Identification of Tall el-Hammam on the Madaba Map -- By: David E. Graves

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 20:2 (Spring 2007)
Article: Identification of Tall el-Hammam on the Madaba Map
Author: David E. Graves

Identification of Tall el-Hammam on the Madaba Map

David E. Graves

Scott Stripling


There are limited resources available to those wanting to link sites mentioned in ancient sources with modern tells/talls in the Levant. The Byzantine Madaba Map, a masterpiece of Near Eastern geography, is often cited to lend weight to certain identifications. For Oswald Dilke, the mosaic map at Madaba is “probably the best known example of Byzantine cartography” (1987: 264). Discovered in the late 19th century in the mosaic floor of the Byzantine church1 in Madaba, Jordan, it is the oldest extant map of the Holy Land.

It no doubt preserves the location of sites from earlier eras; hence, it sheds light on the background of the Biblical periods. The mosaic dates to the middle of the sixth century AD and highlights life in the region at the height of the Byzantine period (AD 325–638). Unfortunately, the outer edges of the map are missing, including one prominent site on the upper left edge above the Jordan River and Bethany beyond the Jordan.2 There have been several attempts to identify this site, but, in our view, they have failed. The proper identification of this site is the focus of this article.

Madaba Church (Madaba, Jordan). The Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George is situated in modern day Madaba, the fifth largest city in Jordan, just southwest of the capital Amman. The Madaba Map is now preserved in this church although the mosaic was originally discovered as part of the ruins of a Byzantine church built during the reign of emperor Justinian, AD 527–565.

David E. Graves

David E. Graves

Unnamed Site (Madaba Map). Site Two, the unnamed site on the Madaba Map, which is believed by the authors to be Tall el-Hammam. Notice the five date palm trees that indicate an ample water supply.

Unnamed Site

On the Madaba Map each city is portrayed by a stylized vignette and is accompanied by its name. However, for this city only the vignette remains.3 Since the site is not labelled, the identification of this city has been open to question. The fact that various suggestions have been made with little support, other than personal preference and subjective arguments, merits further investigation a...

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