BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

From Christianity to Islam in the Negev

Early mosque sheds new light on the Byzantine-Islamic transition

Rural Mosque

Aerial photograph of the rural mosque. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Excavations near the town of Rahat in the Negev Desert shed new light on the transition from the Byzantine to Islamic periods in the southern Levant (634–1099 C.E.). The excavations, carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, uncovered a luxurious estate as well as a small mosque that both date to the very beginning of the Islamic period in the seventh or eighth centuries. The team also uncovered a Byzantine farmstead that dates only a century earlier. These finds illustrate the rapid transition from Christianity to Islam in the northern Negev.

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The Rise of Islam in the Negev

According to the excavation directors, “We uncovered a farmhouse of the Byzantine period that apparently housed Christian farmers and included a fortified tower and rooms with strong walls surrounding a courtyard. On a nearby hilltop, we found estates constructed in a completely different manner; these were built about a hundred years later, in the late seventh to ninth centuries—the early Islamic period”

 

One of the most intriguing discoveries was a small mosque, likely only able to hold a few dozen worshipers. The mosque is a simple, square-shaped structure and one of its walls has a half-circle niche (mihrab) facing in the direction of Mecca. The mosque is interesting both because of its early date and its rural location. This makes it one of the earliest-known rural mosques discovered during an archaeological excavation. Its small size means that it likely only served the local inhabitants of the area.

A little over 1,000 feet from the mosque, the team discovered a luxurious country estate, which dates to the same time. The estate was constructed around a central courtyard and included ornate halls, some paved with marble and decorated with red and yellow painted frescoes. The wealth of the inhabitants can be seen in the fine tableware and glass vessels found at the site. Many of these were covered with drawings of various plants and animals.

Islamic estate

Aerial photograph of the luxurious estate building. Courtesy Assaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority.

 

Finds discovered in the site dated to the early Islamic period. Courtesy Yasmin Orbach, Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The evidence from all of the excavation areas gathered so far: the dwellings, the houses of prayer, the ovens and utensils, sheds light on the beginnings of the historical process that took place in the northern Negev with the introduction of a new religion—the religion of Islam, and a new rulership and culture in the region,” said the excavators.

The project began as a salvage excavation, spurred on by the planned construction of a new neighborhood in the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat. The mosque and other early Islamic finds are expected to be integrated into the new neighborhood, connecting the modern residents to their ancient past.

 

 


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Exploring Arabia’s Pre-Islamic Heritage

The Earliest Evidence of Christianity in Arabia?

 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Islam on the Temple Mount

Understanding the Nabateans

Rescue in the Biblical Negev
Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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3 Responses

  1. Sam Bess says:

    The discovery of a small Mosque in the Levant and dated is interesting. Not told is the
    Islamic Impericalism that seeded the Islamic Way of life into the Levant…..hence, a tiny Mosque, to serve a few Muslims in the area…The Muslims conquered this area requiring Christians to pay the Dihimi or turn. The “Wealth” of the inhabitants became Islamic booty. Islam is a “way of life” not a religion. Large immigration from the Muslim
    Arabic peninsula into the levant seeded the Islamist philosophy into that area as early as the 8th and 9th centuries AD… Context is important. History is pretext if not cast in context.

    1. Rhett says:

      Here’s some more context for you Sam. When the Crusaders conquered the area, they killed the entire Muslim population of Jerusalem, along with all the Jews and Arab Christians, I’m sure the local Christian and Jewish population preferred paying the jizya tax to Muslims than being murdered en masse by Christians. That’s the “way of life” the Crusaders brought.

      1. Dennis B. Swaney says:

        I basically consider the Crusaders equivalent of the Taliban and Daesch. They killed Moslems because the Moslems were killing Christians, they killed Jews because the Jews had supposedly killed Jesus, and they killed Arab Christians because they were “heretics”, ie not Western Catholics.

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3 Responses

  1. Sam Bess says:

    The discovery of a small Mosque in the Levant and dated is interesting. Not told is the
    Islamic Impericalism that seeded the Islamic Way of life into the Levant…..hence, a tiny Mosque, to serve a few Muslims in the area…The Muslims conquered this area requiring Christians to pay the Dihimi or turn. The “Wealth” of the inhabitants became Islamic booty. Islam is a “way of life” not a religion. Large immigration from the Muslim
    Arabic peninsula into the levant seeded the Islamist philosophy into that area as early as the 8th and 9th centuries AD… Context is important. History is pretext if not cast in context.

    1. Rhett says:

      Here’s some more context for you Sam. When the Crusaders conquered the area, they killed the entire Muslim population of Jerusalem, along with all the Jews and Arab Christians, I’m sure the local Christian and Jewish population preferred paying the jizya tax to Muslims than being murdered en masse by Christians. That’s the “way of life” the Crusaders brought.

      1. Dennis B. Swaney says:

        I basically consider the Crusaders equivalent of the Taliban and Daesch. They killed Moslems because the Moslems were killing Christians, they killed Jews because the Jews had supposedly killed Jesus, and they killed Arab Christians because they were “heretics”, ie not Western Catholics.

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