Biblical Archaeology Review 21:5, September/October 1995

Spirituality in the Desert: Judean Wilderness Monasteries

By Yizhar Hirschfeld

In 1966, the English scholar Derwas J. Chitty located 25 monasteries in the Judean desert east of Jerusalem, many known only from then-recent explorations.1 Today the number exceeds 60.2 The past decade has witnessed a veritable revolution in the study of these Judean desert monasteries. This is the result mainly of the work of a cadre of younger Israeli archaeologists who have surveyed the area and conducted a number of important excavations. This revolution includes not only a dramatic increase in the number of known monasteries, but also a far better understanding of their archaeology and consequently of the way of life of the devout Christians who lived in them, principally in the Byzantine period (fourth to seventh centuries).

The title of Chitty’s work was indeed apt. He called it The Desert a City, paraphrasing Cyril of Scythopolis (Beth-Shean), the great sixth-century biographer of leaders of the monastic movement. Chitty described the conversion of the desert into a city as a result of the monastic movement.

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