site located 32 km (18 mi.) southwest of Beersheba, 11 km (7 mi.) southwest of Elusa (Ḥaluṣa), and 22 km (13 mi.) northeast of Neṣṣana, on the northeast side of Wadi Ruḥeiba. Positioned on the biblical Way of Shur (Gn. 16:7; 20:1), this second-largest Negev city (after Elusa) functioned as an important caravan stop and, in the Byzantine period, as a rest stop for pilgrims traveling between the Sinai desert and Jerusalem, as the Byzantine khan and stable excavated in area C and the city's four churches indicate.
The Hebrew name of the site (Reḥovot) derives in modern times from the similarity of its Arabic name (Ruḥeibe) to the biblical Reḥovot, where a patriarchal well was located (Gn. 26:2). The huge, ancient well (largest in the Negev), located outside the town near a now-destroyed Byzantine bathhouse, was mistaken for the well mentioned in Genesis. The ancient name of the site is not known, although it is probably one of the towns mentioned inNeṣṣana papyrus 79, as Yoram Tsafrir argues (Tsafrir, 1993, p. 295).
Excavations carried out by Tsafrir from 1975 to 1979 and In 1986 indicate that the site was founded in the first century BCE/CE and terminated in about 700. The presence of post-abandonment Arab squatters in the site's north church and the absence of Arab glazed pottery indicate the probability of such a date. Estimates of the site's size vary in the literature, but the most recent estimate by Tsafrir of about 30 acres, with a population of about 4,800 at the city's height in the Byzantine period, is probably best.
Very little of the site has been excavated: some domestic housing (areas A and B), the khan and stable (area C), and only two (one partially) of the city's four churches (Tsafrir, 1988). Partial excavation of the central church (area D) revealed a well-preserved synthronon in a single-apsed building. Extensive excavation of the northern church revealed one of the largest triapsidal church buildings in the Negev, erected in several stages, with a chapel to the north and a large atrium that may have functioned as a monastery at the southern end of the nave. The dedicatory inscription dates its construction to the mid-sixth century. The most remarkable feature of this church is its crypt, equipped with a stairway for pilgrims to visit and venerate the unknown saint buried there.
The 1986 excavations carried out at the site under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Maryland gave welcome stratigraphic precision to particular areas (Tsafrir and Holum, 1987–1988 and 1988). On ceramic grounds, the southern edge of the town (area B) cannot have been built before the fifth or sixth centuries CE; and the floor of the stable house (area C) overlay pottery of the first centuries BCE/CE. In addition to excavations carried out in the Byzantine cemetary, work in the atrium of the North Church (area E) yielded a Kufic officer's inscription with the earliest epigraphic mention of ῾Amr ibn al-῾Aṣ, the conqueror of Byzantine Palestine.
Studies of the names of the city's inhabitants (as revealed by dedicatory and cemetery inscriptions) indicate a preponderance of Greek personal names of Nabatean and Arab origin in the early sixth century. They are replaced by a preponderance of Semitic personal names by the end of the century (Gutwein, 1981). This pattern seems to be reinforced by the small skeletal sample recovered and published, which indicates a nomadic, rather than either Jewish or Greek, ethnic type. Among the skeletal samples are those of three females, which are significant because so little is known about female skeletons in general.
- Gutwein, Kenneth C. Third Palestine: A Regional Study in Byzantine Urbanization. Washington, D.C., 1981.
- Shereshevski, Joseph. “Urban Settlements in the Negev in the Byzantine Period.” Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1986. In Hebrew with English summary.
- Tsafrir, Yoram, and Kenneth G. Holum. “Rehovot—1986.” Excavations and Surveys in Israel, 1987/88 (1987–1988): 89–91.
- Tsafrir, Yoram, and Kenneth G. Holum. “Rehovot-in-the-Negev: Preliminary Report, 1986.” Israel Exploration Journal 38 (1988): 117–127.
- Tsafrir, Yoram, et al. Excavations at Rehovot-in-the-Negev, vol. 1, The Northern Church. Qedem, vol. 25. Jerusalem, 1988.
- Tsafrir, Yoram. “On the Pre-Planning of Ancient Churches and Synagogues: A Test Case—The Northern Church at Rehovot in the Negev.” In Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land, New Discoveries: Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, edited by Giovanni Claudio Bottini et al., pp. 535–544. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Collectio Maior, 36. Jerusalem, 1990.
- Tsafrir, Yoram. “The Early Byzantine Town of Reḥovot-in-the-Negev and Its Churches.” In Ancient Churches Revealed, edited by Yoram Tsafrir, pp. 294–302. Jerusalem, 1993.
- Tsafrir, Yoram, and Kenneth G. Holum. “Rehovot-in-the-Negev.” In The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, edited by Ephraim Stern, vol. 4, pp. 1274–1277. Jerusalem and New York, 1993.
Dennis E. Groh