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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)
Tabgha and Magdala (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Mary Magdalene (Wikipedia)
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Jaffa

Israel

Jaffa

Restored town and port of Old Jaffa (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

 

Picturesque Jaffa, on the Mediterranean Sea just south of Tel Aviv, is where the apostle Peter received a crucial vision that changed his mind about accepting gentiles into the early Christian Church.

Peter was staying in the seaside house of a tanner called Simon and went up on the roof to pray.

He fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and a sheet lowered, filled with all sorts of animals, which he was told to eat. When he protested that some of the animals were unclean, a voice told him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane”.

Realising that “I should not call anyone profane or unclean”, Peter accepted an invitation to visit a centurion called Cornelius at Caesarea, about 48 kilometres up the coast, and accepted Cornelius as the first gentile to convert to Christianity (Acts 10).

Jaffa

St Peter’s Church, Jaffa, at sunset (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Jaffa offers no original sites to visit, but a disused private residence (formerly a mosque) behind Jaffa’s lighthouse is believed to stand on the site of Simon the tanner’s house. Peter’s vision is commemorated at St Peter’s Church, on a Catholic property that overlooks the waterfront just off Kedumim Square.

Another St Peter’s Church, this one Russian Orthodox, is 2.5 kilometres east on the hill of Abu Kabir at Giv’at Herzl. It is on the supposed site of the tomb of a seamstress called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, who was raised from the dead by Peter (Acts 9:36-43).

Called Joppa in biblical times, Jaffa is one of the oldest port cities on earth.

Jaffa

Ottoman cannon in Kedumim Square, Jaffa (Seetheholyland.net)

It was here that the prophet Jonah embarked for his fateful encounter with a whale (Jonah 1:3), and for centuries it was the arrival port for pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.

 

Conquered 22 times

A legend says Jaffa was named after Noah’s son Japheth. (Another suggestion is that its builders, the Canaanites, named it Yafi, meaning beautiful. Jaffa is called Yaafa in Arabic and Yafo in Hebrew.)

Timber from Lebanon was rafted down to the port of Jaffa for Solomon’s Temple (2 Chronicles 2:16) and to rebuild the Temple after it was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Ezra 3-7).

Jaffa

Statue of St Louis IX at St Peter’s Church (Avishai Teicher)

Down the centuries the city has been conquered no fewer than 22 times, notably by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Philistines, Assyrians, Maccabeans, Seleucids, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Mongols, Mamluks, Ottomans, French, British and — just before the state of Israel was declared in 1948 — by Zionist militias.

Conquerors have included Alexander the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Muslim sultan Saladin, Louis IX of France, Napoleon, and General Edmund Allenby.

When Jewish forces took Jaffa in 1948, most of the predominantly Arab population was forced to flee. The old city’s Arab character has now been replaced by Israeli galleries, art and craft studios, restaurants and nightclubs.

Jaffa

Reputed house of Simon the Tanner (Seetheholyland.net)

Jaffa was formally merged with Tel Aviv in 1950.

 

St Peter’s Church a landmark

The reputed site of the house of Simon the tanner is an inconspicuous 19th-century building at 8 Simon the Tanner Street, down towards the sea from Kedumim Square.

A towering belfry makes St Peter’s Church, just off the square to the north, the most distinctive landmark in Old Jaffa. The original church, twice destroyed and twice reconstructed, was built in 1654.

Stained-glass windows by the renowned Munich artist Franz Xaver Zettler depict events in the lives of Peter and other saints. An unusual wooden pulpit is carved in the form of a fruiting tree.

Jaffa

Carved pulpit in St Peter’s Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Outside and to the right of the sacristy are remnants of a citadel used by Louis IX of France when he led the Ninth Crusade in the 13th century. They include two circular rooms in which Napoleon is believed to have lived after he captured Jaffa in 1799.

The Russian Orthodox St Peter’s Church at Giv’at Herzl, between Jaffa and Tel Aviv, commemorates Peter’s raising the seamstress Tabitha from the dead. It is built over a chamber where a Russian priest is said to have discovered Tabitha’s tomb in 1835.

 

Coastline has changed little

Down stairs in the centre of Kedumim Square, an underground visitors’ centre displays exhibits from the history of Jaffa, especially the Hellenistic and Roman eras, including archaeological items found in digs around the area.

Jaffa

Remains of Egyptian brick wall from 1250 BC, in Summit Park, Jaffa (Seetheholyland.net)

In Summit Park, the highest point of the city, are the excavated remains of a brick wall from an Egyptian fortress built by Ramses II, about 1250 years before Christ.

The pilgrim, however, may prefer to find a vantage point and survey the sea and coastline that have changed little in thousands of years — since the times when rafts of cedar logs from Lebanon arrived for the Temple, when Jonah boarded ship for Tarshish, or when Richard the Lionheart or Louis IX sailed into the harbour with their armies.

A chain of reefs protects the port, the northernmost called Andromeda’s Rock. Here, according to Greek mythology, the princess Andromeda was chained as a sacrifice to a sea monster, but was rescued by the monster-slayer Perseus, who then married her.

 

Jaffa

Andromeda’s Rock (centre) in reefs protecting Jaffa’s port (© Deror Avi)

In Scripture:

Timber from Lebanon to be sent to Joppa: 2 Chronicles 2:16; Ezra 3:7

Jonah sails from Joppa: Jonah 1:3

Peter raises Tabitha from the dead: Acts 9:36-43

Peter’s vision in Joppa: Acts 10:5-16

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
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)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
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)
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

Jaffa (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Jaffa (BibleWalks.com)
Jaffa (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
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Mar Saba

West Bank

Mar Saba

Mar Saba from above (Steve Peterson)

 

The greatest of the ancient monasteries dotting the wilderness of the Judaean Desert, Mar Saba hangs dramatically down the cliff edge of a deep ravine.

The grey-domed Greek Orthodox complex was established in the 5th century by St Sabas (Mar Saba in Arabic), a monk from central Turkey, and was largely rebuilt following a major earthquake in 1834.

Its remote location is 15 kilometres east of Bethlehem, off route 398 and reached down a steep road.

During its heyday the monastery was home to more than 300 monks. Though it remains a functioning desert monastery, its numbers have dropped to fewer than 20 in the 21st century.

Mar Saba

Women’s Tower standing apart from monastery at Mar Saba (© Deror Avi)

Occupied almost continuously since its founding, Mar Saba ranks with St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world.

It also provides an enduring reminder of the age-old tradition of holy people leaving behind worldly distractions and seeking God in the solitude of the desert.

Part of the Mar Saba tradition is the exclusion of women visitors. They may only look over the complex from a vantage point called the Women’s Tower — built, according to tradition, by St Sabas’ mother, who was also forbidden to enter the monastery.

Saint’s body returned from Venice

Mar Saba

Defensive wall around Mar Saba (Kaasmail)

A thick wall and slit-like windows give Mar Saba the appearance of a fortress. These defensive features recall plunder by the Persians in 615 and attacks from Bedouins in the following centuries.

What began as a series of cell-caves along two kilometres of cliffs has been consolidated into a complex containing two churches, several chapels, a common dining room, kitchen storerooms, 14 cisterns, cells for monks and a hostel for visitors.

From the entrance, a low door in the western wall, a stepped passageway descends to the central courtyard. In the centre is a hexagon-shaped dome which was once the tomb of St Sabas.

During the Crusades the saint’s body was taken to Venice. Pope Paul VI arranged for its return after his Holy Land visit in 1964, and it now lies in a glass case in the main church.

Mar Saba

Remains of St Sabas in main church of Mar Saba (Adriatikus)

This church, with a large blue dome and small bell tower, is dedicated to the Theotokos (Mother of God).

From the entrance area, a stairway leads to a series of small chapels — one in the cramped cave where a brilliant monk, St John Damascene, spent 20 years in the 8th century writing classic defences of Christianity against heresy and Islam.

On the northwest side of the courtyard is the second church, built into a grotto in the rock. It is dedicated to St Nicholas.

The skulls of monks killed by Persians invaders are displayed in the sacristy and their bones are collected behind a grille.

Mar Saba

Visiting priest in cave of St John Damascene (© Gregory Edwards)

In contrast to the austere simplicity of the monks’ lifestyle, church and chapel walls glitter with the gold of innumerable icons, many donated to the monastery by the Russian government in the 19th century.

 

Holiness attracted other hermits

Mar Saba clings to one side of the Kidron Valley — the valley that begins between the Temple Mount and Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and runs eastward to the Dead Sea.

At the foot of the monastery, beneath three great buttresses that support the wall of the dining room, kitchen, storehouse and bakery, is a walled-in space containing the spring that attracted St Sabas to the site. The Kidron stream is dry in summer.

Mar Saba

Steps down to the walled-in spring at Mar Saba (© Deror Avi)

Across the valley is a cave where St Sabas spent five years in solitude. The opening is protected by a metal grille with a cross set between the letters A and C. Inside an entrance lower down, two ladders climb a 6-metre shaft to the simple cave, containing a rock-cut bench and a prayer niche cut into the eastern wall.

St Sabas had been a monk for 18 years before he sought seclusion in the Kidron Valley. Other hermits, attracted by his holiness, settled nearby and their cluster of cells led to the founding of Mar Saba.

A legacy from his mother and the arrival of two monks who had been architects paved the way for the construction of a large church and communal facilities.

Mar Saba

Cave of St Sabas (© Clara Bonnet)

St Sabas founded several other monasteries and became superior of all the hermit monks of Palestine. He is credited with taming a lion that tried to eat him, and vowing never to eat apples because he believed Eve tempted Adam with this fruit.

Monks developed Orthodox worship

Originally the monks of Mar Saba meditated in isolation in their caves from Monday to Saturday, then gathered to spend Saturday night in prayer together before celebrating Mass at dawn on Sunday.

Mar Saba

Church domes at Mar Saba (© Deror Avi)

They returned to their caves on Sunday evening, taking food for the following week and palm branches and rushes for their daily work of making rope, baskets and mats to be sold in Jerusalem to finance the monastery.

The monks of Mar Saba made a crucial contribution to the development of the liturgy in the Orthodox Church. They compiled a typicon — a book of directions for worship services and ceremonies — that became the standard for the Orthodox world up till the 19th century.

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 972-2-2773135

Open: Open daily except Wednesdays and Fridays, 8am-4pm (ring bell). Only men may enter monastery; women are admitted only to Women’s Tower.

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
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)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

External links

Mar-Saba monastery (BibleWalks)
Holy Lavra of St. Savas (Orthodoxwiki)
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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)
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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.: 972-2-6338230

Open: Sunday-Thursday and Saturday, 8am-4pm; Friday and holiday eves, 8am-3pm; eves of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, 8am-1pm.

 

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)
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Field of Boaz

West Bank

 

The romantic story of the Moabite woman Ruth, who is remembered for one of the most celebrated statements of devotion in the Old Testament, is linked to a field near Bethlehem.

Field of Boaz

Field of Boaz with buildings encroaching (© Lissa Caldwell)

The Field of Boaz is east of the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, in the fertile plain that descends to the Dead Sea. Now increasingly hemmed in by buildings, it lies in a shallow valley north of the Shepherds’ Field Greek Orthodox Church.

As the Book of Ruth recounts, Ruth was a daughter-in-law of Naomi, a Bethlehem woman who had gone with her husband and two sons to the land of Moab (east of the Dead Sea) to escape a famine.

Naomi’s husband died and her sons married Moabite women. Then, after about 10 years, both of the sons died.

 

Ruth’s devotion was rewarded

Field of Boaz

Ruth on the Field of Boaz, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828 (National Gallery, London)

Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, but she urged her daughters-in-law to stay in their homeland of Moab. One of them, Ruth, insisted on going with Naomi.

Ruth said: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die — there will I be buried . . . .” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth’s devotion was to find its reward. The two women reached Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. So they would have food to live on, Ruth went to the fields to pick up barley the reapers had left behind for the poor, a practice known as gleaning.

The field she went to was owned by a rich landowner named Boaz, who was kind to her because he had heard of her loyalty to Naomi.

Field of Boaz

Beit Sahour with Jordan in the background (© Lissa Caldwell)

Eventually Ruth and Boaz married and Ruth gave birth to Obed. He became the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David — forefather of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus Christ. Thus the faithful Ruth was an ancestor of Jesus.

Today, Ruth’s memorable words of devotion to her mother-in-law, “Where you go, I will go . . . .” are used in some marriage services.

 

Other sites in the Bethlehem area:

Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

Milk Grotto

Shepherds’ Field

Tomb of Rachel

Herodium

 

In Scripture:

Ruth and Naomi: Ruth 1:1-22

Ruth meets Boaz: Ruth 2:1—4:17

 

 

 

References

Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
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)

 

 

 

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Tombs of the Patriarchs

West Bank

 

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Tombs of the Patriarchs at Hebron (Seetheholyland.net)

The Tombs of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron is the burial place of three biblical couplesAbraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.

The second holiest site in Judaism (after the Western Wall in Jerusalem), it is also sacred to the other two Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Islam.

It was the patriarch Abraham who bought the property when his wife Sarah died, around 2000 years before Christ was born. Genesis 23 tells how Abraham, then living nearby at Mamre, bought the land containing the Cave of Machpelah to use as a burial place. He paid Ephron the Hittite the full market price — 400 shekels of silver.

Today the site is the dominant feature of central Hebron, thanks to the fortress-like wall Herod the Great built around it in the same style of ashlar masonry that he used for the Temple Mount enclosure in Jerusalem.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Cenotaph of Abraham in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Eric Stoltz)

Herod left the interior open to the sky. The ruins of a Byzantine church built inside the wall around 570 were converted by Muslims into a mosque in the 7th century, rebuilt as a church by the Crusaders in the 12th century, then reconverted into a mosque by the sultan Saladin later in the same century.

Most of the enclosure is now roofed. Inside, six cenotaphs covered with decorated tapestries represent the tombs of the patriarchs. The actual burial places of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are in the cave beneath, to which access is not permitted.

 

Scene of God’s covenant with Abraham

Set in the Judean Mountains about 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem, Hebron stands 930 metres above sea level, making it the highest city in Israel and Palestine. It is also the largest city in the West Bank, with a population in 2007 of around 165,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jewish settlers, and is known for its glassware and pottery.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

City of Hebron, with Tombs of the Patriarchs at left (Marcin Monko)

It was near Hebron that God made a covenant with Abraham, that he would be “the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4).

Abraham had pitched his tent “by the oaks of Mamre” (Genesis 13:18), 3 kilometres north of Hebron, at a site now in the possession of a small community of Russian Orthodox monks and nuns.

Here Abraham offered hospitality to three strangers, who told him his wife Sarah — then aged 90 — would have a son (Genesis 18:10-14).

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, about 700 years after Abraham, the men he sent to spy out the land of Canaan returned from the Hebron area with a cluster of grapes so heavy that two men carried it on a pole between them — an image that is now the logo of the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Later, King David ruled Judah from Hebron for seven and a half years before moving his capital to Jerusalem.

Emulating Abraham’s hospitality, early Muslim rulers of Hebron provided free bread and lentils each day to pilgrims and the poor.

Complex is in three sections

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Herod’s stonework on Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

Herod’s mighty wall around the Tombs of the Patriarchs avoids the appearance of heaviness by clever visual deceptions. Each course of stone blocks is set back about 1.5 centimetres on the one below it, and the upper margin is wider than the others.

The corners of the edifice — called Haram al-Khalil (Shrine of the Friend [of God]) in Arabic — are oriented to the four points of the compass.

Inside, amid a confusing mix of minarets, domes, arches, columns and corridors of various styles and periods, the complex is divided into three main sections, each with the cenotaphs of a patriarch and his wife.

The main entrance, to the Muslim area, is up a long flight of steps beside the northwest Herodian wall, then east through the Djaouliyeh mosque (added outside the wall in the 14th century) and right to enter the enclosure.

Straight ahead, in the centre of the complex, are octagonal rooms containing the cenotaph of Sarah and, further on, the cenotaph of Abraham. Each of these domed monuments has a richly embroidered cover, light green for Sarah and darker green for Abraham.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Cenotaphs of Rebekah and Isaac (Seetheholyland.net)

In a corner just past Abraham’s room, a shrine displays a stone said to bear a footprint left by Adam as he left the Garden of Eden.

A wide door between these two cenotaphs leads to the Great Mosque, containing the cenotaphs of Isaac (on the right) and Rebekah. The vaulted ceiling, supporting pillars, capitals and upper stained-glass windows are from the Crusader church.

Ahead, on the southeastern wall, a marble-and-mosaic mihrab (prayer niche) faces Mecca. Beside it on the right is an exquisitely carved minbar (pulpit) of walnut wood. It was made (without nails) in 1091 for a mosque in Ashkelon and brought to Hebron a century later by Saladin after he burned that city.

Next to the pulpit, a stone canopy covers the sealed entrance to steps descending to the burial Cave of Machpelah.

Directly across the room, another canopy stands over a decorative grate covering a narrow shaft to the cave. Written prayers may be dropped down the shaft.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Minbar (pulpit) in Great Mosque in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

Entry to the Jewish area is via an external square building on the southwestern wall. This building houses a Muslim cenotaph of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons (though Jews and Christians believe he was buried near Nablus).

Inside are synagogues and the cenotaphs of Jacob and Leah, each in an octagonal room. (Jacob’s beloved second wife, Rachel, is remembered at the Tomb of Rachel, on the Jerusalem-Hebron road north of Bethlehem).

Site and city are divided

Friction between Jews and Muslims at Hebron dates back to a 1929 riot in which Arab Muslims sacked the Jewish quarter and massacred 67 of its community.

More recently, in 1994 a Jewish settler entered the Tombs of the Patriarchs during dawn prayers and shot 29 Muslim worshippers (the mihrab still bears bullet marks).

Since then, Jews and Muslims have been restricted to their own areas of this divided site, except that each faith has 10 special days a year on which its members may enter all parts of the building. Pilgrims and tourists may enter both areas.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Israeli soldier guarding Jewish synagogue in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

The city of Hebron is also divided into two zones. The larger part is governed by the Palestinian Authority. The remainder, including the town centre and market area, is occupied by Jewish settlers and under Israeli military control.

In 2019 Unesco named the old town of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site.

 

In Scripture

Abram settles by the oaks of Mamre at Hebron: Genesis 13:18

God makes a covenant with Abram and changes his name: Genesis 17:3-5

Three strangers pay a visit to Abraham: Genesis 18:1-16

Abraham haggles with God over the future of Sodom: Genesis 18:17-33

Sarah dies and Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah: Genesis 23:1-20

Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah: Genesis 25:7-10

Joshua attacks Hebron and kills its inhabitants: Joshua 10:36-37

David is anointed king over Judah at Hebron: 2 Samuel 2:1-4, 11

 

Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-222 8213/51

Open: Usually 7.30-11.30am, 1-2.30pm, 3.30-5pm; Muslim area closed on Fridays, Jewish area closed on Saturdays. Passport checks apply and it is wise to check the security situation before visiting (the Christian Information Centre in Jerusalem suggests telephoning 02-2227992).

 

References

Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Chadwick, Jeffrey R.: “Discovering Hebron: the City of the Patriarchs Slowly Yields Its Secrets”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2005
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
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)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
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

Hebron (BiblePlaces)
Tombs of the Patriarchs, Hebron (Sacred Destinations)
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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 Parish (Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
The Village of Taybeh (VisitPalestine)
Peace Lamps — Taybeh (Holy Land Artisans)

 

 

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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)
The USF Excavations at Sepphoris (CenturyOne Foundation)
Zippori — “The Ornament of All Galilee” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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Megiddo

Israel

 

Megiddo, named in the Book of Revelation as the setting for a future battle between the forces of good and evil, is for archaeologists perhaps the most important site in Israel dating from biblical times.

Megiddo

Temple complex, with plain of Jezreel seen through archaeologists’ trench (Seetheholyland.net)

Its much-excavated tel, a mound rising 60 metres above its surroundings, has revealed the remains of at least 20 cities built one on top of the other.

The 6-hectare site has yielded temples, lavish palaces, massive fortifications, private houses, a grain silo and an elaborately-engineered water system.

Megiddo is 35 kilometres southeast of Haifa, at the southern end of the fertile Jezreel Valley. Destroyed and rebuilt many times during its turbulent history, it was occupied almost continuously from around 6000 BC until about 500 years before Jesus Christ was born.

From its strategic position, overlooking the key pass through the Carmel Mountains, it dominated the crossroads of ancient trade and military routes that linked Egypt with Mesopotamia and Asia Minor.

Megiddo

Canaanite city gate from the 15th century BC (Golf Bravo / Wikimedia)

Armies of all the great generals who campaigned in the Middle East tramped across the plain of Jezreel, from the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III to General Edmund Allenby, including Alexander the Great and Napoleon. As Thutmose III claimed in the 15th century BC, “Capturing Megiddo is as good as capturing 1000 cities”.

In 2005 the remains of an ancient Christian prayer hall were uncovered in the grounds of a nearby prison. Dated to the middle of the 3rd century, this may be the oldest church discovered in Israel. A mosaic inscription with the words “God Jesus Christ” may be the earliest ever found that mentions Jesus Christ.

Site of epic battles

Megiddo has been the site of epic and decisive battles down the ages. The Battle of Megiddo in the 15th century BC, when Egyptians under Thutmose III conquered Canaan, is the first reliably recorded battle in history.

Megiddo

Model of Megiddo tel (Seetheholyland.net)

Battles around Megiddo are mentioned in the Old Testament. The “king of Megiddo” was among those Joshua defeated after the Israelites entered Canaan in the 14th century BC (Joshua 12:21).

A century later the Israelite prophetess Deborah routed the Canaanites “by the waters of Megiddo” (Judges 5:19-21). Two kings of Judah, Ahaziah and Josiah, were battle casualties at Megiddo (2 Kings 9:27; 23:29-30).

In later times Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamlukes, Mongols, Persians, French, Ottomans, British, Germans, Arabs and Israelis all fought in this blood-soaked sector of the Holy Land.

The 1918 Battle of Megiddo, in which General Allenby led British, Indian, Australian and New Zealand troops against the Ottoman Turks, was decisive in the Allied conquest of Palestine. When Allenby was made a viscount, he took the title “Lord of Megiddo”.

Because Revelation 16:16 identifies Armageddon (from the ancient Greek Harmagedon, or Mountain of Megiddo) as the scene of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil, the name has become a dramatic byword for the end of the world.

Megiddo

Round altar in temple complex at Megiddo (Steve Peterson)

According to an archaeology guide, K. Kris Hirst, “The archaeological site of Megiddo, known as Tell el-Mutesellim, has had more rubbish written about it in science fiction and horror movies and books than any other single archaeological site on the planet.”

But, contrary to the beliefs of fiction writers, Armageddon is not described as the final battle. The final encounter, at Jerusalem 1000 years later, is to be the battle against Gog and Magog. The ultimate triumph of good over evil, it will precede “the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 20:7-10; 21:2).

 

Many archaeological remains to see

Visitors to the World Heritage Site of Megiddo have much to see, beginning with a model in the reception centre depicting the tel during the 10th-century BC reign of King Solomon — who used forced labour to fortify the city (1 Kings 9:15).

Megiddo

Remains of what may have been stables (Hanay / Wikimedia)

Other highlights along the path around the mound include:

• A flight of well-preserved stone steps from around the 7th century BC, leading from the city gates down to a plastered pool.

• The Canaanite city gate from 1550-1200 BC. Flanked by four chambers, it led to the palace complex of Megiddo’s rulers.

• A massive stone wall, 2 metres thick, marking the site of the Canaanite palace destroyed in the 12th century BC. A treasure trove of 382 carved ivory artifacts, including ornaments and combs, discovered in one of its rooms testifies to ancient Megiddo’s wealth and sophistication.

Megiddo

Stone trough from the 9th century BC (Seetheholyland.net)

• Two elongated complexes often called Solomon’s stables, though now attributed to King Omri or King Ahab in the 9th century BC. Archaeologists also debate whether they were stables, some arguing they were too small for horses and were more likely storehouses, markets or even barracks for troops. Stone troughs indicate that horses were fed in the area.

• A “high place” with remains of several Canaanite temples and a circular altar of unhewn stones, 8 metres in diameter and 1.5 metres high, with seven steps leading to its top, where animal sacrifices took place. This sacred area, uncovered when archaeologists cut a deep channel through the tel prior to the First World War, was in use for 2000 years from about 3000 BC.

• A huge circular silo, dug 7 metres into the ground and 11 metres in diameter, capable of storing 1000 tons of grain. Two staircases around the sides lead to the bottom and a domed roof probably covered the structure, which dates from 700 BC.

 

Monumental project brought water into city

Megiddo

Descent into the Megiddo water tunnel (Seetheholyland.net)

The most impressive construction at Megiddo is underground.

To ensure access to the spring at the bottom of the tel’s southwestern slope, engineers in the much-besieged city dug a 25-metre vertical shaft down to bedrock, then a 70-metre tunnel sloping up to the spring.

The tunnel was cut from both ends and the two gangs of workers had to make only a small correction before they met.

Then the outside entrance to the spring was sealed with a massive stone wall and concealed with earth so a besieging enemy could not discover it.

This monumental project was apparently undertaken during the reign of King Ahab, about 150 years before King Hezekiah quarried his water tunnel in Jerusalem.

When it was completed, residents standing at the top of the shaft could lower buckets to draw water without entering the tunnel or leaving the city.

Modern stairways — 187 steps down and 77 steps up — allow hardy visitors to view this engineering feat from the inside.

 

Unique inscription in ancient church

What may be the oldest church remains in Israel were also among the most inaccessible when they were discovered in 2005 — in the grounds of a military prison near Megiddo.

Megiddo

Megiddo prison where ancient church was found (James Emery)

Work on detention cells to replace a prisoners’ tent encampment was under way when an inmate worker discovered ancient remains.

A prayer hall measuring about 10 metres by 5 metres was found in the southwest corner of a large building that also functioned as a Roman military administrative centre.

Believed to be from the middle of the 3rd century — before Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire — it evidently served Christian soldiers in the two Roman legions based there, as well as the local Christian community.

In the superbly preserved mosaic floor, an inscription records that a woman named Akeptous offered the eucharistic table “to God Jesus Christ as a memorial”. No earlier inscription mentioning Jesus Christ has been found in the Holy Land.

Other inscriptions name a Roman centurion, Gaianus, who paid for the mosaic floor; an artisan, Brutius, who made it; and four women — Primilla, Cyriaca, Dorothea and Chreste. Images of fish — an early Christian symbol — are also found.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has recommended moving the prison to a new location so the discoveries can be displayed. In the meantime, the church has been covered with dirt and tarpaulins.

 

In Scripture:

Joshua defeats the king of Megiddo: Joshua 12:7,21

Deborah defeats Sisera’s Canaanites: Judges 5:19-20

Solomon fortifies Megiddo: 1 Kings 9:15

King Ahaziah dies at Megiddo: 2 Kings 9:27

Josiah killed at Megiddo: 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20-24

The battle of Harmagedon: Revelation 16-18

 

 

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 972-4-6590316

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

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Finkelstein, Israel, and Ussishkin, David: “Back to Megiddo” (Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 1994)
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)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Samet, Inbal: Megiddo National Park (Israel Nature and Parks Authority leaflet)
Tzaferis, Vassilios. “Inscribed ‘To God Jesus Christ’ ” (Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2007)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

The Megiddo Expedition (Tel Aviv University)
Tell Megiddo (BibleWalks)
Tel Megiddo (Wikipedia)
Megiddo — the Solomonic Chariot City (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

 

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