BET GUVRIN (Heb. בֵּית גּוּבְרִין).
(1) A prominent city in the period of the Second Temple, located in the southern Shephelah. Ancient Bet Guvrin rose to importance after the destruction of Maresha (Marissa) by the Parthians in 40 b.c.e. Betabris, mentioned by Josephus (Wars, 4:447) as one of two villages taken by the Romans in 68 c.e. "right in the heart of Idumea," may possibly refer to Bet Guvrin. The city began expanding following the Bar Kokhba revolt, during the second half of the second century c.e., with the construction of public and administrative buildings. In 199/200 c.e. Septimus Severus conferred on it the privileges of a Roman city and called it Eleutheropolis ("the city of freemen"). The city of that period covered an area of about 160 acres, and topographically it extended mainly over a hill located south of the present-day highway between Bet Shemesh and Ashkelon, with the northern extension of the city built on a low plain. Two aqueducts and an underground tunnel supplied water to the city. The Midrash (Gen. R. 41:10) interprets Mt. Seir of the "Horites" (Gen. 14:6) as Eleutheropolis – an interpretation based on a play of words, since Ḥori means both "freeman" and "cave dweller" and the Bet Guvrin region abounds in large caves. Severus also granted the new city a large area encompassing the districts of Bethletepha, western Edom, and Hebron as far as En-Gedi, which made it the largest single region in Roman times, with over a hundred villages. Bet Guvrin also had its own system of dating and coinage. The wealth of its inhabitants is attested to by a mosaic pavement of a Roman house from the fourth century c.e. which depicts a hunting expedition, with representations of animals and the personifications of the four seasons. Public buildings have been uncovered in recent excavations, including a bath house with double arches and a system of vaults made of ashlars with Severan-type stone dressing, and an amphitheater which was built on flat ground on the northwest edge of the city. The amphitheater has an elliptical plan and was erected during the second half of the second century c.e. Eleutheropolis suffered a severe earthquake in 363 c.e., at which point the amphitheater fell into disuse. The tanna Judah b. Jacob (Tosef., Oho. 18:15, 16) and the amora Jonathan (tj, Meg. 1:11, 71b) resided at Bet Guvrin and there were still Jewish farmers in its vicinity in the fourth century. The place was regarded as being outstandingly fertile and the rabbis applied to it the verse from Isaac's blessing of Esau: "And the dew of the heaven above" (Gen. 27:39; Gen. R. 68:6). In matters of halakhah, Bet Guvrin was regarded as belonging to Edom and was therefore exempt from the commandments applying only to Ereẓ Israel (tj, Dem. 2:1, 22c; tj, Shev. 8:11, 38b). The talmudic region Darom (Gr. Daromas) was within the area of Bet Guvrin. An inscription found there records the donation of a column to the local synagogue in Byzantine times. Eleutheropolis appears on the Madaba mosaic map of the mid-sixth century c.e. Excavations have uncovered the mosaic pavements of two churches from this period; it was an Episcopal see from the fourth century or earlier. The city flourished in the Early Islamic period as archaeological finds testify. Clusters of burial caves from the Late Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods have been uncovered in excavations around the city. The castle of Bayt Jibrin was apparently constructed around 1134 and was granted to the Hospitalers by King Fulk of Anjou late in 1136; a civilian settlement subsequently developed around the castle. Sacked by the Moslems in 1158, the castle was eventually abandoned to Salah-a-Din (*Saladin) in 1187. A church belonging to this castle has recently been uncovered. In 1171, Benjamin of Tudela reported three Jewish families living there.
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Efraim Orni /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]
(2) Kibbutz in the southern Judean Foothills, on the Ashkelon-Hebron road. Bet Guvrin is affiliated with Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad. In 1949, after the large Arab village of Beit (Bayt) Jibrīn was abandoned by its inhabitants in the War of Independence, the present settlement was established. Most of its settlers were Israeli-born and its economy was based primarily on field crops, orchards, milch cattle, and poultry. Over the years the kibbutz also developed a tourist industry, which included visits to the Bet Guvrin caves, catering, a swimming pool, three hostels, and outdoor activities. In 2002 the population of the kibbutz was 231.
[Efraim Orni /
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
Neubauer, Géogr, 122–4; Y.Z. Horowitz, Ereẓ Yisrael u-Shekhenoteha (1923), s.v.; S. Klein (ed.), Sefer ha-Yishuv (1939), s.v.; Vincent, in: rb, 31 (1922), 259ff.; Abel, ibid., 33 (1924), 593; Beyer, in: zdpv, 54 (1931), 209ff. add. bibliography: E.D. Oren and U. Rappaport, "The Necropolis of Maresha-Beth Govrin," in: Israel Exploration Journal, 34 (1984): 114–153; Y. Dagan, M. Fischer and Y. Tsafrir, "An Inscribed Lintel from Bet Guvrin," in: Israel Exploration Journal, 35 (1985): 28–34; D. Urman, "Beth Govrin: A History of a Mixed Population During the Mishnah and Talmud Period," in: E. Stern and D. Urman (eds.), Man and Environment in the Southern Shepelah: Studies in Regional Geography and History," (1988), 151–162; D. Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. vol. 1: A–K. (1993), 95–101, s.v. Beit Jubrin; Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green, Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea – Palaestina. Maps and Gazetteer (1994), 118–119; A. Kloner and A. Hubsch, "The Roman Amphitheatre of Bet Guvrin: A Preliminary Report on the 1992, 1993 and 1994 Seasons," in: Atiqot, 30 (1996), 85–106; J. Magness and G. Avni, "Jews and Christians in a Late Roman Cemetery at Beth Guvrin," in: H. Lapin (ed.), Religious and Ethnic Communities in Late Roman Palestine (1998), 87–114.