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Ecce Homo

Jerusalem

Thousands of pilgrims each year walk under the Ecce Homo Arch near the beginning of the Via Dolorosa without realising that extensive remains of first-century Jerusalem lie beneath their feet.

Looking westward to Ecce Homo Arch, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

Looking westward to Ecce Homo Arch, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

For centuries Christians believed the arch was the place where Pontius Pilate displayed Jesus — beaten, crowned with thorns and clothed in a purple robe — to a hostile Jerusalem crowd with the words: “Behold the man” (“Ecce Homo” in Latin).

This belief persists in many publications, though archaeology has proved the arch did not exist then.

Archaeologists say the arch stood on a great plaza constructed by the emperor Hadrian when he rebuilt the city in AD 135 — a century after Jesus was crucified. Some consider it was originally a city gate from the time of Herod Agrippa I (AD 41-44).

Large sections of the plaza remain underneath the Via Dolorosa and adjacent buildings, accessible through the Ecce Homo convent of the Sisters of Zion.

The Roman flagstones of Hadrian’s plaza were once thought to be the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos in Greek, Gabbatha in Aramaic) identified in John’s Gospel as the location where Jesus was condemned by Pilate. But it is more likely that Pilate judged Jesus at Herod the Great‘s palace, on the site of the modern Citadel inside the Jaffa Gate.

 

 

Arch continues into convent chapel

Built in the style of a triumphal arch, the Ecce Homo Arch is the central span of what was originally a triple-arched gateway. It supports a small room with barred windows.

Ecce Homo Arch in 1864 (James McDonald, Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem)

Ecce Homo Arch in 1864 (James McDonald, Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem)

The arch continues through the wall of the convent chapel, where the smaller northern arch now frames the tabernacle, under a Byzantine cross on a gilded mosaic backdrop. The southern arch has been destroyed.

Entry to the convent, and the extensive remains and small museum beneath it, is through a door near the corner of the Via Dolorosa and a narrow alley called Adabat er-Rahbat, or The Nuns Ascent.

The convent was built in 1857 by Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Frenchman who converted to Catholicism from Judaism and became a priest.

During construction the pavement of Hadrian’s plaza was uncovered. It also extends under the Church of the Flagellation and the Church of the Condemnation at the First and Second Stations of the Via Dolorosa.

Down several steps beneath the plaza is a large cistern hewn out of the rock. It is about 54 metres long and 14 metres wide, with a depth of around 5 metres.

It was originally an open-air pool, part of a chain of reservoirs providing water for the citizens of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus says the name of the pool was Struthion (meaning sparrow). Hadrian installed impressive vaulting over the pool to enable his plaza to cover it.

 

Soldiers carved games into flagstones

The flagstones of the plaza offer an intriguing insight into the lives of the Roman soldiers garrisoned at the nearby Antonia fortress, built by Herod the Great to overlook — and control — the Temple.

Hadrian's plaza, called the Lithostrotos, under the Ecce Homo convent (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Hadrian’s plaza, called the Lithostrotos, under the Ecce Homo convent (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Named after Herod’s patron Marc Antony, this vast fortress was a symbol of the Roman domination of the city.

In various parts of the pavement, off-duty soldiers carved the lines and squares of the games they played in idle moments. Other parts of the plaza were grooved to prevent horses from slipping.

One set of marks, with a crude crown and the initial B in the centre (for basileus, the Greek word for king), has been identified as the King’s Game, which soldiers played with dice.

In the past, the presence of the soldiers’ games added weight to the mistaken assumption that this was the location where Jesus appeared before Pilate, was flogged, mocked as “King of the Jews” and crowned with thorns.

 Grooves cut into flagstones to stop horses slipping (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Grooves cut into flagstones to stop horses slipping (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Though the Ecce Homo Arch and Hadrian’s plaza have no proven link with Jesus or Pilate, the area has a definite connection to St Paul.

After Paul was seized by Jews from Asia while visiting the Temple, it was from the Antonia fortress that soldiers ran to rescue him and prevent a riot. And it was on the steps leading to the fortress that Paul addressed the crowd and avoided being flogged by announcing to a surprised tribune that he was a Roman citizen.

 

Related site:

Via Dolorosa

 

In Scripture:

Jesus before Pilate: John 18:28-19:16

Paul addresses the Jerusalem crowd: Acts 21:27-22-29

 

Ecce Homo Convent

Administered by: Sisters of Our Lady of Zion and the Chemin Neuf Community

Tel.: +972 (0)2 627 72 92

Open: 8am-5pm

 

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

Older Posts »

Church of the Ascension

Jerusalem

Tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

Tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

The 64-metre tower that dominates the Mount of Olives skyline belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension. It was built to this height in the 1870s so that pilgrims unable to walk to the Jordan River could climb its 214 steps and at least see the river.

Atop the freestanding square tower is a sharply-pointed belfry. It contains an eight-ton bell, cast in Russia and pulled and pushed — mainly by women pilgrims — on a circular wagon from the port of Jaffa. It was the first Christian bell to ring in the Ottoman city of Jerusalem.

While the church is dedicated to the Ascension of Jesus — an event most Christians believe took place about 200 metres further west at the Dome of the Ascension — it also claims a connection to St John the Baptist.

An old tradition says the Baptist’s head was buried on the Mount of Olives and discovered on the site of the church by two Syrian monks in the 4th century.

Since 1907 the church has been in the custody of a community of Russian Orthodox nuns from a variety of nations. They are renowned for their singing and their icon-writing.

 

Chapel marks finding of John’s head

The Russian complex of the church and associated buildings, including a pilgrims’ hostel, is set among gardens with a large olive grove.

Access is from Rabi’a al-Adawwiyya Street (which begins directly opposite the entrance to the Church of Pater Noster) and along a lane on the right called Alley 7. To the left of a big green gate at the end of the lane is a door with a keypad to request entry.

Hollow in floor where John the Baptist's head is believed to have been found (Matanya - Wikimedia)

Hollow in floor where John the Baptist’s head is believed to have been found (Matanya – Wikimedia)

The cross-shaped church is surmounted by a dome containing a striking representation of the Ascension. Stains on flagstones from an earlier Byzantine church are believed to be the blood of nuns slain during the Persian invasion of 614.

Attached to an outside wall, protected by a grate, is a rock on which the Orthodox believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, was standing when her son ascended to heaven.

Behind the church is a chapel built on the site where the head of John the Baptist is said to have been found.

The tradition holds that a follower of Christ called Joanna saw Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas, throw John’s head on a rubbish heap. Joanna recovered it and buried it in a clay pot on the Mount of Olives.

In the 4th century John is said to have appeared in a dream to two Syrian monks who had come to Jerusalem as pilgrims, showing them where his head was buried.

Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, was in Jerusalem at the time and ordered a chapel to be built on the spot. The present chapel has a Byzantine mosaic floor with a hollow said to mark the place where the head was discovered.

Three other Ascension sites

Lutheran Church of the Ascension (Isaac Shweky / Wikimedia)

Lutheran Church of the Ascension (Isaac Shweky / Wikimedia)

The Ascension of Jesus is commemorated at three other sites on the Mount of Olives:

* The Dome of the Ascension, a small octagonal structure in a walled compound about 200 metres west of the Russian church. A church has stood here since around AD 380, but the present building is now part of a mosque.

* The Lutheran Church of the Ascension, further north towards Mount Scopus. Also known as Augusta Victoria (after the wife of the Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who initiated plans for the church in 1989), its fortress-like compound with a tall bell tower now hosts a hospital for the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

* The Greek Orthodox Viri Galilaei Church, between the Russian and Lutheran churches. Its name means “men of Galilee”, a reference to the question posed to the apostles by two men in white after the Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven…?”

 

Related sites:

Dome of the Ascension

Sebastiya

 

In Scripture:

Jesus ascends to heaven: Acts 1:9-11

 

Administered by: Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem

Tel: 02-628-4373 or 628-0111

Open: Apr-Sep, Tues and Thur, 10am-1pm; Oct-Mar, Tues and Thur, 9am-12 noon. Women must wear skirts.

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

Older Posts »

Monastery of the Cross

Jerusalem

The Monastery of the Cross is one of Jerusalem’s lesser-known gems, although its claimed connection to the cross on which Jesus was crucified may belong more to legend than to reality.

Monastery of the Cross

Bell tower dominating Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The fortress-like appearance of buttressed walls and high windows confirm that its location in the Valley of the Cross was originally an isolated site outside the protective walls of the city.

Now the monastery and its adjacent parkland in West Jerusalem are surrounded by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) to the north, the Israel Museum to the west, the upmarket Rehavia neighbourhood to the east, and four-lane highways on the south and east.

The monastery’s name comes from a traditional belief that the wood of Jesus’ cross came from a tree planted here in ancient times.

The most common account says Lot planted the tree, but another version involves Adam.

Monastery of the Cross

Painting of Lot watering the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The monastery appears to have been founded no later than the 5th century, though no two sources agree on who founded it.

Some credit the emperor Constantine, his mother St Helena or King Mirian III of Georgia.

It was rebuilt in the 11th century by the Georgian monk Prochorus, on the remains of an earlier structure destroyed by the Persians. Occupied by hundreds of monks, it became the religious and cultural centre for Georgians living in Palestine.

In 1685, with Georgia in decline and subjugated by the Persians and Ottomans, the monastery was taken over by the Greek Orthodox, who restored and repaired it in the 1960s and 70s.

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Georgian epic poem was written here

A haven of quiet in busy Jerusalem, the Monastery of the Cross seems to have changed little in centuries.

Monastery of the Cross

Frescoes on walls and pillars in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The complex contains a chapel, living quarters for monks, several courtyards, a small museum with exhibits illustrating monastery life in the past, the old refectory and kitchen, a coffee shop and a gift shop.

In the chapel, a basilica with a central dome, the walls and pillars are decorated with frescoes from the 12th and 17th centuries. The iconostasis separating the sanctuary from the nave contains many icons and paintings.

To the right of the altar is a mosaic floor, all that remains of a 5th-century church destroyed by the Persians in 614.

One of the frescoes commemorates Georgia’s national poet, Shota Rustaveli, who lived in the monastery in the early 13th century and wrote the epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.

In 2004 an unknown vandal scratched out Rustaveli’s face and part of the accompanying inscription — a fate that had also been suffered by other Georgian artworks in the monastery during the preceding decades.

Monastery of the Cross

Disc under altar marking supposed site of the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

 

Frescoes tell story of the tree

On the left side of the chapel, a doorway leads to the heart of the monastery.

A narrow passageway with displays of old vestments in glass cabinets leads to a darkened chapel. Beneath the altar, a circular plate surrounds the place where the tree of the cross is supposed to have stood.

Beside it is a repository for photographs of people who are sick or in need of help, for whom prayers are being offered.

Heavily-restored medieval frescoes on the walls tell the story of the tree.

First, Abraham is shown with three heavenly visitors (Genesis 18:1-15) who give him three staffs, of cedar, cypress and pine. After Sodom is destroyed, Abraham gives the staffs to his nephew Lot.

Lot plants the staffs and waters them from the Jordan River. The three woods grow into a single tree.

Monastery of the Cross

Wood from the tree being used for the Crucifixion (© Chad Emmett)

Centuries later the tree is cut down and a beam prepared for the cross.

 

Administered by: Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox)

Tel.: 052-221-5144

Open: Apr-Sep, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Oct-Mar, Mon-Sat 10am-4pm

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

Monastery of the Cross (BibleWalks)
Monastery of the Cross (Orthodox Wiki)
Older Posts »

Kidron Valley

Jerusalem

The Kidron Valley, a place of olive groves, ancient tombs and misnamed funerary monuments, divides Jerusalem’s Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.

Kidron Valley

Olive trees in the Kidron Valley, with the Pillar of Absalom in the centre distance (Seetheholyland.net)

Once a deep ravine channelling a seasonal stream, it provided a defensive border to the original City of David — and a route to the wilderness for King David when he fled from his rebellious son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23).

Jesus often traversed the Kidron on his way to the village of Bethany, his favourite place of rest and refuge.

After the Last Supper, he crossed the valley with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. Then, after he was betrayed, he was brought back the same way to the house of the high priest.

Kidron Valley

The Pillar of Absalom, with the wall of the Temple Mount on the right (Seetheholyland.net)

By the light of the Passover moon, the whitewashed tombs cut into the valley’s rock-face would have provided a stark reminder to Jesus that on the following day his own body would be laid in a tomb.

Since the 4th century, an identification of the Kidron with the Valley of Jehoshaphat (a name meaning “Yahweh shall judge”) mentioned in the book of Joel (3:2,12) has led to the belief that it will be the place of final judgement.

 

Valley descends to the Dead Sea

Across the street from the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, a paved path leads southward to the floor of the Kidron Valley. On the right is the Greek Orthodox Church of St Stephen.

In the northerly direction, the valley continues for 35 kilometres, descending steeply through the Judaean wilderness past Mar Saba monastery to the Dead Sea.

Olive trees give this part of the valley a pastoral character.

Kidron Valley

The path to the Kidron Valley, with the Pillar of Absalom in the centre (Yoav Dothan)

On the right looms the wall of the Temple Mount, with the sealed double portals of the Golden Gate standing out. On the left, the world’s largest Jewish cemetery stretches up the Mount of Olives. Further on, the Arab village of Silwan clings to the cliffside.

The cemetery’s location follows the Jewish belief that the long-awaited Messiah will pass through the Golden Gate to begin the resurrection of the dead.

In reaction to this belief, Muslims established a cemetery in front of the gate to block the Messiah’s path — and this may also be why the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent sealed the gate in 1541.

Kidron Valley

The sealed portals of the Golden Gate in the wall of the Temple Mount (Seetheholyland.net)

During the Second Temple period a high, two-tiered bridge spanned the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives. Across this bridge on the Day of Atonement each year a goat symbolically bearing the sins of the people — the original scapegoat — was led into the wilderness.

The Golden Gate may have been where Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday. It was probably also the Beautiful Gate of Acts 3:1-10, where the apostle Peter healed a lame beggar.

 

Monuments face the Temple Mount

Proceeding along the Kidron Valley, three monuments stand out on the left, each facing towards the Temple Mount. All have been attributed to biblical figures, but they are really tombs of prominent citizens of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period.

Kidron Valley

The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

In order, they are:

•  Pillar of Absalom. The tallest (22 metres) and most ornate of the Kidron Valley monuments, it is hewn out of the limestone rock face, with an elegant pinnacle shaped like a Moroccan tagine cooking pot.

The traditional association with Absalom — who died centuries before it was built — is because this rebellious son of King David erected for himself a memorial pillar in the King’s Valley (2 Samuel 18:18).

In 2003 a Byzantine Greek inscription was found on the south side, naming it the tomb of Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, but the authenticity of this identification is uncertain.

Behind the Pillar of Absalom is a 1st-century burial cave called the Tomb of Jehoshaphat, the fourth king of Judah (who died centuries before it existed). It is notable for the carved triangular pediment above its entrance.

Kidron Valley

The Pillar of Absalom in the Kidron Valley (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

•  Tomb of the Sons of Hezir. About 50 metres south of the Pillar of Absalom, this has two Greek Doric columns supporting a frieze with an inscription identifying it as belonging to the priestly family of the Bene Hezir.

A mistaken tradition says it is the tomb of James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem, who was thrown off the highest corner of the Temple Mount, then stoned and clubbed to death. In earlier times a chapel in the area honoured this early martyr.

•  Tomb of Zechariah. A few metres further south, this freestanding cube carved out of bedrock is decorated on each side with Ionic columns and is topped by a sharply pointed pyramid. Again, the identification is unreliable.

In the time of Jesus, these monuments would have been whitewashed. Perhaps they inspired his outburst: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

Kidron stream carries sewage

Kidron Valley

The Tomb of the Sons of Hezir (left) and the Tomb of Zechariah (Seetheholyland.net)

In modern times the Kidron has become one of the most polluted valleys in Israel. The Kidron stream still flows (except in summer), but it now carries most of Jerusalem’s sewage. Fortunately, the stretch near the city is piped underground.

Rubbish dumps also abound in the valley, continuing a practice referred to several times in the Bible. As long ago as seven centuries before Jesus, when King Hezekiah cleansed the Temple, his priests “brought out all the unclean things that they found in the temple of the Lord . . . and the Levites took them and carried them out to the Wadi Kidron” (2 Chronicles 29:16).

 

In Scripture

Kidron Valley

Polluted Kidron stream flowing past Mar Saba monastery in the Judaean desert (Seetheholyland.net)

King David flees from Absalom: 2 Samuel 15:23

Absalom builds his own monument: 2 Samuel 18:18

Judgement in the Valley of Jehoshaphat: Joel 3:2, 12

Jesus enters the city on Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley: John 18: 1

Peter heals a lame man at the Beautiful Gate: Acts 3:1-10

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Bourbon, Fabio: Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land: Lithographs and Diaries by David Roberts, R.A. (Swan Hill, 1997)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Tomb of Avshalom (BibleWalks)
Zechariah Tomb (BibleWalks)
Bnei-Hezir tombs (BibleWalks)
Older Posts »

Tiberias

Israel

The thriving resort of Tiberias, with its balmy climate, lakeside hotels and fish restaurants, is a popular base for Christian pilgrims exploring the Galilee that Jesus knew.

Tiberias

Modern Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Its location on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias in John’s Gospel) is within easy reach of the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Tabgha, Bethsaida, Chorazin, Magdala, Kursi, Cana, Mount Tabor, Nain and Nazareth.

Tiberias was a new city when Jesus began his public ministry. Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, founded it around AD 20 to replace Sepphoris as his capital.

Antipas — who would later behead Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist — chose a site just south of the present resort, taking advantage of 17 hot springs renowned since ancient times for their healing qualities. He named his new city after his patron, the emperor Tiberius Caesar.

Tiberias

Hot springs at Tiberias (David Q. Hall)

Because the site lay over ancient burial grounds, observant Jews refused to incur ritual impurity by living there. Antipas had to resort to compulsion and financial inducements to populate his city.

Though Jesus spent much of his ministry on and around the Sea of Tiberias, its inappropriate siting may explain why there is no record that he ever visited Tiberias.

 

Powerhouse of Jewish scholarship

Ritual purification of the city was carried out in the middle of the second century AD. The timing was opportune. The Second Jewish Revolt had failed, and the Romans had responded by banning Jews from Jerusalem.

Jews flocked to Tiberias, which became the major centre of Jewish culture and learning, with 13 synagogues. Even the Sanhedrin (the supreme court) moved from Sepphoris. “Preachers, poets, scholars and rabbis abounded,” wrote historian G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville.

Over the following centuries, it was this powerhouse of Jewish scholarship that compiled almost all of the Jerusalem Talmud — one of the two central texts of Jewish religious teaching and commentary that had previously been transmitted orally — and the fixed Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.

Tiberias

Tomb of Maimonides (Bukvoed)

A Christian community was established in the 4th century, when Tiberias became a major destination for pilgrims visiting the Christian sites of the Galilee region.

In 1033 an earthquake destroyed Tiberias. The Crusaders rebuilt it about two kilometres further north, where the present city stands.

 

Rabbi’s body was carried from Egypt

Tiberias

St Peter in his boat, at St Peter’s Church, Tiberias (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Thanks to successive conquests, modern Tiberias has fewer monuments or ancient ruins than other localities in the Holy Land.

Historic sites include the graves of several distinguished rabbis. These include the celebrated philosopher Maimonides, leader of the Jewish community in Cairo in the 12th century. In accordance with his will, his body was carried overland on the route believed to have been taken by Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, for burial in Tiberias (his grave is on Ben Zakkai Street).

One of the few remaining Crusader buildings is the Church of St Peter, hidden down an alley from the lakeside promenade. Erected around 1100, this Catholic church was a mosque, a caravanserai and a stable for animals before being rebuilt in 1870 by the Franciscans.

Remains of an older church, from the 6th century, have been discovered in a commanding position on Mount Berenice, west of the city. It is called the Anchor Church, because a huge stone with a hole in its centre was found under the base of the altar.

 

Coins found with likeness of Jesus

South of the modern city, where steam from hot springs rises above the ground, are a national park and an archaeological park.

The highlight of the national park is a 4th-century synagogue with a spectacular mosaic floor. It was discovered in 1921 during the first major archaeological dig led by Zionist Jews in Israel.

Tiberias

Ark of the Torah flanked by menorah, in synagogue mosaic at Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

In a curious mix of Jewish and pagan symbols, the Ark of the Torah is flanked by a pair of menorah, but immediately below is a Zodiac circle revolving around the figure of the pagan sun god Helios riding his celestial chariot.

The archaeological park contains the remains of the old city of Tiberias.

Excavations have uncovered part of the cardo (main street), a bathhouse, an unidentified colonnaded building, a reservoir, a tower and the south gate complex.

Tiberias

Bronze coin with likeness of Jesus discovered at Tiberias

A treasure trove of bronze coins was discovered in 1998, hidden in pottery jars under the floor of a building. They included 58 bearing the likeness of Jesus, with Greek inscriptions such as “Jesus the Messiah, the King of Kings”, minted in Constantinople in the 11th century.

 

Hammat Tiberias National Park

Tel.: 972-4-6725287

Open: Apr-Sep 8am-5pm; Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (last entry one hour before closing time)

 

St Peter’s Church

Tel.: 972-4-6721059

Open: 8am-12.30pm, 2.30-5.30pm


References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Heinsch, James: “Tiberias Church of St Peter”, Holy Land, Autumn 1999.
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)

 

External links

Hammat Tiberias (BibleWalks)
Tiberias (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Tiberias — The Anchor Church (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Older Posts »

Magdala

Israel

 

Magdala was a major first-century port on the Sea of Galilee, a centre of trade and commerce, and an exporter of salted fish to markets as far away as Europe. Archaeological discoveries early in the 21st century have made it a burgeoning pilgrimage destination.

Magdala

Mary Magdalene by Pietro Perugino (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

Magdala’s fame down the centuries rested on one notable person, Mary Magdalene. This enigmatic woman — revered as a saint by the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches — was one of the few persons named in the Gospels as being present at Christ’s crucifixion and the first recorded witness of his Resurrection.

Whether she lived in Magdala or was simply born there is unknown, but she was apparently a wealthy woman.

The city, on the western side of the Sea of Galilee between Tiberias and Capernaum, is mentioned only once in the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew (15:39) says Jesus went there by boat — but even this reference is uncertain, since some early manuscripts give the name as Magadan.

Synagogue uncovered at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Synagogue uncovered at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Both Matthew and Mark say Jesus preached in synagogues “throughout Galilee”, and Magdala was only 10 kilometres from Capernaum, where he based his ministry.

The Jewish historian Josephus says Magdala had a population of 40,000 people and a fleet of 230 boats about 30 years after Jesus died.

 

Mary was called ‘apostle of the apostles’

Magdala

Carved stone decorated with menorah (© Moshe Hartal, Israel Antiquities Authority)

All four Gospels refer to a close follower of Jesus called Mary Magdalene. Luke says she had been cured of “seven demons” and he lists her first among the women who accompanied Jesus and supported his ministry from their own resources (8:2-3).

After Jesus died she was one of the women who took spices for anointing to the tomb. They found the tomb empty, but “two men in dazzling clothes” gave them the news that Jesus had risen. (Luke 24:1-12)

Later Jesus appeared to Mary. At first she thought he was the gardener, but she recognised him when he spoke her name. Then she announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. (John 20:1-18)

By the 3rd century, Mary Magdalene was described by the theologian Hippolytus of Rome as the “apostle of the apostles”.

 

Identity became confused

Jesus casting seven demons from Mary Magdalene, mosaic in Magdala church (Seetheholyland.net)

Jesus casting seven demons from Mary Magdalene, mosaic in Magdala church (Seetheholyland.net)

But Mary’s identity became confused in 591. In that year Pope Gregory the Great gave a sermon which expressed his belief that the Mary who had been cured of seven demons was the same person as the penitent prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment (Luke 7:37-50) and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume (John 12:3-8).

A revision of the Catholic calendar of saints in 1969 reverted to the Eastern tradition of distinguishing Mary Magdalene from the reformed prostitute. By then, however, this persona had endeared her to artists down the centuries.

More recently, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code mined a rich lode of pseudo-Christian texts to present Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus and co-founder of an arcane dynasty at odds with the institutional Church and its beliefs.

And what really became of Mary? A Greek tradition has her dying in Ephesus, with her relics preserved in Constantinople. A French tradition says she converted Provence to Christianity and her relics ended up in Vézelay Abbey in Burgundy, where they are still venerated.

 

City fought Romans on the sea

Magdala

Single-handled jug found at Magdala, dating to the Roman period (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The city that gave its name to Mary Magdalene became a fortified base for rebels during the First Jewish Revolt in AD 66-70, even engaging the Romans in a disastrous sea battle.

According to the historian Josephus — who commanded the Jewish forces in Galilee — the Sea of Galilee became red with blood and “full of dead bodies”. Of the survivors, emperor Vespasian sent 6000 to build a canal in Greece and ordered more than 30,000 to be sold as slaves.

Magdala continued as a much-reduced Jewish village during Roman and Byzantine times, and in more recent centuries as an Arab village until 1948. Mark Twain visited it in 1867, calling it “thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy”.

In the 4th century a church was built on the reputed site of Mary Magdalene’s house. Destroyed in the 7th century, it was rebuilt by Crusaders in the 12th century but was converted into a stable when the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land.

 

Port and city uncovered

Mosaic including boat discovered at Magdala (© Magdala Project)

Mosaic including boat discovered at Magdala (© Magdala Project)

Beginning in the 1960s, Franciscan archaeologists discovered Magdala’s ancient port and a city grid, with paved streets, water canals, a marketplace, villas and mosaics — one depicting a sailing boat.

Buried in the mud covering a thermal bath complex were ceramic crockery, perfume jars, jewellery, hairbrushes and combs, and bronze applicators for make-up.

The discovery of the massive foundations of a tower may account for the city’s name. Both Magdala in Aramaic and Migdal in Hebrew mean “tower”.

First-century synagogue identified

More archaeological remains were uncovered in 2009 on an adjacent property newly acquired by the Legion of Christ to establish a hotel, institute for women and retreat centre. The Legion, a Catholic congregation, manages the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.

Ritual baths at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Ritual baths at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Three interconnected ritual baths were discovered, the first found in Israel using groundwater from springs — which for purification purposes was considered “living water” — rather than rainwater.

In the remains of one building, under a thin layer of soil, excavators found a stone block engraved with motifs including a seven-branched menorah, the type of lampstand used in the Temple. This significant find led to the identification of the building as a synagogue.

Boat-shaped altar in Duc in Altum church at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Boat-shaped altar in Duc in Altum church at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Unlike other first-century synagogues found in Galilee, the Magdala building had ornate mosaics and frescoes.

In 2014 the Legion opened a new church on the site, simple in design but also rich in mosaics and murals, focusing especially on women in the Bible. It is named Duc in Altum (Latin for “Put out into the deep”, from Christ’s words in Luke 5:4). The altar is in the shape of a first-century boat, standing in front of an infinity pool leading the eye to the lake beyond.

In the crypt is an ecumenical worship space, called the Encounter Chapel, paved with stones from Magdala’s first-century marketplace.

 

Jesus Boat found nearby

Magdala’s port, now submerged in the beach, had a stone breakwater that extended into the sea and curved around the harbour to protect boats from the sudden storms that buffet the Sea of Galilee.

In 1986 the hull of the so-called Jesus Boat, a fishing boat old enough to have been in use during the time of Christ, was found in the lakebed near the ancient port of Magdala.

 

In Scripture:

Jesus visits Magdala by boat: Matthew 15:39

Mary cured of seven demons: Luke 8:2

Mary supports Jesus’ ministry: Luke 8:3

Mary goes to Jesus’ tomb: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18

Mary announces the Resurrection to the disciples: John 20:18

 

Administered by: Legion of Christ

Tel.: +972 2 627-9111

Magdala Center: +972-057-226-1469 Tel/Fax: +972-04-620-9900

Open: 8am-6pm

 

 

References

Bagatti, Bellarmino: Ancient Christian Villages of Galilee (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1999).
Caffulli, Giuseppe: “Precious Fragrances”, Holy Land Review (Spring 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Corbett, Joey: “New Synagogue Excavations In Israel and Beyond”, Biblical Archaeological Review (July/August 2011)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Lofenfeld Winkler, Lea, and Frenkel, Ramit: The Boat and the Sea of Galilee (Gefen Publishing House, 2010)
Merk, August: “Magdala”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1910)
Nun, Mendel: “Ports of Galilee”, Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1999)
Reich, Ronny, and Zapata Meza, Marcela: “A Preliminary Report on the Miqwa’ot of Migdal”, Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 64, no. 1, 2014
Shanks, Hershel: “Major New Excavation Planned for Mary Magdalene’s Hometown”, Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2007)
Twain, Mark: The Innocents Abroad (Wordsworth, 2010)

 

 

External links

Magdala Center (Legion of Christ)
Magdala Project (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)
Mary Magdalene (Wikipedia)
Older Posts »

Kursi

Israel

Kursi

Steep slope near Kursi (David Q. Hall)

 

A headlong stampede by a herd of demon-possessed pigs into the Sea of Galilee is remembered at Kursi, a picturesque site beneath the Golan Heights on the eastern side of the lake.

Three Gospels tell the story: Jesus steps out of a boat after crossing the lake and is confronted by a man possessed by demons. When Jesus orders the demons to leave the man, they beg to be allowed to enter a herd of swine grazing nearby. Jesus agrees, and the swine — numbering about 2000 — rush down a bank into the water and are drowned. (Luke 8:26-39; Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34)

Kursi

Boulder at Kursi miracle site (Bukvoed)

The dismayed swineherds run off to spread the news, and the local people ask Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. The healed man begs to go with Jesus — but Jesus tells him to go home and tell his friends what has happened.

“And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20). So this gentile man becomes the first person commissioned by Jesus to spread the Good News to non-Jews.

Kursi was an important place of Christian pilgrimage from the 5th century, when the lakeside towns of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin — all three condemned by Jesus for their lack of faith — had fallen into decline.

Kursi is the site of the largest known Byzantine monastery complex in Israel, whose impressive remains have been partly reconstructed.

On the side of the hill behind the monastery are the remains of an earlier chapel, built into a cave. It overlooks a huge boulder enclosed in a retaining wall of stones — apparently identifying the site as the place of the miracle.

 

Location revealed by bulldozer

Kursi

Chapel overlooking boulder at site of miracle, with monastery in middle distance (Steve Peterson)

Kursi is 5 kilometres north of Ein Gev, near the junction where route 789 leaves the lakeside road (route 92) to mount the Golan Heights. Its name, meaning “chair” in Semitic languages, probably refers to the shape of the broad valley behind it.

Different Gospel manuscripts offer conflicting names for the area in which the miracle took place — the country of the Gadarenes, Gerasenes, or Gergesenes.

What is certain is that the location was in gentile territory. Because Jewish dietary laws forbid the eating of pork, no Jew would have been raising pigs.

The identification of Kursi with the place of the miracle was known to early Christian writers and pilgrims — among them St Sabas, founder of Mar Saba monastery, who prayed at the site in 491.

Kursi

Entrance to Kursi (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Kursi lay unknown for many centuries until pieces of Byzantine pottery were noticed in the trail of a bulldozer constructing a new road to the Golan Heights in 1970.

As well as the monastery complex, excavators found an ancient fishing harbour — one of at least 16 around the Sea of Galilee — with a breakwater and a pool where live fish were kept to await sale.

 

Guesthouse for pilgrims uncovered

Kursi

Inside monastery church at Kursi (Bill Rice)

Kursi’s extensive monastery, built in the 5th century, covered 1.8 hectares. Around it stood a defensive stone wall with a watchtower. At its heart was a large church, with a spacious courtyard in front of it.

The church was divided by two rows of stone columns into a nave and two side aisles. Under a chapel in the right-hand aisle, skeletons of 30 monks were found buried in a crypt.

Kursi

Mosaic of grapes at Kursi (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

A large oil press was found in a side room in the left-hand aisle, suggesting that production of olive oil would have been a major source of income for the monastery.

As well as living quarters for the monks, a guesthouse and bath complex for pilgrims have been uncovered. A paved road led from the monastery to the harbour where pilgrims arrived.

The floor of the church was paved with mosaics depicting animal and plant life: Roosters, geese, doves, cormorants, fish, grapes, figs, pomegranates, watermelon and bananas.

When the monastery was abandoned in the early 8th century — after being damaged by fire and earthquake, and invaded by Persians and Muslims — it was used by local Arabs to live in and house their animals.

At that time all of the animal mosaics were obliterated to comply with the Islamic prohibition against human or animal representations.

 

Bench overlooked site of miracle

The chapel on the hill behind the monastery was probably built before the monastery, since its mosaic floor includes crosses. From the year 427, crosses were prohibited on church floors, by order of Christian emperor Theodosius II.

Kursi

Hilltop site of Hippos (David Q. Hall)

A stone bench in the chapel provided a view of the boulder that apparently marks the site of the miracle — and, beyond it, the Sea of Galilee.

Five kilometres south, on the hill directly behind the kibbutz at Ein Gev, stood the ancient city of Hippos (in Greek) or Susita (in Aramaic), both names meaning “horse”.

It would have been to this city that the swineherds ran to tell of the fate of their pigs. And it would have been the residents of this city who begged Jesus to leave their neighbourhood (Matthew 8:34).

Hippos may also have been the hilltop city Jesus referred to when he said, “A city built on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).

The remains of a Byzantine cathedral and four other churches have been found at Hippos, and a bishop from Hippos is recorded as attending the Church councils of Nicea and Constantinople in the 4th century.

 

In Scripture:

Jesus heals the man possessed by demons: Luke 8:26-39; Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34

 

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 972-4-673-1983

Open: Apr–Sep 8am–5pm; Oct–Mar 8am–4pm; Fridays and eves of holidays, 8am-4pm. Last entry to site one hour before closing time.

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Tzaferis, Vassilios: “A Pilgrimage to the Site of the Swine Miracle”, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1989
Nun, Mendel: “Ports of Galilee”, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1999
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Kursi (BibleWalks)
Kursi: Christian Monastery on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Older Posts »

Inn of the Good Samaritan

West Bank

 

Though the Inn of the Good Samaritan existed only in a parable, a real-life site was proposed in the early Christian centuries to edify the faith of pilgrims.

Inn of the Good Samaritan

Entrance to Museum of the Good Samaritan (Josh Evnin)

The location, beside the road going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fitted Jesus’ parable about the man who “fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:25-37).

In the 6th century a Byzantine monastery with pilgrim accommodation was erected on the site of what was probably some sort of travellers’ hostel well before the time of Jesus. Later the Crusaders established a fortress on a nearby hill to protect pilgrims against robbers.

The remains of the monastery, about 18 kilometres from Jerusalem, became an Ottoman caravanserai and then served as a police post during the 20th century.

Inn of the Good Samaritan

Archaeological site and (at rear) worship area (© Whitecapwendy)

In 2009 Israel built a mosaic museum on the site — a matter of controversy since the area is in the West Bank and under Israeli military and civil control.

The remains of the monastery church were reconstructed as a space for worship, with an altar but no cross or other visible Christian symbol.

 

Road was notorious for robbers

Inn of the Good Samaritan

Modern road from Jerusalem down to Jericho in vicinity of Inn of the Good Samaritan (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Jesus would have been familiar with the road. He would often have walked it on the final stretch of the way from Galilee to Jerusalem along the Jordan Valley.

It was here that the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus gave travellers from Jericho their first glimpse of Jerusalem.

The rocky desert terrain around where the Inn of the Good Samaritan now stands was notorious for robbers. The local name for the area — Ma‘ale Adummim (“ascent of the red rocks”) — came from patches of limestone tinted red by iron oxide, but also suggested bloody raids by bandits.

Inn of the Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan, depicted on arrival at the inn, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1630 (Wallace Collection, London)

In the parable, a priest and a Levite saw the man who had been robbed but “passed by on the other side”. But a travelling Samaritan was “moved with pity”, tended the man’s wounds, took him to an inn and paid for his care.

The 12,000 Jericho-based priests and Levites used the road whenever they were rostered to serve in the Temple. But a traveller from Samaria would have been regarded as an alien in Judea.

So Jesus chose an unlikely hero — one whose people were at enmity with the Jews — to demonstrate that loving one’s neighbour requires expanding the definition of neighbour to include even an enemy.

 

Mosaics come from synagogues and churches

Inn of the Good Samaritan

King David playing harp, mosaic at Museum of the Good Samaritan (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The museum is one of the largest in the world devoted to mosaics. Displays both indoors and outdoors include mosaics from Jewish and Samaritan synagogues, as well as from Christian churches, in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Some of the mosaics date back to the 4th century AD. Many have been removed from archaeological sites, while others have been partly or wholly reconstructed.

The designs include rich geometric patterns, birds and flowers. Some have Greek, Hebrew or Samaritan inscriptions.

Displays also include findings from a nine-year archaeological excavation in the area. Among them are pottery, coins and stone coffins from the 1st century BC, and a carved pulpit, a case for holy relics and a dining table from the Byzantine era.

 

In Scripture:

Inn of the Good Samaritan

Byzantine church pulpit in Museum of the Good Samaritan (Yair Talmor)

Parable of the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 972-2-5006261

Open: Apr-Sep 8-5pm; Oct-Mar 8-4pm (closes one hour earlier on Fridays and eves of holidays)

 

References

Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Lefkovits, Etgar: “Mosaic museum opens in the W. Bank”, Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2009
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Inn of the Good Samaritan (BibleWalks)
Older Posts »

Taybeh

West Bank

 

Taybeh

Christian village of Taybeh (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The Palestinian village of Taybeh, the only Christian town left in Israel or Palestine, holds fast to its memory of Jesus seeking refuge there shortly before his crucifixion.

The Gospel of John says Jesus went to Taybeh — then called Ephraim — after he raised Lazarus to life and the Jewish authorities planned to put Jesus to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.” (John 11:54)

Taybeh (pronounced Tie-bay) is 30 kilometres northeast of Jerusalem and 12 kilometres northeast of Ramallah. From its elevated site between biblical Samaria and Judea, it overlooks the desert wilderness, the Jordan Valley, Jericho and the Dead Sea.

Taybeh

Jesus arriving in Taybeh, mosaic in Roman Catholic church (Seetheholyland.net)

Living amidst Muslim villages, Israeli settlements and military roadblocks, Taybeh’s inhabitants (numbering 1300 in 2010) are intensely proud of their Christian heritage.

The village’s Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin) and Greek Catholic (Melkite) communities maintain an ecumenical spirit — even celebrating Christmas together on December 25 according to the Western calendar and Easter according to the Eastern calendar.

 

Patron is St George

The village of Taybeh was first settled by Canaanites about 2500 years before Jesus came to visit. It is mentioned as Ophrah (or Ofrah), a town of the tribe of Benjamin, in Joshua 18:23, and shown on the 6th-century Madaba mosaic map as “Ephron also Ephraia where went the Lord”.

The Muslim sultan Saladin changed the biblical name to Taybeh (meaning “good and kind” in Arabic) around 1187 after he found the inhabitants hospitable and generous.

Taybeh

Pomegranates complementing icon in Catholic church, Taybeh (Seetheholyland.net)

The villagers regard St George — whose traditional birthplace is Lod, near Tel Aviv airport — as their patron. The Greek Orthodox and Melkite churches are both named in his honour.

They also see the pomegranate as a symbol of the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and Resurrection. This fruit appears as a motif in religious art in Taybeh.

A tradition says Jesus told the villagers a parable relating to this fruit, whose sweet seeds are protected by a bitter membrane. Using this image, Jesus explained that to reach the sweetness of his Resurrection he had to go through the bitterness of death.

 

Old house illustrates parables

Taybeh

Entrance to ruins of St George’s Church, Taybeh (© vizAviz)

The original Church of St George, built by the Byzantines in the 4th century and rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th century, lie in ruins on the eastern outskirts of Taybeh, behind the Melkite church. It is called “El Khader” (Arabic for “the Green One”), a name customarily given to St George.

A wide flight of steps leads up to an entrance portico, nave, two side chapels and a cruciform baptistery with a well-preserved font.

Next to the Greek Orthodox church a 4th-century mosaic depicting birds and flowers has been found. A chapel has been built over the site to protect the mosaic.

In the courtyard of the Roman Catholic church stands a 250-year-old Palestinian house, occupied by a local Christian family until 1974. The entrance is claimed to be 2000 years old, with five religious symbols of that time engraved in the stone façade above the door.

Known as the Parable House, it has rooms on three levels — for the family, for large animals and for smaller animals (who also have an access hole under the old wooden door).

Taybeh

Door of Parable House, Taybeh, with hole for small animals underneath (Seetheholyland.net)

The house and its domestic and agricultural furnishings illustrate the context of many of the parables of Jesus and also offer an insight into how the Nativity cave at Bethlehem may have been configured.

 

Priest’s retreat is remembered

Another celebrated visitor to Taybeh was Charles de Foucauld, a French-born priest, explorer, linguist and hermit who was beatified by the Catholic Church in 2005.

De Foucauld passed through Taybeh as a pilgrim in 1889 and returned in 1898 for an eight-day retreat that is recorded in 45 pages of his spiritual writings.

After his death (he was shot dead by raiding tribesmen in Algeria in 1916, aged 58), his example inspired the founding of several religious congregations.

Taybeh

Charles de Foucauld shrine at Taybeh (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In 1986 a pilgrims’ hostel called the Charles de Foucauld Pilgrim Centre was opened in Taybeh.

 

Brewery boosts local economy

Economic and political pressures have forced some 12,000 residents of Taybeh to emigrate to the Americas, Europe and Australia. To ensure jobs for those who remain, the churches and the Taybeh Municipal Council are working to improve the local economy.

A co-operative to sell olive oil, a ceramic workshop to make dove-shaped peace lamps, and a school to train stone-cutters have been established.

Taybeh

Ceramic peace lamp in Taybeh (Seetheholyland.net)

More unusually for a region with a 98 per cent Muslim population, an expatriate family returned to Taybeh in 1995 to open the Middle East’s only microbrewery.

Nadim Khoury, who had studied brewing in the United States, opened Taybeh Brewery with his brother David (who became Taybeh’s first democratically-elected mayor in 2005) and their father. Their beer is even brewed under franchise in Germany.

An annual beer festival in October, backed by church and community organisations as well as by diplomatic missions, promotes local products, culture and tourism. The Taybeh Oktoberfest attracts thousands each year, including Christians, Muslims, Jews and overseas visitors from as far away as Japan and Brazil.

To cater for Muslims — who are forbidden to drink alcohol — the brewery has added non-alcoholic beer to its product line.

Taybeh

Inside Taybeh Brewery (© vizAviz)

 

In Scripture

Jesus goes to Ephraim: John 11:54

Ophrah is named as a town of Benjamin: Joshua 18:23

 

 

Tel.: Catholic church 972-2-2958020

Greek Orthodox church 972-2-2898282

Taybeh Municipality: 972-2-2898436

 

 

References

Deehan, John: “Against the odds”, The Tablet, December 22, 2007
Kalman, Matthew: “Faithful villagers keep it Christian in this last outpost in the Holy Land”, San Francisco Chronicle, December 25, 2005
Levy, Gideon: “Twilight Zone/Taybeh Revisited”, Ha’aretz, July 23, 2010
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)

 

 

External links

Greek Orthodox Church Taybeh
Taybeh’s Latin Parish Website
Taybeh Municipality
City of Refuge of Our Lord (Christus Rex)
Peace Lamps — Taybeh (Holy Land Artisans)

 

 

Older Posts »

Sepphoris

Israel

 

Sepphoris

Sepphoris with Nazareth on hill in distance (Steve Peterson)

Sepphoris, a ruined city 6.5 kilometres northwest of Nazareth, was the capital of Galilee during the time of Jesus. Though it is not mentioned in the New Testament, it is of interest to Christian pilgrims for two main reasons:

•  The rebuilding of the city by Galilee’s ruler, Herod Antipas, may have attracted the building tradesman Joseph and his wife Mary to settle in Nazareth when they returned with Jesus from Egypt.

This major building site, 50 minutes’ walk from Nazareth, would have offered Joseph many years of employment. It may also be where Jesus gained insights into the building trade — such as the need to build with foundations on rock rather than on sand (Luke 6:48-49).

•  According to tradition, the original home of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne (or Anna), was at Sepphoris. During the 12th century the Crusaders built a huge Church of St Anna, possibly on the site of their home.

Sepphoris rose to prominence during the century before Christ because it overlooked two major highways. A mainly Jewish city, it was given its Hebrew name, Zippori, because it sits on a hilltop like a bird (zippor).

According to the historian Josephus, Herod Antipas made it “the ornament of Galilee”, a term also implying the military connotation of an impregnable city.

Sepphoris

Pilgrims on Decumanus street at Sepphoris (Seetheholyland.net)

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, Sepphoris became a centre of Jewish learning and seat of the Sanhedrin supreme court. The Mishnah, the first authoritative collection of Jewish oral law, was compiled here.

A Christian community was present by the 4th century. By the 6th century it was sufficiently large to have its own bishop.

It was from Sepphoris that the Crusaders rode out in 1187 for their defeat by the Muslim sultan Saladin at the Horns of Hattin, overlooking the Sea of Galilee — a defeat that brought about the end of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.

 

Many changes of name

Sepphoris has worn many names during its history.

It was Zippori (or Tzippori) when Herod the Great captured it during a snowstorm in 37 BC. After Herod’s death in 4 BC the Roman army put down a rebellion of Jewish rebels by destroying the city and selling many of its people into slavery.

When Herod’s son Herod Antipas rebuilt the city, he renamed it Autocratoris.

Because the inhabitants chose not to join the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in AD 66-73, the city was spared the destruction suffered by other Jewish centres, including Jerusalem. Evidence of the city’s pacifist stance comes from coins inscribed “City of Peace” minted there during the revolt.

Before the Second Jewish Revolt in 132-135, the Romans changed the name to Diocaesarea. A massive earthquake in 363 devastated the city and it was only partly rebuilt.

The Muslim conquest in the 7th century saw another name change, to Saffuriya. Except for a period as La Sephorie under the Crusaders, this name remained for what became an Arab village until the population of about 4000 fled attacks by Israeli forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

 

Three apses of church still stand

Excavations at Sepphoris have uncovered streets, houses, public buildings, bathhouses, a market, two churches, a synagogue, a Roman theatre, aqueducts, a huge elongated water reservoir (260 metres long) and more than 40 mosaic floors.

Sepphoris

Crusader fortress overlooking Sepphoris (© Ori~ / Wikimedia)

A Crusader fortress, built on the remains of an earlier structure, dominates the upper part of the site and provides a panoramic view from its roof. It now houses a museum.

To the west of the summit, on the northwestern perimeter of Sepphoris National Park, are the remains of the Crusader Church of St Anna. Inside a walled enclosure, the three apses are still standing, now incorporated into the western wall of a modern Monastery of the Sisters of St Anne (where the key to the enclosure is available).

Northeast of the fortress is the Roman theatre, its tiers of 4500 seats carved into the northern slope of the hill.

Sepphoris

Remains of Church of St Anna at Sepphoris (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Biblical scholars have conjured with the possibility that Jesus might have known this theatre and even taken from it the word “hypocrite” — Greek for one who is play-acting — which he frequently used (in Matthew 6, for example). But archaeologists are uncertain whether the theatre was in use when Jesus lived in Nazareth.

On the northern edge of the park are remains of a 6th-century synagogue with a mosaic floor depicting biblical scenes, Temple rituals and a zodiac wheel.

 

Mosaic portrait dubbed “Mona Lisa”

Just south of the Roman theatre stood a palatial mansion built in the 3rd century AD. Known as the Dionysus House, it was destroyed by the earthquake in 363, but the remarkable mosaic carpet in its stately dining room survived well-preserved under the debris.

The 15 centre panels depict scenes from the life of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and revelry, bordered by medallions of acanthus leaves with hunting scenes.

Sepphoris

“Mona Lisa of the Galilee” in Roman mansion at Sepphoris (Seetheholyland.net)

Each scene is labelled with a Greek word — a panel displaying a completely inebriated Hercules is labelled MEQH, meaning drunkenness.

But the most remarkable feature of the mosaic floor is an elegant portrait of an unknown woman at the centre of one end. The engaging tilt of her head and enigmatic expression have earned her the nickname “Mona Lisa of the Galilee”.

The unknown artist of this portrait used tiny stones, in a wide range of natural colours, and with an exquisite attention to detail and shading.

 

Elegant mosaics illustrate life on River Nile

An impressive network of well-planned streets has been exposed in the lower city. Two major intersecting streets, the north-south Cardo and the east-west Decumanus, had covered footpaths and shops on both sides.

East of the Cardo, a large building called the Nile House had some 20 rooms decorated with multi-coloured mosaic floors. The most elegant depict scenes associated with the River Nile in Egypt.

Sepphoris

Nilometer and river scenes in Sepphoris mosaic (Seetheholyland.net)

In the most impressive mosaic, the river flows through the picture and wildlife such as fish and birds are seen along its banks. On the left a reclining female figure with a basket of harvest fruits personifies Egypt; on the right a male figure represents the Nile.

In the centre a man standing on a woman’s back records 17 cubits (about 8 metres) on a nilometer — a pillar with a scale to measure the height of the Nile during its seasonal flood.

The lower portion shows hunting scenes: A fierce lion pouncing on the back of a bull, a panther leaping on a gazelle, and a boar being attacked by a bear.

Other mosaics in the building include a depiction of Amazon warriors hunting from horseback.

 

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: 04-656-8272

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar) with last entry one hour earlier; closes at 3pm on Fridays and eves of Jewish holidays.

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Chancey, Mark, and Meyers, Eric M.: “Spotlight on Sepphoris: How Jewish was Sepphoris in Jesus’ Time?”, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2000
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Charlesworth, James H.: Jesus and Archaeology (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Losch, Richard R.: The Uttermost Part of the Earth: A guide to places in the Bible (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Weiss, Ze’ev. “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2000
Weiss, Ze’ev, and Tsuk, Tsvika: Zippori National Park (Israel Nature and Parks Authority leaflet)

External links

Sepphoris (BibleWalks)
Sepphoris (BiblePlaces)
Sepphoris (The Bible and Interpretation)
Zippori (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
The USF Excavations at Sepphoris (CenturyOne Foundation)
Zippori — Sepphoris (Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology)
Zippori — “The Ornament of All Galilee” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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