DISCUSSION

Ascalon, Gaza, Negev and Sinai

130. Rhinocorura - (al-'Arish)


This is the name (actually Rhinokoloura, "the city of the cut-nosed people") of the city that is known today as al-'Arish. It was situated, as noted earlier, 24 miles from Ostracine, on the outlet of Wadi al-'Arish, which is probably the biblical Nahal Misraim or River of Egypt. This toponym, referring to the southern border of the Land of Israel in the Bible, was indeed once translated as Rhinocorura in the Septuagint (Isa 27:12). It probably also represents the mysterious town of Lenyssos, which Herodotus (3, 5) places on the border between Arabs and Syrians on the north Sinai coast. In the period under discussion here, Rhinocorura did not lie on the border itself, but only 12 miles from it, being thus the easternmost city of Egypt. It was a flourishing city, and in the Byzantine period it soon became a bishopric. Sozomen, the Church historian, records its first bishops, Melas, Solon and Dionysos, as being exemplary local monks. Even the local clergy (in the words of Sozomen) "dwell in one house, sit at the same table, and have everything in common" (Soz. 6, 31). During the Monophysite crisis, the tenants of Rhinocorura's episcopal see for many years remained faithful to orthodoxy. Its bishop Hermogenes was sent to Rome together with Lampetius of Casium in a mission, as mentioned earlier. In AD 451, bishop Zenon, contrary to his Egyptian neighbors, attended the Chalcedonian council, endorsing its decisions.

P. Figueras, "The Road Linking Palestine and Egypt along the Sinai Coast", The Madaba Map Centenary, p. 223 (see also the complete article).

Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 77-78)
Rhinokorura (also Rhinokolura) is often mentioned in classical, Byzantine and later sources (e.g. Fl. Josephus, Jewish War I: 14:2 [§ 277]; IV: 11: 5 [§ 6621]; Antiquities XIII: 15:4; XIV: 14:2), also on the Peutinger Plates. It was situated near modern al-'Arish at the mouth of Wadi al-'Arish We see the red roofs of two churches. It is very interesting that, according to Abu Salih, the ruins of two churches were still visible in the Middle Ages. Rhinokorura was a bishop's see since the 4th century. There is a remarkable local tradition: it was here that Noah bequeathed the heritage to his three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. One of the churches might have been devoted to St. Noah.

Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Judaea and Negev, Jerusalem - in the press)

el-Arish, Rhinocorura

Hesychius, the famous Jerusalem preacher who lived in the first half of the fifth century, in Titles of the Psalms, a work once attributed to St. Athanasius, mentions in his commentary on Psalm 125, 4 the Wadi el-Arish, which forms the natural border between Egypt and Palestine and the boundary of the city of Rhinocorura located near the wadi. He narrates that the Saracens used to raid the city and that he had seen the wadi with his own eyes (PG 27, cols.1233-34). This detail draws our attention to the monastic institutions of the town; perhaps Hesychius lived there for a time. Sozomen (Historia Ecclesiastica VI, 31) writes about the first bishop of Rafia, Melas, who lived a monastic life and was exiled under Valens because of his opposition to Arianism. The bishop kept a very rigorous manner of life. Later he was succeeded in the episcopate by his brother Solon who, once a merchant, had become a monk under the guidance of his brother and of the local ascetics. In that period a certain Dionysius, a native of the place, lived an eremitical life in the northern part of the city.
Some burial inscriptions of this Byzantine period are known. They transmit to us the names of Stephen, son of Golot, who died in 555, of Cosmia (a very rare name), daughter of Cosmas, and of Maria. We do not know the exact date of death of these women. The inscriptions were published by Father Tonneau (RB 36 [1927], pp. 93-95) but were discussed also by others (SEG VIII, nos. 302-05).
Sand invaded the region shortly after the Byzantine period, and Br. Liévin records only the castle built under the Turks; Tonneau saw it in ruins. The inscriptions were in the custody of the governor.

For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Rhinocorura", 214-215.

Map Section 9 Place Sources

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:40:55
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
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copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000