Peraea and the Dead Sea
20. (Hot Baths) of Baaru - (Hammamat Ma'in)
On the east bank of the Dead Sea two locations with thermal springs were famous in antiquity: Kallirrhoe and Baarou or Baaras.
The springs were praised by Roman and Jewish historians for their curative properties and the sweetness of their waters. Josephus (Jewish War I, 657-659; Antiquities XVII, 169-176) describes the visit of King Herod the Great to the hot springs of Kallirrhoe, just before his death in 4 BC. The king "crossed the Jordan to take the warm baths at Kallirrhoe, the waters of which descend into the lake Asphaltitis and from their sweetness are also used for drink"...
The hot springs of Baarou are placed on the Madaba Map slightly northeast of the Baths of Kallirrhoe. The label [BA]AROU runs across a stream, flowing down from the mountains to the sea, originating as it seems just behind the inscription. This position corresponds to the hot springs of Hammam ez-Zarqa or Hammamat Ma'in, the sources which provide most of the waters of the stream.
Although the first two letters of the inscription are missing - it can be identified with the ancient name of Baarou, a small river refered to by Eusebius in connection with a very large village [Beelmeon] "near the hot springs of Baras in Arabia" (Onomasticon 44:22; 112:17).
Josephus describes the place called Baarou or Baaras: "In the ravine [Wadi Zarqa Ma'in] which encloses the town on the north [Machaerus], there is a place called Baaras, which produces a root bearing the same name". After describing the mysterious properties of the plant he continues: "In this same region flow hot springs, in taste widely differing from each other, some being bitter, while others have no lack of sweetness. Many springs of cold water also gush up...". At the end he mentions a cave screened by a projecting rock, from which on one side extremely cold water runs down and on the other extremely hot water, and the sulphur and alum mines in the district (Jewish War VII, 180-189).
This description clearly refers to the hot springs of Hammamat Ma'in, situated in the narrow and fissured Wadi Zarqa Ma'in about 4 km inland. Until the discovery of the Madaba map many scholars regarded the thermes of Zarqa Ma'in as identical with the Baths of Kallirrhoe. However, Josephus did not mention "Kallirrhoe", but used the term topos. Moreover, its waters do not flow directly into the lake Asphaltitis, but form a river that descends into the sea.
The most precise description of the place called "Ba'ar, where are the thermes" is given in the account of Peter the Iberian, who visited the hot springs at the end of the fifth century AD. The description of the site corresponds to the one given by Josephus: "The deep wadi is enclosed from all sides by high cliffs, the air filled with the steam of the very hot water, which not only gushes up from the ground, but also pours down in hot waterfalls and a series of lower cascades". He also mentions the cave, where the two water sources, one very hot and the other cold, run into a sort of bath-like pool.
According to that account, there were no houses built in the middle of the valley, but mere reed huts. These were used during the winter time, the only period when the baths could be used without discomfort, due to the extreme heat and the flies prevalent during the other seasons.4
The text of a house sale deed from a village named Kefar Baru or Bari has recently been published. The fragmentary document, most probably originating from the Judaean Desert caves, was composed in the third year of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the village of Baru or Bari and deals with the sale of a house there. The village has been tentatively identified with a settlement Manyat Umm Hasan above the hot springs of Hammamat Ma'in ca. 5 km northwest of Machaerus. Could the above mentioned placenames Baaras, Ba'ar, or Baarou on the Madaba Map, possibly refer to the village named Baru mentioned in the house sale deed document?
Here we are faced with the question: does the representation on the Madaba map reflect a naturalistic or realistic rendering of the two sites?
Christa Clamer, "The Hot Springs of Kallirrhoe and Baarou", in The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 221-223 (extract) See also the complete article
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 39-40)
The thermal springs of Baaru are mentioned by Josephus (War VII, 180, 189) as a place near Machaerus, the site of a battle (not a village). Eusebius mentioned them twice: once as a near the big village of Beelmeon (Ma´in) (On. 44,22ff.) and once near Caraiatha (On. 112, 17). As the latter village was in the territory of Madaba this explains the local interest in these springs. They are again mentioned by Petrus Iberus (82) as 'a desolate place with very hot and curative springs'. The usual identification is with 'Ain ez-Zerqa'.
For more sources and bibliography see:
F.-M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine.I (Paris 1933), s.v. "Thermes de Baaras", 460.
Map Section 3 Place Sources