foundation for reconstructing the history of Christians and Christianity in the Golan in the first six centuries. The evidence that is dated less precisely can then be added to enhance the picture. Doing this one century at a time will give a more accurate view of the process by which Christianity permeated the Golan separately from the north, the southwest, and the east.

The First Three Centuries

What evidence there is for Christianity in the Golan up through the third century is purely literary. The New Testament gospel stories, written by the end of the first century, locate Jesus in several places in the Golan. While this does not attest definitively to Jesus' presence at these sites, these scriptural references themselves influenced later Christian pilgrims to visit these sites. One such reference is the description in the synoptic gospels of Jesus casting demons into a herd of swine.[ 35 ] In the version of this story preserved in Mark's gospel, Jesus sailed across the Sea of Galilee to the Golan and cured the demoniac he met on the far shore.[ 36 ] Two other sites from the Golan that are named in the New Testament are Bethsaida and Caesarea Philippi (Baniâs).[ 37 ] Regardless of their historical accuracy, these New Testament citations of Jesus' activities are the earliest extant Christian references to the Golan.

The next significant Christian reference to the Golan is from Origen. Writing in the middle of the third century, Origen commented that the "Gerasene" demoniac to which the synoptic gospels refer should actually be read as "Gergesene."[ 38 ] Origen noted that in order for the swine to have dropped off a cliff into the sea,[ 39 ] the town itself must have been near the sea, which Origen presumed to be the Sea of Galilee. Origen, who lived in Caesarea Maritima, further noted that he had visited the village of Gergesa, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and that the place of this exorcism had been pointed out to him there. This comment implies that by the middle of the third century Gergesa (el-Kûrsî), on the western edge of the Golan, had at least locally been identified as the site of one of Jesus' miracles, and that Christians visited the site because of its significance in Christian history.

It is unclear, however, whether el-Kûrsî was a well-known pilgrim site by the third century, or was only celebrated locally at that time. While it is clear that Origen traveled from Caesarea in order to visit the site for its Christian significance, extant journals from pilgrims originating outside Palestine do not mention it.[ 40 ] Neither is it certain whether or not there were actually Christians living in the town of el-Kûrsî by the third century.[ 41 ] What we can say with confidence is that the site had been recognized as an important Christian location, and that Christians from the local area, such as Origen, visited there in order to see for themselves places where Jesus had been.

From this earliest evidence, we surmise that Christianity first arrived in the Golan along its northern and western borders. That Christianity appears to have arrived at Hippos from the west comes as little surprise since the political history of the region showed that the southern city of Hippos had historically been associated with the other cities of the Decapolis. Unlike Hippos, however, the northern town of Baniâs historically had political ties with the land to its north. Given both Baniâs' previous political connections and its later ecclesiastical connections with Antioch, as discussed below, it seems that Christianity may have arrived in Baniâs from Syria to its north.

The Fourth Century

Moving to the fourth century, we begin to find more concrete evidence of Christians living in the Golan. There are several references in accounts of church councils to the existence of bishops in both Hippos and Baniâs in the fourth century. The Bishop of Baniâs is attested as early as 325 C.E. when he attended the Council of Nicea.[ 42 ] The Bishop of Baniâs looked to the Metropolitan of Tyre and the Patriarch of Antioch for his ecclesiastical rule, suggesting that Christianity may have arrived in Baniâs through Syria to its north. Ancient sources record that by the fourth century the city of Hippos also had a bishop under the Metropolitan of Scythopolis (Beth Shean) to its southwest, reinforcing the hypothesis that Christianity arrived in Hippos from that direction. Bishop Peter from Hippos attended both the Council of Antioch and the Council of Seleucia in the middle of the fourth century, as well as two sixth-century synods in Jerusalem. It was also at the end of the fourth century that east of the Golan the Salîhids became Christian, and that Queen Mavia requested and received a non-Arian bishop for the Tanûkhids living east of the Golan.

The fourth century provides the first archaeological evidence for Christianity in the Golan. It does not, however, come from the northern or southern borders of the Golan as we might have expected, given the literary evidence for early episcopal authority in those areas. Rather, the evidence comes from the village Ramsâniyye on the eastern border of the Golan. In his book Gregg catalogues two fourth-century Greek inscriptions from Ramsâniyye that were discovered by Claudine Dauphin.[ 43 ] The inscriptions, which are dated by the Seleucid era,[ 44 ] appear to be two stones from the same Christian chapel. The first displays inscribed crosses and is from 373 C.E., while the second contains a longer inscription from 376 C.E. that refers to a military official who built the chapel from which the stones came. A third undated stone implies that the chapel was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. There is additional Christian evidence in the village, but it can not be dated as early as the fourth century and will be mentioned in more detail below.

Although this evidence is fragmentary, it suggests that in the fourth century the area around Baniâs remained the southern extension of Syriac Christianity, that the region near Hippos reflected the eastern border of Palestinian Christianity, and that the data at Ramsâniyye represent the western expansion of Christianity from the province of Arabia. Without more specific information, we can not know with any certainty who first brought Christianity into Ramsâniyye. The most probable candidates, however, are members of the Salîhids and the Ghassânids. As detailed above, the Salîhids at this time were rising in power and lived east of the Golan.[ 45 ] While Dauphin mentions only the Ghassânids in connection with the Christianization of the Golan, this evidence suggests that the fourth-century inscriptions at Ramsâniyye may represent the influence of the Salîhids or the Tanûkhids, the more powerful and most assuredly Christian Arab tribes east of the Golan in the fourth century.

The Fifth Century

By the fifth century, Christianity had spread to a much larger area of the Golan. The fifth century provides the first archaeological evidence for Christians in and near Hippos. Three different sites near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee reveal evidence of Christians in the fifth century. This is not surprising, given the fourth-century literary evidence for a bishop in Hippos, and the third-century references to el-Kûrsî as a site Christians visited to follow Jesus. Hippos and el-Kûrsî are, in fact, two of the three villages for which Gregg provides archaeological data in this century, the third site being Fîq, just east of Hippos. In his archaeological survey of Hippos, Ovadiah found evidence of several churches, one of which he dated to the fifth century.[ 46 ] Likewise, Urman dated the church and monastery he discovered at el-Kûrsî to the fifth century.[ 47 ] At Fîq, the evidence is undated, but Gregg concludes that the Greek inscription mentioning a certain Bishop Gerontius,[ 48 ] Presbyter Kassios, and Deacon John is from a fourth- or fifth-century church or chapel.[ 49 ] Since we know that there was a bishop in Hippos by the fourth century, it is reasonable to assume, because of their proximity to Hippos, that both el-Kûrsî and Fîq fell under the episcopal control of the Bishop of Hippos. These cities near the Sea of Galilee, therefore, are further evidence of the eastern spread of Christianity from Palestine.

The other site from which there is fifth-century archaeological evidence of Christians, however, is again on the eastern border of the Golan, at Mûmsiyye, and most likely represents further influence from the province of Arabia in the east. The dated inscription from Mûmsiyye is another church dedication. Dated to the last third of the fifth century,[ 50 ] the inscription records the building of a church to St. George.[ 51 ] While other Christian remains exist in this village, this dated inscription is sufficient evidence that Christians lived and worshipped in Mûmsiyye in the fifth century. Again, we can not be certain as to the origin and identity of these Christians, but by the fifth century, particularly at the time of this inscription in the end of the fifth century, the monophysite Ghassânids are the most powerful and proximate source of Christian influence on the eastern Golan.

The Sixth Century and Undated Roman and Byzantine Evidence

By the sixth century, Christianity had diffused into almost all areas of the Golan. The region near Hippos continued to grow, as the three sixth-century churches in that village alone show.[ 52 ] In 591 C.E. a baptistery was added to the fifth-century church in Hippos,[ 53 ] further reflecting the thriving Christian community in that episcopal town. Nearby el-Kûrsî also reveals an active sixth-century Christian community, with the aforementioned church and monastery at the alleged site where Jesus cast the demons off the cliff into the sea. Whether the monastery was built at the end of the fifth century or the beginning of the sixth, it continued to flourish in the sixth century,[ 54 ] possibly serving as a hostel for Christian pilgrims traveling to the area to view for themselves the site of Jesus' miracle.[ 55 ] In any case, clearly the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee supported a well-established Christian community by the sixth century.

Christianity also continued to thrive in the sixth century in the eastern Golan. Ramsâniyye's Christian population had grown since the fourth century so that in the sixth century it supported a monastery of its own. Quneitra, Sûrman, and Bâb el-Hawâ, three towns north of Mûmsiyye along the Golan's eastern border with Arabia, also show evidence of sixth-century Christian activity.[ 56 ] In addition, the southeastern town of Rafîd reveals several inscriptions that, based on comparisons with parallel finds, Gregg dates to sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries. Whether or not Christians lived in Rafîd earlier, it seems clear that there was a noticeable Christian presence in the town by the sixth century. Archaeological evidence from the eastern Golan does not make clear the form of Christianity practiced in that area. Control of the area to the east by the monophysite Ghassânids, however, raises the possibility that the Christianity of the eastern Golan may also have been monophysite.

Christianity in the sixth century was no longer, however, limited to the borders of the Golan. Gregg refers to two separate inscriptions from the town of Na'rân, near the eastern shore of the Jordan River and half-way between Hippos and Baniâs, that he dates to the fifth or sixth century. The majority of evidence for Christians in the Golan collected by Gregg, however, consists of crosses inscribed in stone, and is impossible to date to a specific century, as is also the case for many partial inscriptions and remnants of buildings that do not display the year in which the buildings were built. Nonetheless, various clues, such as parallel finds from other sites, help locate the artifacts within a larger time period. Additional villages that retain evidence of Christian occupation in the pre-Islamic period are Khisfîn, Kafr el-Mâ, Sqûfiyye, and Kafr Hârib.[ 57 ] There is also evidence that the southern sites of Duer el Loz and Khirbet es Samra were Christian at some point in the Roman and Byzantine eras.[ 58 ] The other relevant sites not yet mentioned here are located in both the northern and central Golan. They include Buqa'ta, Sukeik, Hafar, Baidârûs, Kafr Nafâkh, Jueîzeh, Tell 'Akâsha, 'Ein Semsem, el-Bîreh, Tannûriyye, Farj, Deir Mfadal, and Deir Qrukh.[ 59 ] Plotting these sites on a map of the Golan reveals the prevalence of Christianity in the Golan by the end of the Byzantine era.


This survey of Christians and Christianity in the Roman and Byzantine Golan has suggested that Christianity did not arrive in the central Golan until rather late into the fifth and sixth centuries. This delayed spread, in relation to surrounding Syria, Arabia, and Judea, need not indicate active resistance to Christianity or impenetrable Jewish borders as Ma'oz has suggested.[ 60 ] The Golan was never densely populated, and was not a well-traveled area even in ancient times. This in itself is reason enough why Christianity may have drifted to either side of the Golan before entering with any sustained success in the fifth and sixth centuries, long after it had already spread to most of the Empire.

Consequently, when Christian influence did begin to filter into the Golan, it appears that it may have done so from multiple fronts, which themselves reflect the historical political ties of the region. By the fourth century there was a bishop at Baniâs in the northern Golan who was under the Metropolitan of Tyre and the Patriarch of Antioch, suggesting that Christianity may have arrived in the northern Golan from Syria. At the same time, Christianity from Palestine appears to have moved into the Hippos area in the southwestern Golan. Christians in this region had a bishop by the fourth century who was under the Metropolitan of Scythopolis, and Christianity continued to flourish in the Hippos district in the next two centuries. It further seems possible that Christianity arrived in the eastern Golan slightly later, and from the land to its east, land with which it had previously been politically united. This would suggest that Christianity arrived in the eastern Golan from the influence of the Salîhids and the Ghassânids, the latter of whom were staunchly monophysite, and who by 542 were under the guidance of the monophysite bishop Theodore. At the beginning of the sixth century most of Syria, the bishops in Bostra and Antioch and the monks who fled Justin's persecution were all monophysite. Their proximity to and possible influence on the eastern Golan suggests that the Christianity in the eastern Golan may also have been monophysite at this time.

Evidence for Christians and Christianity in the ancient Golan is sparse in comparison to that for more populated areas, but by combining the literary and archaeological evidence available, it is possible to begin to reconstruct the history of Christianity in the area. Such limited sources of course leave our conclusions open to adjustment as more information is discovered, but what evidence we have is already sufficient to challenge earlier assumptions. The geographical range of data collected in Gregg contradicts Ma'oz's claim that Christians remained sharply separated from Jewish areas of the Golan. Also, the history of local Arab tribes strengthens Dauphin's claims that Ghassânid influence helped spread Christianity into the Golan, but Dauphin did not recognize the equally important role of the Christian Tanûkhids and Salîhids, or acknowledge that this Arab influence may have been primarily on the Golan's eastern border. Finally, thorough examination of the available evidence, with a knowledge of the political history of the area, has suggested a complex process by which Christianity infiltrated the Golan during the Roman and Byzantine periods, and shown the possibility that by the sixth century the eastern Golan adhered to monophysite Christianity. This final picture sheds light on the integral role of Arab tribes in the history of Palestine and on the spread of the monophysite movement, as well as on the complex history of Christians and Christianity in the Golan in pre-Islamic times.

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[ 1 ]

Ma'oz (1985) 65.

[ 2 ]

See, for example, Urman (1995); Dauphin (1982) 129-142; Dauphin / Schonfield (1983) 189-206; Dauphin / Gibson (1992/1993) 7-31; Hachlili (1995); Ma'oz (1985). Other recent works on the Golan that provided some useful information for this project are the in-depth study by Urman (1985); Meyers (1988) 69-79; Ovadiah (1970).

[ 3 ]

This project is aided tremendously by the recent collection and publication of much of this material in the book that provided the inspiration for this current paper: Gregg / Urman (1996).

[ 4 ]

See Appendix A for details of the borders of the Golan, as well as for locations of specific towns.

[ 5 ]

Ma'oz (1997) 418.

[ 6 ]

Avi-Yonah (1966) 40. All of the information about political borders and the history of the political rulers of the Golan, unless otherwise noted, is from Avi-Yonah. His maps were particularly helpful for this project.

[ 7 ]

Josephus Antiquities XIII.13.3.

[ 8 ]

See Ma'oz (1997) 421 and Avi-Yonah (1966) 79.

[ 9 ]

Josephus, Antiquities XV.10.1.

[ 10 ]

Josephus, Antiquities XV.10.3.

[ 11 ]

Josephus Antiquities XVIII.6.10.

[ 12 ]

Avi-Yonah (1966) 107.

[ 13 ]

Diocletian redefined the province of Palestine, dividing it in 358 C.E. into two sections, one of which was later divided further, leaving Palestinae Prima, Secunda, and Tertia. Palestina Secunda, the capitol of which was Scythopolis, contained both the Clima Gaulanes (no longer the larger area of Gaulanitis) and the Decapolis (including Hippos), while Baniâs remained in the northern province of Phoenicia.

[ 14 ]

Gregg / Urman (1996) 280.

[ 15 ]

Shahîd (1984) xvi.

[ 16 ]

Shahîd (1984) 27.

[ 17 ]

Shahîd (1984) 145.

[ 18 ]

Shahîd (1989) 321-322.

[ 19 ]

Sozomen, HE VI.38. Socrates, Theodoret, and Rufinus, other fifth-century church historians, also record pieces of the conversion story, but Sozomen's story is the most complete. Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus also refer to, without naming, the Tanûkhids in this century.

[ 20 ]

Spencer J. Trimingham, Christianity Among the Arabs in Pre-Islamic Times (London: Longmans, 1979), 96; Shahîd (1984) 141.

[ 21 ]

All the details of Mavia's story are from Sozomen, HE, VI.38.

[ 22 ]

Shahîd (1984) 143.

[ 23 ]

Sozomen, HE, VI.38.

[ 24 ]

Shahîd (1984) 22.

[ 25 ]

Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Saint Euthymius.

[ 26 ]

See, for example, the lists in Bagatti (1971) 94. The many references to bishops in various cities in the Roman province of Arabia, beginning in the early fourth century, also provide evidence for the gradual Christianization of the Arabs to the east of the Golan. See, for example, the discussion in Robert Devréesse, "Le Christianisme dans la Province d'Arabie," Vivre et Penser 2 (1942): 11-146. The recent work of Frank Trombley also suggests that the more sedentary (and urban) Arabs in Arabia became Christian largely during the fourth century, while the more rural and nomadic tribes did not adopt Christianity until later (Frank Trombley, Hellenic Religion and Christianization c. 370-529, vol 1-2, [NY: E.J. Brill, 1993], 316-320). This further supports the hypothesis that the more populated areas of the Golan, such as Hippos and Baniâs became Christian before the more rural central Golan.

[ 27 ]

See, for example, Sartre (1982) 143.

[ 28 ]

See Frend (1972).

[ 29 ]

Trimingham (1979) 85

[ 30 ]

Shahîd (1995) 3.

[ 31 ]

Trimingham (1979) 95.

[ 32 ]

Trimingham (1979) 181.

[ 33 ]

Shahîd (1995) 34.

[ 34 ]

I rely on Trimingham's account of this story (Trimingham (1979) 166).

[ 35 ]

Mk 5:1-13; Mt 8:28-32; Lk 8:26-37.

[ 36 ]

Mk 5:1.

[ 37 ]

Although modern scholars do not know with certainty the location of ancient Bethsaida, it appears to have been on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, near the Jordan River [Arav (1997)]. If it were to the east of the river, it would have been part of the Golan, making Jesus' alleged visit there in Mk 6:45 another reference to Jesus in the Golan. In addition, Mt 16:13 and Mk 8:27 place Jesus in the districts (tàß kwmaß) of Caesarea Philippi, the city on the northern border of the Golan.

[ 38 ]

All quotations from Origen in this paper are from his Commentary on the Gospel of John, VI.24.

[ 39 ]

Mk 5:13; Mt 8:32; Lk 8:33.

[ 40 ]

It is noticeably missing, for example, from the fourth-century pilgrim Egeria's Peregrinatio Egeriae.

[ 41 ]

Origen does mention that the location of Jesus' work was pointed out to him, but he does not say by whom. Unfortunately, we can not tell based solely on his account whether the site was pointed out by a guide he brought with him, local non-Christian residents, or local Christians.

[ 42 ]

For this project, I have used Bagatti's collection of councils, dates, and lists of which bishops attended which councils and which bishops were under which metropolitan's rule (Bagatti (1971) 94-95).

[ 43 ]

Because they have not been published elsewhere, my account of these inscriptions comes from Gregg / Urman (1996) 191.

[ 44 ]

It is somewhat surprising that this inscription is dated by the Seleucid era. This is consonant with Avi-Yonah's claim that the Golan continued to date from the Seleucid era even after the neighboring province of Arabia began dating from 106 C.E. (Avi-Yonah (1966) 167). Nonetheless, the evidence collected in Gregg's book does not always agree with Avi-Yonah's assumption. While other dated inscriptions in Gregg's collection from villages near to Ramsâniyye are not consistently dated by a single era, the majority are dated from the middle of the first century, either B.C.E. or C.E., not from the Seleucid era in the fourth century B.C.E. I am not qualified to discuss this matter in more depth, but the inconsistency is certainly worth noting. In this paper I accept the dating given in Gregg / Urman (1996).

[ 45 ]

Dauphin (1982) 131-132.

[ 46 ]

Ovadiah (1966) 176-177.

[ 47 ]

Scholars disagree as to the exact date of this church and monastery. Urman suggests it is from the fifth century (Gregg / Urman (1996) 69), while Tzaferis dates it to the early sixth century (Vassilios Tzaferis, "The Early Christian Monastery at Kûrsî," in Ancient Churches Revealed, ed. Yoram Tsafrir, [Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1993], 77). I have included further reference to these buildings in my discussion of the sixth century.

[ 48 ]

Gregg notes that while this name is well attested in the fourth and fifth centuries, no references to a Bishop Gerontius from Fiq has been found (Gregg / Urman (1996) 32). This inscription could imply that Fiq did indeed have its own bishop by the fifth century and was not, after all, under the authority of the Bishop of Hippos. It could also be a reference to the local bishop, not necessarily a bishop from Fiq itself but rather the bishop who controlled Fiq, possibly the attested Bishop of Hippos.

[ 49 ]

Gregg / Urman (1996) 32.

[ 50 ]

Its precise date depends on by which era the inscription was dated. Gregg / Urman (1996) suggests it translates into either 486 C.E. or 472 C.E. (213-214).

[ 51 ]

Gregg / Urman (1996) 213.

[ 52 ]

Ovadiah (1966) 174-176.

[ 53 ]

Gregg / Urman (1996) 24; Ovadiah (1966) 177.

[ 54 ]

Tzaferis ( 1993) 77.

[ 55 ]

What journals we do have from early Christian pilgrims suggest that it would have been common for local monks to offer Christian travelers a place to stay on their journey (e.g., Peregrinatio Egeriae 3.1). While there are no extant references to this being the case at el-Kursi, between Origen's reference to the city and the pilgrimage patters established in the Peregrinatio Egeriae, it seems reasonable to suppose that the monastery at el-Kursi might have performed this service to visiting pilgrims.

[ 56 ]

All the archaeological evidence mentioned in this paper is from Gregg / Urman (1996) unless otherwise stated.

[ 57 ]

Gregg / Urman (1996) does have separate entries for each of these sites. While the evidence is interesting, however, the mere presence of Christian evidence in these cities is all that is necessary for this current project.

[ 58 ]

DiSegni / Green / Tsafrir (1994) 114.221.

[ 59 ]

All this evidence is from Gregg / Urman (1996) except that for Deir Qrukh, which is from DiSegni / Green / Tsafrir (1994) 111.

[ 60 ]

Ma'oz (1985) 66.

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