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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Monastery of St George

West Bank

Monastery of St George

Monastery of St George in Wadi Qelt (Avishai Teicher / PikiWiki Israel)

The spectacle of the Monastery of St George — a cliff-hanging complex carved into a sheer rock wall in the Judaean Desert, overlooking an unexpectedly lush garden with olive and cypress trees — is one of the most striking sights of the Holy Land.

The monastery’s picturesque setting is in a deep and narrow gorge called Wadi Qelt, in a cliff face pocked with caves and recesses that have offered habitation to monks and hermits for many centuries.

The wadi winds its deep and tortuous course for 35 kilometres between Jerusalem and Jericho — for most of the way providing a route for the Roman road on which Jesus set the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Some also envisage it as the “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23.

Monastery of St George

Wadi Qelt in Judaean Desert (Jerzy Strzelecki)

The monastery, founded in the 5th century, is about 9 kilometres from Jericho and about 20 kilometres from Jerusalem, and on a favourite trail for hikers.

It is well known for its hospitality and, unlike most Greek Orthodox monasteries, welcomes female pilgrims and visitors — following a precedent set when a Byzantine noblewoman claimed the Virgin Mary had directed her there for healing from an incurable illness.

 

St George came from Cyprus

The monastery was founded in the 5th century when John of Thebes, an Egyptian, drew together a cluster of five Syrian hermits who had settled around a cave where they believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6).

Monastery of St George

Hospitable Greek Orthodox monk at Monastery of St George (Don Schwager)

But it is named after its most famous monk, St George of Koziba, who came as a teenager from Cyprus to follow the ascetic life in the Holy Land in the 6th century, after both his parents died.

Another tradition links a large cave above the monastery with St Joachim, father of the Virgin Mary. He is said to have stopped to lament the barrenness of his wife, St Anne — until an angel arrived to tell him she would conceive.

The monastery went through the phases of destruction in the 7th century by the Persians (who martyred all 14 resident monks), rebuilding in the 12th century by the Crusaders, then disuse after the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land.

Complete restoration was undertaken by a Greek monk, Callinicos, between 1878 and 1901. The bell tower was added in 1952.

Monastery of St George

Bell tower at Monastery of St George (Don Schwager)

In 2010 a new road improved access, but visitors must walk down a steep and winding path for about 15 minutes (or hire a donkey from local Bedouin) to reach the monastery.

Just a handful of monks remain at St George’s, one of only five monasteries still functioning in the Judaean Desert.

 

Mosaic floor from 6th century

The three-level monastery complex encompasses two churches, the Church of the Holy Virgin and the Church of St George and St John. They contain a rich array of icons, paintings and mosaics.

In the ornate Church of the Holy Virgin, the principal place of worship, a mosaic pavement depicts the Byzantine double-headed eagle in black, white and red. The royal doors in the centre of the relatively modern iconostasis date from the 12th century.

Monastery of St George

Precarious access to monk’s cave in Wadi Qelt (Sir Kiss)

The Church of St John and St George has a 6th-century mosaic floor. A reliquary contains the skulls of the 14 monks martyred by the Persians, and a glass casket encloses the incorrupt remains of a Romanian monk who died in 1960. A niche contains the tomb of St George.

The monastery also holds the tombs of the five hermits who began the monastery.

Stairs from the inner court of the monastery lead to the cave-church of St Elijah. From this cave, a narrow tunnel provides an escape route to the top of the mountain.

Monastery of St George

Aqueduct crossing Wadi Qelt (© vizAviz)

The view from the balcony of the inner court includes Roman aqueducts supported by massive walls on the other side of the wadi.

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 054 7306557

Open: 9am-1pm; Sunday closed.

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Cohen, Daniel: The Holy Land of Jesus (Doko Media, 2008)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Giroud, Sabri, and others, trans. by Carol Scheller-Doyle and Walid Shomali: Palestine and Palestinians (Alternative Tourism Group, 2008)
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)

 

External links

St. George’s Monastery, Wadi Kelt (360cities)

Sebastiya

West Bank

In the Palestinian village of Sebastiya, Christians and Muslims alike honour a connection to John the Baptist at a location earlier known for the worship of Phoenician gods and a Roman emperor.

Sebastiya

Cathedral of St John the Baptist, with tomb crypt under dome in centre (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Sebastiya (with various spellings including Sebaste and Sebastia) is about 12 kilometres northwest of Nablus, to the east of the road to Jenin.

An early Christian tradition, from the first half of the 4th century, says John the Baptist’s disciples buried his body here after he was beheaded by Herod Antipas during the infamous banquet at which Salome’s dance enthralled the governor (Mark 6:21-29).

An Orthodox Christian tradition holds that Sebastiya was also the venue for the governor’s birthday banquet, though the historian Josephus says it was in Herod’s fortress at Machaerus, in modern-day Jordan.

Sebastiya

Village of Sebastiya (Shuki / Wikipedia)

Overlooking the present village of Sebastiya are the hilltop ruins of the royal city of Samaria. The city is mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible. Excavations have uncovered evidence of six successive cultures: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine.

The surrounding hill-country, its slopes etched by ancient terracing, has changed little in thousands of years.

When the early Christian community dispersed during the persecution that followed the martyrdom of St Stephen, the deacon Philip preached the Gospel in Samaria and was joined there by the apostles Peter and John.

 

City renamed by Herod the Great

Omri, the sixth king of the northern kingdom of Israel, built his capital on the rocky hill of Samaria in the ninth and eighth centuries before Christ.

His son Ahab fortified the city and, influenced by his wife Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, built temples to the Phoenician gods Baal and Astarte. Ahab’s evil deeds incurred the wrath of the prophet Elijah, who prophesied bloody deaths for both Ahab and Jezebel.

Sebastiya

Steps to where the Temple of Augustus stood (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

During its eventful history, Samaria was destroyed by Assyrians in 722 BC (ending the northern kingdom of Israel), captured by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, destroyed by the Maccabean King John Hyrcanus in 108 BC, and rebuilt by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.

Herod the Great expanded the city around 25 BC, renaming it Sebaste in honour of his patron Caesar Augustus (Sebaste is Greek for Augustus). Herod even built a temple dedicated to his patron, celebrated one of his many marriages in the city, and had two of his sons strangled there.

The pattern of destruction and rebuilding continued during the early Christian era. Sebaste became the seat of a bishop in the 4th century, was destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century, flourished briefly under the Crusaders in the 12th century, then declined to the status of a village.

 

Pagans desecrated John’s tomb

Christian sources dating back to the 4th century place John the Baptist’s burial at Sebastiya, along with the remains of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah.

Sebastiya

Crypt of the reputed tomb of John the Baptist (bottom centre) and other prophets (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Around 390, while translating the Onomasticon (directory) of the holy places compiled by Eusebius, St Jerome describes Samaria/Sebaste as “where the remains of John the Baptist are guarded”.

By then, according to a contemporary account by the historian Rufinus of Aquileia around 362, pagans had desecrated the tomb during a persecution of Christians under emperor Julian the Apostate. The Baptist’s remains were burnt and the ashes dispersed, but passing monks saved some bones.

In the 6th century two urns covered in gold and silver were venerated by pilgrims. One was said to contain relics of John the Baptist, the other relics of Elisha.

Two churches were built during the Byzantine period. One was on the southern side of the Roman acropolis (on the site the Orthodox Church believes John was beheaded).

Sebastiya

Greek Orthodox church, with apse at right and entrance to underground cave in centre (© Sebastiya Municipality)

The other church, a cathedral built over the Baptist’s reputed tomb, was just east of the old city walls and within the present village. Rebuilt by the Crusaders, it became the second biggest church in the Holy Land (after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).

But after the Islamic conquest of 1187 the cathedral was transformed into a mosque dedicated to the prophet Yahya, the Muslim name for John the Baptist. The mosque, rebuilt in 1892 within the ruins of the cathedral, is still in use.

Tomb is under cathedral ruins

Sebastiya

Walls of Cathedral of St John the Baptist (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Pilgrims still visit the tomb associated with John the Baptist and other prophets. Under a small domed building in the cathedral ruins, a narrow flight of 21 steps leads down to a tomb chamber with six burial niches set in the wall. Tradition places John the Baptist’s relics in the lower row, between those of Elisha and Obadiah.

The remains of the cathedral’s huge buttressed walls dominate Sebastiya’s public square.

In the extensive archaeological park at the top of the hill are remnants of Ahab’s palace, identified by the discovery of carved ivory that was mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 22:39). The ivory pieces are displayed in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem.

Sebastiya

Visitors and residents during Sebastiya’s first Heritage Day in 2010 (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Also to be seen are the stone steps leading to Herod the Great’s temple of Augustus, an 800-metre colonnaded street, a Roman theatre and forum, and a city gate flanked by two watchtowers.

Interest in Sebastiya’s heritage and community — now entirely Muslim except for one Christian family — has been revived in the early 21st century by a project involving the Franciscan non-profit organisation ATS Pro Terra Sancta, funded by Italian aid.

 

In Scripture

King Omri moves his capital to Samaria: 1 Kings 16:23-24

Ahab erects an altar for Baal: 1 Kings 16:32

Ahab’s ivory house: 1 Kings 22:39

John the Baptist is beheaded: Mark 6:21-29

Philip preaches in Samaria: Acts 8:5

Peter and John go to Samaria: Acts 8:14

 

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
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)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Saltini, Tommaso (ed.): Sabastiya — The fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist (ATS Pro Terra Sancta exhibition catalogue, 2011)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

External links

Sebastia in the news (ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

 

Stella Maris Monastery

Israel

 

Perched at the western edge of Mount Carmel, high above the Mediteranean and the coastal city of Haifa, is Stella Maris Monastery and church.

Stella Maris Monastery

Stella Maris Church on Mount Carmel (Ilan)

The name of the 19th-century monastery — Latin for “Star of the Sea” — refers not to the magnificent view, but rather to an early title accorded Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The monastery is the world headquarters of a Catholic religious order of friars and nuns, the Carmelites.

The order had its origins at the end of the 12th century when St Berthold, a Frenchman who had gone to the Holy Land as a Crusader, had a vision of Christ denouncing the evil done by soldiers.

 

Hermits lived in caves

Berthold gathered a small community of hermits around him, living in caves on Mount Carmel, in imitation of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Later the community became known as the Hermit Brothers of St Mary of Mount Carmel.

Stella Maris Monastery

Eastern facade of Stella Maris Monastery (© Deror Avi / Wikimedia)

In 1206 the community received a written rule from St Albert of Jerusalem. In the same century, some members moved to Europe and established similar groups from Sicily to Oxford. Those who remained in the Holy Land were massacred by the Saracens in 1291.

Carmelites returned to Mount Carmel in 1631 and finally completed the Stella Maris Monastery in the 18th century. Its stout walls and small openings reflect the need for defence against hostilities during its establishment.

Later a lighthouse was built, giving a further meaning to the title Stella Maris. Because of its commanding position, the lighthouse has been commandeered as a military establishment.

 

Elijah connected to two grottoes

Inside the church, the décor features vividly coloured Italian marble and dramatic paintings in the dome, one depicting Elijah being swept up to heaven in a fiery chariot. A cedar and porcelain statue of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is above the altar.

Stella Maris Monastery

Statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Stella Maris Church (© George David Byers)

Steps lead down to a grotto, with a small altar, where the Old Testament prophet Elijah is believed to have occasionally lived. People have lived in caves on Mount Carmel since prehistoric times.

Opposite the monastery, a steep footpath down toward the Mediterranean leads to a larger grotto, Elijah’s Cave, where the prophet is said to have meditated before his victory over the prophets of Baal, described in 1 Kings 18: 1-40.

The cave — which is venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims — is also thought to be where Elijah established a “school of prophets”, where his successor Elisha, among others, studied.

In the garden of Stella Maris Church, a monument is dedicated to wounded French soldiers who were killed by the Mamluk governor Ahmed Pasha el-Jazzar after Napoleon withdrew in 1799.

 

Other sites in the area:

Mount Carmel

Elijah’s Cave

Baha’i Shrine

 

In Scripture:

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

Elijah prays on Mount Carmel: 1 Kings 18:41-46

Administered by: Order of Carmelites

Tel.: 972-4-8337758

Open: 6am-12.30pm, 3-6pm

 

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)
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

Carmelite Monastery, Stella Maris (BibleWalks)
The Carmelites of the Holy Land
The Carmelite Order (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Order of Carmelites (Carmelite Order)

 

 

Elijah’s Cave

Israel

 

The caves of Mount Carmel were well known to Elijah, the Old Testament prophet. Here he sometimes lived — and sometimes had to hide.

Elijah's Cave

Statue of Elijah at Mukhraka (© Biblicalisraeltours.com)

On the northern slope of Mount Carmel, near the Haifa beach, is a cave where the prophet is believed to have meditated before his fateful encounter with the priests of Baal.

In this encounter, described in 1 Kings 18:1-40, Elijah issued a challenge to 450 pagan priests. Before an assembly on the summit of Mount Carmel, he called on the priests to seek fire from their god Baal to light a sacrifice.

When Baal failed to respond to their pleading, Elijah rebuilt the ruined altar of the Lord and offered his own sacrifice. Immediately fire from heaven consumed the offering, even though it had been soaked in water.

 

Venerated by four faiths

Elijah’s Cave can be approached by stairs from Allenby Road, near Haifa’s cable car. It is also accessible down a steep path from the Carmelite church on Stella Maris Road.

Elijah's Cave

Entry to Elijah’s Cave, males to the right, females to the left (© BibleWalks.com)

The cave, about 14 metres long, is situated in a residential dwelling. It is open to the public, with separate areas for males and females. Adjacent buildings served as a hostel from the late 19th century.

Elijah is venerated by Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze, all of whom come as pilgrims. Writings left by pilgrims in past centuries can be seen on the cave walls.

Curative properties have been ascribed to the cave over the years, including the curing of mental illnesses.

Possible site of ‘school of prophets’

Among the traditions associated with the cave is that Elijah hid here from the wrath of Jezebel, who had introduced worship of her Phoenician god Baal to the land.

Elijah's Cave

Women’s section of Elijah’s Cave (Daniel Ventura)

It is also thought that Elijah established a “school of prophets” here on his return from exile at Mount Sinai. If so, this would be where his successor Elisha, among others, studied.

No Old Testament prophet is referred to as frequently in the New Testament as Elijah. Both Jesus and John the Baptist were on occasions thought to be reincarnations of Elijah.

A small cave under Stella Maris Monastery, at the western edge of Mount Carmel, is held by a Christian tradition to be a place where Elijah also occasionally lived.

Other sites in the area:

Mount Carmel

Stella Maris Monastery

Baha’i Shrine

 

In Scripture:

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

 

Administered by: Israel Ministry of Religious Affairs

Open: Sun-Thur 8am-5pm, Fri 8am-1pm

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)
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

Elijah’s Cave, Carmel (BibleWalks)
Elijah’s Cave, Haifa (Sacred Destinations)

 

Mount Tabor

Israel

Mount Tabor, rising dome-like from the Plain of Jezreel, is the mountain where Christian tradition places the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Mount Tabor with Franciscan monastery on top (Seetheholyland.net)

Mount Tabor with Franciscan monastery on top (Seetheholyland.net)

Scholars disagree on whether Mount Tabor was the scene of that event (described in Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9: 2-8 and Luke 9:28-36). However, it has throughout history been a place of mystique and atmosphere, where humanity has sought contact with the divine.

Its unique contours — variously described as “breast-shaped”, “hump-backed” and “resembling an upside down tea cup” — captured the imagination of ancient peoples who attached to it supernatural qualities.

Mount Tabor stands some 420 metres above the plain in lower Galilee, 7km east of Nazareth. It held a strategic position at the junction of trade routes. Many battles have been fought at its foot.

In the Old Testament, Mount Tabor is described as a sacred mountain and a place for worship. It is not mentioned by name in the New Testament.

 

Location of Transfiguration is questioned

Mount Tabor

Church buildings on Mount Tabor (Wikimedia)

The Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration — a momentous event in which Peter, James and John were introduced to the divine incarnation of Christ, the God-Man — do not specify the place. They simply say it was a “high mountain” in Galilee.

Christian tradition in the early centuries named the mountain as Tabor. This location is cited in early apocryphal writings and was accepted by the Syriac and Byzantine churches.

Many biblical scholars now question this tradition. Mount Tabor’s location does not fit well into events before and after the Transfiguration. At the time, a Hasmonean fortress stood on the summit.

And would Tabor be considered a “high mountain”, especially compared to other mountains in the vicinity? (It’s actually more than 200 metres lower than Jerusalem.)

These scholars see the much higher Mount Hermon as a more likely location.

Nevertheless, a succession of churches and a monastery were built on Mount Tabor from the fourth century.

 

Hairpin bends take taxis to the top

Mount Tabor

Mosaic of Transfiguration in apse of Church of the Transfiguration (Seetheholyland.net)

After the Crusaders were defeated in the 12th century and the area was taken over by the Turks, the Mamluk sultan Baybars destroyed all the religious buildings on Mount Tabor in 1263. Tabor remained deserted for nearly 400 years until the Franciscans negotiated permission to settle there.

Early pilgrims used to climb 4300 steps cut into the rocky slope to reach the summit. These days taxis negotiate a succession of hairpin bends before they suddenly reach the summit.

The present Catholic and Greek Orthodox buildings (separated by a wall) were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The prominent Catholic Church of the Transfiguration, designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, stands among ruins of a Benedictine monastery. A bas-relief of the architect, who designed many of the Holy Land’s churches, is set into a wall on the right of the entrance.

Its entrance is flanked by chapels dedicated to Moses and Elijah, who were seen with Jesus during his Transfiguration. The event itself is depicted above the main altar in the central apse.

In the crypt under the church are the altar and fragments of walls of a Byzantine church. There is a tradition that the rock floor of the crypt is where Jesus stood during the Transfiguration.

The Greek Orthodox church, often not open to visitors, honours Elijah. It too is built on the ruins of Byzantine and Crusader churches.

 

‘Breadbasket’ scene of battles

Mount Tabor’s height affords uninterrupted panoramas. From the balcony of the Franciscan hospice, the view is of the plain of Jezreel, bounded by the Carmel range and the mountains of Samaria.

The fertile plain is called “the breadbasket of Israel”, a reminder that one of the meanings of Jezreel is “God sows”.

Mount Tabor

Jezreel Valley from Mount Tabor (Seetheholyland.net)

But this plain has often resounded to the clash of battle.

On the slopes of Mount Tabor, in the time of the Judges, the prophetess Deborah and her general Barak marshalled their warriors before sweeping down to rout the 900 chariots of Sisera and his Canaanites (Judges 4:4-16).

Armies of all the great generals who campaigned in the Middle East have tramped across the plain, from the pharaoh Thutmose III to General Edmund Allenby, and including Alexander the Great and Napoleon.

And in the Book of Revelation, it is named as the scene of the battle of Armageddon (also called Harmagedon or Har-Megiddo), in which good will triumph over evil.

 

In Scripture:

Deborah and Barak’s triumph: Judges 4:4-14

The Transfiguration: Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9: 2-8 and Luke 9:28-36

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-4-6620720

Open: 8am-noon, 2-5pm

 

 

References

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)
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)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Mount Tabor (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Mount Tabor (BiblePlaces)
Mount Tabor Hike (Israel by Foot)

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)
Muhraka Hike (Israel by Foot)

Jordan River

Israel/Jordan

Jordan River

Jordan River near Chorazin (Seetheholyland.net)

The Jordan River runs through the land and history of the Bible, giving its waters a spiritual significance that sets it aside from other rivers.

The Jordan is significant for Jews because the tribes of Israel under Joshua crossed the river on dry ground to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert.

It is significant for Christians because John the Baptist baptised Jesus in the waters of the Jordan.

The prophets Elijah and Elisha also crossed the river dry-shod; and the Syrian general Naaman was healed of leprosy after washing in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction.

 

River flows below sea level

Jordan River

Excavated baptismal site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Seetheholyland.net)

Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. A large part of its 320-kilometre length forms the border between Israel and Jordan in the north and the West Bank and Jordan in the south.

The river falls 950 metres from its source to the Dead Sea. For most of its course down the Jordan Rift Valley, it flows well below sea level. Its name means “Dan [one of its tributaries] flows down”.

Though an old song says the River Jordan is “deep and wide”, the modern river is neither. In places it is more like a creek than a river — less than 10 metres across and 2 metres deep.

From Jesus’ time until the mid 20th century, seasonal flooding in winter and spring expanded its width to 1.5km. Dams in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel now preclude flooding.

 

Site identified in former military zone

Jordan River

Yardenit baptism site (Seetheholyland.net)

The place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist is believed to be in Jordan, on the east bank of a large loop in the river opposite Jericho.

A site less than 2km east of the river’s present course, at Wadi Al-Kharrar, has been identified as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. This is where John lived and baptised, and where Jesus fled for safety after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem.

Until the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the area was a Jordanian military zone. After clearing nearby minefields, the Jordanian government has made the place accessible to archaeologists, pilgrims and tourists.

Jordan’s new Baptism Archaeological Park contains the remains of a Byzantine-era monastery featuring at least four churches, one of which is built around a cave believed to be the one that ancient pilgrims called “the cave of John the Baptist”.

While the Jordanian location was inaccessible, a modern site commemorating Christ’s baptism was established at Yardenit in Israel, at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.

Maintained by a kibbutz, it is a popular place for Christian pilgrims to renew their baptismal promises — or for new Christians to be baptised, often in white robes and undergoing total immersion in the mild waters of the Jordan.

 

Various

The course of the Jordan River (Wikimedia)

Jordan is diverted and polluted

Because its waters are a vital resource for the dry lands of the region, the Jordan has been a source of contention among Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

In modern times more than 90 per cent of its natural flow has been diverted for domestic and agricultural use. The lower Jordan is heavily polluted by sewage and industrial run-off.

In 2007 the World Monuments Fund listed the lower Jordan in the top 100 most “endangered cultural heritage sites”. In support, a regional environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth Middle East, said: “The region’s current policies treat the river as a backyard dumping ground.”

Related site:

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

 

In Scripture:

The Israelites cross the Jordan on dry ground: Joshua 3:14-17

Elijah crosses the Jordan on dry ground: 2 Kings 2:8

John baptises Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34

Naaman’s leprosy is cured in the Jordan: 2 Kings 5:1-14

 

 

References

McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Khouri, Rami: “Where John Baptized: Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, Exploring Jordan: The Other Biblical Land (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008)
Waldocks, Ehud Zion: “Jordan River to run dry by next year”, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2010

 

External links

The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ (official site)
Bethany-Beyond-The-Jordan (Sacred Destinations)
Yardenit Baptismal (BibleWalks)
Yardenit Baptismal Site

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Jordan

The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, the act that launched Jesus’ public ministry, most likely took place on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River, in a perennial riverbed called the Wadi Al-Kharrar.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Shelter over remains of a church at the Baptism Site (Alicia Bramlett)

Here the remains of more than 20 Christian sites have been discovered, including several churches, a prayer hall, baptismal pools and a sophisticated water reticulation system. These date back to the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Excavations at Bethany Beyond the Jordan began only in 1996. Before then the area had been a minefield on the front line between Jordan and Israel, whose border is the Jordan River.

The 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel prepared the way for access by archaeologists and church officials. Jordanian authorities have built a new road, a visitors’ centre and walkways. Several Christian denominations have built churches, the most prominent being the gold-domed Greek Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist.

The baptismal site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan (John 1:28) is near the southern end of the Jordan River, across from Jericho and 8 kilometres south of the King Hussein (or Allenby) Bridge. It is 40 minutes by car from the Jordanian capital of Amman.

It should not be confused with the Bethany on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

 

Stream flows from oasis

At the head of the Wadi Kharrar, springs emerge from the barren landscape to create a small oasis of tamarisk and palm trees, reeds, grasses and shrubbery. From here the Wadi Kharrar stream flows eastward to the Jordan River, its 2-kilometre route flanked by thick vegetation and identified by the murmur of running water.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Lush vegetation beside the Jordan River (© Visitjordan.com)

The fresh water of the Wadi Kharrar stream would have been more suitable for baptisms than the murkier Jordan River, which in John the Baptist’s time was also subject to heavy seasonal flooding.

The area adjacent to the baptismal site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan (called Al-Maghtas in Arabic) has many other biblical associations.

Near here, it is believed, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River to the Promised Land after the waters miraculously stopped flowing (Joshua 3:14-16).

Elijah — a prophet who is often associated with John the Baptist — also crossed the Jordan River on dry ground in this area, and was then taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:8-11).

In the New Testament, Jesus withdrew to Bethany Beyond the Jordan after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem (John 10:31-40).

Early Christian pilgrims visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan on a route that went from Jerusalem to Jericho, across the Jordan River and then to Mount Nebo.

 

Precise spot is unknown

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Pilgrims renew baptismal promises around a font of water from the Jordan River (Seetheholyland.net)

John the Baptist “went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). The Jordan River has changed course over the centuries and the precise spot where John baptised Jesus will probably never be positively identified.

All four Gospel writers mention Jesus’ baptism, but only John specifies the location as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Documentary evidence favours identifying this location as Wadi Al-Kharrar or Al-Maghtas.

Not all scholars accept this identification. Some prefer a location north of the Sea of Galilee, by the Yarmouk River, where Elijah, hiding from the wrath of King Ahab, is believed to have been fed by a raven (1 Kings 17:2-6).

Identification was made more difficult by the Christian scholar Origen, who lived in Palestine in the 3rd century. Unaware of any Bethany on the east side of the Jordan River, he suggested the placename in John’s Gospel should be Bethabara (which was on the west of the river). Some New Testament translators followed his suggestion. It even appears in the King James Version of the Bible.

Jesus’ baptism is also commemorated on the western bank of the Jordan River, at a site in Israel called Qasr Al-Yahud (see below).

Church was built on arches

Pilgrims as far back as 333 described visits to the baptism site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan. An account in 530 said it was marked by a marble pillar on which an iron cross had been fastened.

The 6th-century pilgrim Theodosius described a church built there by the Byzantine emperor Anastasius I. He said this square-shaped church was built on high arches to allow flood waters to pass underneath. Archaeologists believe they have uncovered remains of the piers on which the church was built.

Later pilgrims referred to a small church said to have been built “on the place where the Lord’s clothes were placed”.

The Wadi Al-Kharrar was also the centre of an active monastic life. Hermits lived in caves carved into the soft limestone, gathering weekly for a common liturgy.

A monastery with four churches developed between the 4th and 6th centuries on Tell Mar Elias (St Elijah Hill), just above the springs that feed the stream. A hostel between the monastery and the river provided lodging for pilgrims, who would immerse themselves in the waters.

The baptismal site was particularly revered by Russian pilgrims prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917. They would arrive carrying their shrouds which they would wear as they baptised each other in the river.

 

One church was built around a cave

In an area of several square kilometres, now called the Baptism Archaeological Park, the Jordanian Department of Antiquities has surveyed, excavated and conserved a series of ancient remains.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Mosaics from a church floor (© Visitjordan.com)

These include a walled monastery containing at least four churches and chapels, a prayer hall, a sophisticated water reticulation and storage system and three plastered pools. The wall was intended to prevent erosion, rather than protect against attack.

The discoveries include remains of foundations and walls, mosaic floors, fine coloured stone pavements, Corinthian capitals, column drums and bases, and hermits’ cells and caves.

One of the churches appears to have been built around a natural cave containing fresh spring water — possibly the cave that Byzantine pilgrims called “the cave of John the Baptist”.

The development of facilities for pilgrims has been encouraged by the Jordanian royal family. These facilities include a new road from the Dead Sea area, a visitors’ centre, and paths and walkways to the most important religious and archaeological sites.

In 2015 Bethany Beyond the Jordan was designated a World Heritage site.

 

Commemoration moved to western bank

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Greek Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist at Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Seetheholyland.net)

The religious sites in the Wadi Al-Kharrar area were gradually abandoned from the time of the Muslim conquest, in the middle of the 7th century. Pilgrims from Jerusalem no longer ventured across the Jordan River, so they commemorated the baptism of Jesus near Qasr Al-Yehud on the western bank.

This site is marked by the large medieval-era Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist, built on Byzantine ruins and clearly visible from across the river.

Access to the area around Qasr Al-Yehud has also been difficult in modern times. From 1967 until 1994 it was also in a military zone and heavily mined. It was open only twice a year for pilgrims celebrating their feasts of the baptism of Christ, in January for the Orthodox and October for the Catholics. In 2011 it was opened to the public.

By the end of 2018, access to three of the seven monasteries in the area — Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian and Franciscan (Catholic) — had been cleared of mines.

While Qasr Al-Yehud was inaccessible, the long-established Kibbutz Kinneret began running a substitute site at Yardenit, near the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, with modern facilities and shady eucalyptus trees. It has been receiving more than half a million visitors a year, many receiving baptism or renewing their baptismal promises in the Jordan River.

 

In Scripture:

Elijah is taken up to heaven: 2 Kings 2:1-14

The preaching of John the Baptist: Luke 3:2-14

John baptises Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34

The witness of John the Baptist: John 1:19-28

Jesus retreats beyond the Jordan for safety: John 10:40

 

Administered by:

Department of Antiquities of Jordan; Jordan Valley Authority; Greek Orthodox Church

Tel.: 962-5-3590360

Open: Winter 8am-4pm (last entry 3pm); summer 8am-6pm (last entry 5pm)

 

References

 

Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Fletcher, Elaine Ruth: “Searching for the site of Jesus’ Baptism”, Religion News Service, January 1, 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)
Khouri, Rami: “Where John Baptized: Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, in Exploring Jordan: The Other Biblical Land (Biblical Archaeological Society, 2008)
Laney, J. Carl: “The Identification of Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, from Selective Geographical Problems in the Life of Christ, doctoral dissertation (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977)
Lazaroff, Tovah: “Israel clears landmines from seven monasteries by Jesus’ Baptismal site”, Jerusalem Post, December 9, 2018
Miller, Charles: “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” (CNEWA World, January 2002)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wooding, Dan: “Thousands visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, Assist News Service, January 15, 2007

 

External links

The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ (official site)
Baptism Site: Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (Sacred Destinations)
Bethabara (Wikipedia)

Mount Sinai

Egypt

Mount Sinai

Pilgrims and tourists ascending Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai, a 2280-metre peak in the south of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, is venerated as the mountain on which Moses spoke with God and received the Ten Commandments.

One of a collection of peaks in a red-granite mountain range that rises steeply from the plain, with spectacularly sheer slopes and deep valleys, it is not the highest mountain in the region.

But it may have been called Sinai (“mountain of God”) even before the time of Moses, and it has attracted pilgrims since the 4th century AD. In Arabic it is called Jebel Musa (“mountain of Moses”).

Near the foot of the mountain is St Catherine’s Monastery, built over the traditional site of the burning bush from which God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt.

In the immediate area are several other sites associated with events in the book of Exodus, including the place where Moses struck the rock to produce water, and the Plain of Al-Raha where the Israelites camped and Aaron made the golden calf.

Identification dates to 4th century

Mount Sinai

Dawn at Mount Sinai (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

At least a dozen different sites for Mount Sinai have been suggested — including mountains in the north and west of the Sinai Peninsula, in south Palestine, in Jordan and in Saudi Arabia.

Most modern authorities accept the identification of Mount Sinai with Jebel Musa, in line with a tradition dating back to the 4th century AD. This identification was recorded by the pilgrim Egeria who visited between 381 and 384. By then a Christian monastery was already established at the foot of the mountain.

By the end of the 4th century, hermits and small groups of monks from Egypt and Palestine had settled here. There was already a scatter of little churches and apparently already organised pilgrimages to the sites connected with Moses.

The Old Testament gives the “mountain of God” the names of Sinai and Horeb, but these references apparently apply to the same mountain.

Sunrise treks are popular

Mount Sinai

“Steps” to the summit of Mount Sinai (Seetheholyland.net)

Seeing the sunrise from Mount Sinai is a popular activity for pilgrims and tourists, who often crowd the summit. A 2am start is advisable on either of the two routes to the top.

The steeper, more direct route climbs 3750 “Steps of Repentance”, said to have been cut into a steep rocky gorge by a monk as an act of penitence. The longer, less steep track may be ascended either on foot or by camel hired from Bedouin for most of the way, with the final 750 “steps” on foot.

At a gateway along the ascent is a small plateau and a cave where Elijah is believed to have waited for God to come to him in “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:8-13).

On the summit is an Orthodox Chapel of the Holy Trinity, built in 1934 on ruins of a 4th-century Byzantine church. It is said to have been built over the rock from which God took the tablets of stone and its interior is decorated with frescoes of the life of Moses. Nearby is a 12th-century mosque. Both the chapel and the mosque are usually closed.

The spectacular view across a panorama of mountain peaks has been likened to “an ocean of petrified waves”.

 

Related site:

St Catherine’s Monastery

In Scripture:

Moses encounters God in the burning bush: Exodus 3:1-6

God gives Moses the Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:1-17

God gives Moses the tablets of stone: Exodus 31:18

Elijah waits in the cave: 1 Kings 19:8-13

 

 

References

 

Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
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)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)

 

External links

Welcome to Saint Katherine and the Sinai High Mountains (St-Katherine.net)
Mount Sinai and the Peak of Mount Musa or Mousa (Tour Egypt)
St. Catherine Monastery
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