Madaba, Medeba

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MADABA, MEDEBA (Heb. מֵידְבָא), Moabite city, situated about 5½ mi. (9 km.) S. of Heshbon in the center of a fertile plain, the biblical Mishor, 2,550 ft. (785 m.) above sea level. The city was captured by the Israelites from the Amorite king Sihon and was allocated to the tribe of Reuben (Num. 21:30; Josh. 13:9, 16). Near Madaba, David defeated the Aramean allies of Ammon (i Chron. 19:7; cf. ii Sam. 10). Israel lost its hold on the city when the monarchy was divided. Omri recaptured it, but the Moabite king Mesha restored it to Moab. In Mesha's inscription (the "Moabite Stele"), King Omri is referred to as having taken "possession of all the land of [the] Me(ha)deba" (see also ii Kings 3:4–5). In c. 160 b.c.e. persons from Madaba were accused of killing John, brother of Judas Maccabaeus (i Macc. 9:35–42; Jos., Ant., 3.1.2). Subsequently Jonathan and Simon retaliated. It was finally conquered by John Hyrcanus i and remained in Hasmonean control down to the time of Alexander *Yannai (Jannaeus). Hyrcanus ii ceded it to the Nabateans, handing it over to Aretas iii in return for his help against his brother Aristobulus ii (Jos., Ant., 14.1.4). Two funerary inscriptions are known mentioning the Beni ʿAmirat family from the time of the Nabatean hegemony in the region. In 106 c.e. it was incorporated into the Roman province of Arabia (Provincia Arabia). The town was mentioned by various writers including Eusebius (128:20), Ptolemy (Geog. 5.16.4), Hierocles (Syn. 720–21), George of Cyprus (No. 1062), and Stephen of Byzantium (Eth. 449:6). A number of inscriptions are known, one mentioning the city council (bolkeuta) of Madaba, and two others the names of Roman centurions from the Third Cirenian Legions stationed at Madaba. An imperial inscription relates that an important building was erected in 219/20 c.e. next to the city gate. Jews lived there in Mishnaic times (Mik. 7:1), but they were probably a minority. It was a flourishing Christian city in Byzantine times, with the town expanding considerably, serving as a bishropic from the mid-fifth century. It had numerous churches, most of which were paved with mosaics, dating mainly from the sixth to eighth centuries. The best known of these is the northern church with a mosaic pavement designed as a map of the Holy Land (see below). According to an Arab historian (947 c.e.), al-Mas'udi, Madaba was ruled by the Ghassanids in the sixth century. An inscription found within a large cistern credits the emperor Justinian with building activities at Madaba. A pictorial representation of the city of Madaba appears in one of the panels of a mosaic uncovered in the Church of St. Stephen at Umm Rasas dating to the early Abbasid period. Few descriptions of Madaba are known from the Abbasid through to Ottoman periods. In the early 21st century Madaba was a flourishing town in Jordan with Christian and Muslim inhabitants.

The first explorers to describe the ancient ruins of Madaba were U. Seetzen in 1806, followed by J. Burkhardt in 1812, members of the American Palestine Exploration Society in 1872, C.R. Conder in 1881, and G. Schumacher, P.M. Séjourné, and F.J. Bliss in the 1890s.

The Madaba Mosaic Map

In 1884 the mosaic map was discovered during the erection of a new Greek Orthodox church, but it was only in 1896, when part of it had already been ruined, that it finally came to the attention of scholars, with the announcement made in 1897. The mosaic was restored and recorded in color by a German expedition in 1965–66. The map was laid in the transept of a Byzantine period church and originally measured 72 ft. (22 m.) × 23 ft. (7 m.). It represented the biblical Holy Land and neighboring regions, from Byblos (Gebal) in the north to No-Ammon (Thebes in Egypt) in the south. The map was oriented toward the east, with the Mediterranean Sea at the bottom. The scale is uneven, largest for the more important areas (central Judea – 1:15,000; Jerusalem – 1:1,650). In general, it follows the Onomasticon of Eusebius; it was based on a Roman road map, with the addition of vignettes representing the principal cities. The Greek texts give biblical and contemporary names, sometimes with a historical note or verse from the Septuagint. Important places and tribal areas are marked in red. The extant part of the map covers an area from Neapolis (Nablus) to Egypt. The most valuable section is the detailed plan of Jerusalem, showing two colonnaded streets, the Tower of David, many churches and monasteries, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and that on Mount Zion, baths, and perhaps even the Western Wall. Most of the other cities indicated on the map are fragmentary. It notes many names in the Negev which are not recorded elsewhere. A few natural features are indicated on the map, as well as boats in the Dead Sea, animals in the deserts, and ferries across the Jordan. In some details, the Madaba map shows clear evidence of the influence of Jewish lore, as in the location of the mountains Ebal and Gerizim near Jericho (although a second Tur Gerizim is placed in its true position near Nablus). The mosaic is dated by consensus of opinion to the mid-sixth century c.e., but a few scholars (notably Bahat) would like to date it much later to the second half of the seventh century c.e.


Abel, Geog, 2 (1938), 381–2; Aharoni, Land, index; P. Palmer and H. Guthe, Die Mosaikkarte von Madeba (1906); A. Jacoby, Das geographische Mosaik von Madaba (1905); O'Callaghan, in: dbi, 5 (1957), s.v.; M. Avi-Yonah, The Madaba Mosaic Map (1954); Donner, in: zdpv, 83 (1967), 1ff.; U. Lux, in: zdpv, 84 (1968), 106–42. add. bibliography: H. Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba (1992); D. Bahat, "A New Suggestion for the Dating of the Madaba Mosaic," in: G. Barkay and E. Schiller (eds.), Eretz-Israel in the Madaba Map (1996), 74–75; P.M. Bikai and T.A. Dailey (eds.), Madaba: Cultural Heritage (1996); M. Piccirillo and E. Alliata (eds.), The Madaba Map Centenary 18971997. Travelling Through the Byzantine-Umayyad Period, Proceedings of the International Conference, Amman, 1997 (1998).

[Michael Avi-Yonah /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]