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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:2, Summer 2023

From Christianity to Islam in the Negev

Excavations near the town of Rahat in the Negev Desert shed new light on the transition from the Byzantine to Islamic periods in the southern Levant. The excavations, carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, uncovered a luxurious estate and a small mosque that both date to the very beginning of the Islamic period in the seventh and eighth centuries. The team also uncovered a Byzantine farmstead that dates only a century earlier. These finds illustrate the rapid transition from Christianity to Islam in the northern Negev.

Likely only able to hold a few dozen worshipers, the mosque is a simple, square-shaped structure with a half-circle niche (mihrab) in its wall facing Mecca. The mosque is interesting because of its early date and its rural location. This makes it one of the earliest known rural mosques discovered during an archaeological excavation. Its small size means that it likely served only the local inhabitants. It may have been funded by the owners of the estate to serve themselves and the local farming community.

The project began as a salvage excavation, spurred on by the planned construction of a new neighborhood in the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat. The mosque and other finds are expected to be integrated into the new neighborhood, connecting the modern residents to their ancient past.

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