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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Eleutheropolis

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(Ε᾿λευθερόπολις, free city), a place not named in Scripture, but which was an episcopal city of such importance in the time of Eusebius and Jerome that they assumed it as the point whence to estimate the distances and positions of other cities in southern Palestine (Onomast. s.v. Estherne, Sephela, Jermus, etc.; see Reland, Palaest. page 410, 411). It appears from these and many other notices that Eleutheropolis was the capital of a large province during the fourth and fifth centuries of our era. It was also an episcopal city of Palaestina Prima (St. Paulo, Geogr. Sac. page 306; Notitive Ecclesiasticae, page 6). Its site remained unknown for many centuries, though defined by several ancient writers with much minuteness. Eusebius states that the plain of Shepheleh extends from Eleutheropolis westward and southward (Onomast. s.v. Sephela), and hence it must have stood at the southwestern base of the mountains of Judah. He also states that Bethshemesh was ten miles distant from it, on the road to Nicopolis; and Jedna, six miles on the road to Hebron; and Sochoh, nine miles on the road to Jerusalem. All these places are now known, and the lines of road being traced and the distances measured, we find that the site indicated is Beit Jibrin (Robinson, Bib. Res. 2:348, 359, 398, 404 420, 642-646). In the Acta Sanctorum Martyrum, published by Assemani in Syriac, Greek, and Latin, Peter Abselama the martyr is said to have been born at Anea, which lay, according to the Syriac version, in the district of Beth Gubrin, while both the Greek and Latin read in the district of Eleutheropolis (ib. page 66). This establishes the identity of Beth Gubrin and Eleutheropolis. Josephus mentions a town in this neighborhood called Betaris, which some copies read Βήγαβρις, and it appears to be the same place (War, 4:8, 1). Under its ancient name Baetogabra (Βαιτογάβρα, i.e., house of Gabra or Gabriel?), it is enumerated by Ptolemy among the cities of Palestine (1 Maccabees 6:16), and it is also laid down as Betogabri in the Peutinger tables (Reland, Palaest. page 421). The name Eleutheropolis first appears on coins of this city inscribed to Julia Donna, the wife of Septimius Severns, in A.D. 202-3 (Eckhel, 3:488). The emperor had been in Syria about that time, and had conferred important privileges on various cities among which was Betogabris, which appears to have been then called Eleutheropolis, as being made a free city. Epiphanius, the well-known writer, was born in a village three miles from the city in the beginning of the 4th century, and is often called an Eleutheropolitan (Reland, page 751,752). In the year A.D. 796, little more than a century and a half after the Saracenic conquest, Eleutheropolis was razed to the ground, and left completely desolate. The Greek language now gave place to the Arabic, and this city lost its proud name and its prouder rank together (Reland, page 987). Like so many other cities, the old Aramaic name, which had probably never been lost to the peasantry, was revived among writers, and we thus find Beigeberin, or some form like it, constantly in use after the 8th century (Reland, Palaest. p. 222, 227; Gesta Dei per Francos, page 1044). In the 12th century the Crusaders found it in ruins, and called by the Arabs Bethgebrim (doubtless a Frank corruption of Beit Jibrin). They built a strong fortress on the old foundations to guard against the incursions of the Moslems, the remains of which, and the chapel connected with it, still exist. After the battle of Hattin it fell into the hands of Saladin, but was retaken by Richard of England. It was finally captured by Bibars (see Will. Tyr. 14:22; Jac. de Vit. in Gesta Dei, pages 1070, 1071; Bohaeddin, Vit. Salad. page 229). It has since crumbled to ruin under the blight of Mohammedan rule.

The modern village of Belt Jibrin is about twenty-five miles from Jerusalem, on the road to Gaza. It contains between two and three hundred inhabitants, and is situated in a little nook or glen in the side of a long green valley, which is shut in by low ridges of limestone partially covered with dark copse. The ancient ruins are scattered around it, and are of considerable extent. The principal one is a large irregular enclosure, formerly surrounded by a massive wall, still in part standing, and containing the remains of the Crusaders' castle. A great part of this outer wall is completely ruinous; but the north side, which skirts the bank of the valley, is still several feet high. The enclosure is about 600 feet in diameter. The fortress is about 200 feet square, and is of a much later date than the outer wall. In the castle, along the south side, are portions of the walls and the groined roof and clustered columns of a fine old chapel the same, doubtless, which was built by the Crusaders. An Arabic inscription over the castle-gate bears the date A.D. 958 A.D. 1551 probably the time when it was last repaired. A short distance eastward are other massive ruins and a deep well; while about a mile up the valley are the picturesque remains of the church of St. Anne (Porter, Handbook for Syr. and Pal. page 256 sq.). Several curious traditions have found a "local habitation" at Beit Jibrin. One places here the miraculous fountain which sprang from the jaw-bone Samson wielded with such success against the Philistines (Anton. Mant. Itin. pages 30, 32).

The valley, on the side of which the ruins of Eleutheropolis lie, runs up among the hills for two miles or more south-by-east. On each side of it are low ridges of soft limestone, which rises here and there in white bare crowns over the dark shrubs. In these ridges are some of the most remarkable caverns and excavations in Palestine, rivaling in extent and interest the catacombs of Rome and Malta. They are altogether different in character from the rock-tombs of Jerusalem and the grottos of Petra. They were examined and described by Dr. Robinson, and they have since been more fully explored by Mr. Porter. They are found together in clusters, and form subterranean villages. Some are rectangular, 100 feet and more in length, with smooth walls and lofty arched roofs. Others are bell-shaped- from 40 to 70 feet in diameter, by nearly 60 feet in height-all connected together by arched doorways and winding subterranean passages. A few are entirely dark, but most of them are lighted by a circular aperture at the top. They occur at short intervals along both sides of the whole valley, and may also be seen at several other neighboring villages. The origin and object of these singular excavations are easily ascertained. During the Babylonian captivity the Edomites overran and occupied the whole of southern Palestine, which is hence called by Josephus Idumaea. Jerome calls the Idumaeans Horites, and says they inhabited the whole country extending from Eleutheropolis to Petra and Elah, and that they dwelt in caves preferring them both on account of their security and their coolness during the heat of summer (Comm. in Obadiah 1:1). The original inhabitants of Edom were Horites, that is, Troglodytes, "dwellers in caves." The descendants of Esau adopted the habits of their predecessors, and when they took possession of southern Palestine excavated rock dwellings wherever practicable (see Robinson's Biblical Researches, 2d ed. 2:23, 57 sq.; Van de Velde, Narrative, 2:147 sq.; Thomson, Land and Book, 2:358 sq.).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Eleutheropolis'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/e/eleutheropolis.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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