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The Sites

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Mount Carmel

Israel

Mount Carmel

View from top of Mt Carmel (Patrick Brennan)

The prophet Elijah’s fire-lighting challenge — one of the Old Testament’s most spectacular contests between Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, and a pagan deity — took place on the south-eastern summit of Mount Carmel.

Stretching south-east from the Mediterranean Sea, with the city of Haifa sloped against it, Mount Carmel is actually a coastal range rather than a mountain.

From ancient times it was considered a sacred place. It is often cited in the Old Testament for its beauty and fertility.

The 6th-century Greek mathematician Pythagoras is recorded to have visited the mountain because of its reputation for sacredness, stating that it was “the most holy of all mountains, and access was forbidden to many”.

Elijah called fire from heaven

Elijah’s challenge came during a period after successive kings “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 16:30).

King Ahab had married the Phoenician princess Jezebel. She turned his allegiance from Yahweh to her god Baal and had Yahweh’s prophets slaughtered.

So Elijah called on Ahab to assemble the 450 priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. There he challenged the priests to call on fire from Baal to light a sacrifice.

As the book of 1 Kings relates, Baal failed to respond to the priests’ cries. Then Elijah rebuilt the ruined altar of the Lord and offered a sacrifice. Immediately fire from heaven consumed the offering, even though it had been soaked in water.

Biblical scholar E. M. Blaiklock captures the vividness of the scene: “Picture it — the rabble of priests, their monotonous chant hypnotising the devotees to the point when they slashed body and limb in wild passion, the shaggy prophet sitting near and mocking their vain supplications, Ahab’s tent and rich entourage, the great curve of the watching, waiting host. Then the stab of fire and the burning sacrifice . . . .”

 

Statue marks site

Mount Carmel

Statue of Elijah slaying a Baal priest at Muhraka (© Biblicalisraeltours)

On the south-eastern peak of Mount Carmel, the site is now known as Muhraka (“the Scorching”).

It is marked by a dramatic stone statue of Elijah, sword raised to heaven as he slaughters a Baal priest, and a small Carmelite monastery, surrounded by a nature reserve.

A superb view takes in the plain of Esdraelon and southern Galilee.

On the plain below is the Kishon brook, where Elijah took the priests of Baal and had them put to death.

 

Caves associated with Elijah

Mount Carmel

Stella Maris Monastery on Mount Carmel (Ilan)

At the western edge of Mount Carmel is Stella Maris Monastery, the world headquarters of the Carmelites, a Catholic religious order.

A small cave under the monastery is held by a Christian tradition to be a place where Elijah occasionally lived — as people on Mount Carmel have lived in caves since prehistoric times.

Opposite the monastery, a footpath down towards the Mediterranean leads to another grotto called Elijah’s Cave. Here the prophet is said to have meditated before his encounter with the priests of Baal. The cave is also thought to be where Elijah established a “school of prophets”.

Mount Carmel’s most spectacular religious memorial, however, is the Baha’i Shrine of the Báb, which runs in manicured terraces up the northern slope. The site is a sacred place for Baha’is around the world.

Sites in the area:

Stella Maris Monastery

Elijah’s Cave

Baha’i Shrine

 

In Scripture:

Elijah triumphs over the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:1-40

 

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
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)
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)

 

External links

Mount Carmel (Wikipedia)
Mount Carmel (BiblePlaces)
Mount Carmel (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Baha’i Shrine

Israel

A golden dome, marble walls, granite pillars and manicured gardens cascading down a slope of Mount Carmel make the Baha’i Shrine in Haifa a spectacularly colourful attraction for visitors.

Baha'i Shrine

Terraces gardens leading down to the Shrine of the Bab (Ron Almog)

The shrine is the world headquarters of the Baha’i faith, a monotheistic religion committed to the unity of humanity and the fundamental oneness of all religions.

The shrine, built in 1953, contains the remains of Siyyid Al Muhammad (1819-50). Known as the Bab, he is revered as the prophet-herald of the Baha’i faith.

The shrine’s nine sides represent the nine major religions of the world. Its dome is covered with 14,000 gold-coated bricks.

Around the shrine are several other buildings of classical design, including the Universal House of Justice, the seat of the Baha’i governing body.

The shrine and its elaborate gardens are an important place of pilgrimage for Baha’is, who number more than 5 million worldwide. They also attract many tourists.

 

Design inspired by doctrines

Baha'i Shrine

Gardens at the entrance to the Baha’i Shrine (Trish Vaughan / Seetheholyland.net)

The terraced gardens surrounding the shrine were designed by Iranian architect Fariborz Sahba and inspired by doctrines of the Baha’i faith. They are often called the Hanging Gardens of Haifa.

There are 19 terraces, one for the Shrine of the Bab and the remainder representing the Bab’s first 18 disciples.

The gardens are designed in nine concentric circles resembling waves extending out from the shrine. They include works of stone and metal as well as fountains, shrubbery and expansive lawns.

The irrigation system is computer-controlled. The computer operates hundreds of valves to distribute water throughout the gardens by sprinkling and dripping, based on meteorologic data it receives. The irrigating is done at night and in the early morning, to avoid wasting water by evaporation.

 

Remains brought secretly to Israel

Siyyid Al Muhammad, whose remains are in the Baha’i Shrine, is regarded as the forerunner of the Baha’i faith. In 1844 he proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Promised One, a messianic figure expected by Shi’a Muslims in Persia, and he became known as the Bab (the “Gate” in Arabic).

Baha'i Shrine

Shrine of the Bab (© Deror Avi)

He and his followers were persecuted and the Bab himself was executed by a firing squad in 1850. His remains were later brought secretly to Israel and were interred in the Mount Carmel shrine.

The Baha’i faith was founded by the Bab’s chief follower, Mizra Hussein Ali, who in 1863 claimed to be the Promised One. He became known as Bahá’u’lláh (“Glory of God”).

Bahá’u’lláh’s insistence that diversity of religion should cease and differences of race be annulled inevitably provoked violent opposition. He was expelled from Tehran and in 1868 the Ottoman penal colony of Akko (now Acre) became his final place of exile. He died there in 1892.

Baha’is believe in one God and emphasise the spiritual unity of all humankind. They see Abraham, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammad as messengers whose teachings were fulfilled by Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work.

Beautiful gardens also surround the grave of Baha’u’llah at Bahji, just north of Acre (Akko).

 

Other sites in the area:

Mount Carmel

Stella Maris Monastery

Elijah’s Cave

 

Administered by: Baha’i International Community

 

Phone: 972-4-8313131

Open: Shrine 9am-noon; gardens, 9am-5pm daily. Entry is free.

 

References

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)

 

 

External link

The Baha’i Gardens (Baha’i International Community)
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