Approximately 18.5 miles south of Amman, on the King’s Highway, rising on the natural elevation of the Jordanian plateau, is the city of Madaba (biblically known as “Medeba”). On the fourth day of our journey, this will be the one of three places we will visit.
Biblical references to the city are limited, though the historical antiquity concerning the early church is phenomenal. When Israel entered Canaan, they conquered and occupied Medeba, which was one of the cities of the Moabite Mishor (Numbers 21:30; Joshua 13:9, 16;). Approximately 100 years later, King David battled against the Aramean–Ammonite coalition near this city (1 Chronicles 19:7).
There are a large number of tombs dating from the 1stc AD that provide evidences of the Medeba area belonging to the Nabatean kingdom of Petra. One monument is dated at 37 AD, which is the period of King Aretas IV. In terms of antiquity though, 2 tombs discovered at tel-Medeba date back as far as the 13th to the 10thc BC. Many would date these as being contemporary with the period of the Israelite exodus and conquest of Canaan.
Approximately 300 years past the time of King David, Mesha, king of Moab, regained control of the city. 600 years later, the Maccabean revolt finds itself ambushed by the “Sons of Jambri,” a tribe from Medeba (110 BC). A Jewish caravan is looted and the brother of Judas Maccabaeus is killed. After a prolonged siege, John Hyrcanus retakes the city. In a series of war deals made in the years following, the city control was given to King Aretas, of Petra.
During the 7thc AD, historical references to Madaba appear to go dark. Much of this is attributed to the invasion of Islam into the territory.
In the late 19th century, bedouin Christians pitched their tents in and around the ruins of the city. As they began to build more permanent shelters, they had the wherewithal to realize the artifacts that existed among the cut stones they were using. Many of these were conveyed to authorities that revealed intricate mosaics from the Byzantine-Umayyad period that beheld the Church of the Virgin, the Church of the Prophet Elijah, the mosaic of the crypt of Elisha, the Church of the Holy Martyrs, and the Church of the Map (as well as many others). This earned Madaba the name, “City of Mosaics”.
The Church of the Map hosts an incredible mosaic of a documentation of the Onomasticon (of Eusebius). This depicts the twelve tribes of Israel, their boundaries and surrounding areas.
- Numbers 21:30;
- Joshua 13:9, 16; 1
- Chronicles 19:7;
- Isaiah 15:2;