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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

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Extras

Monastery of St Gerasimus

West Bank

Monastery of St Gerasimus (Bukvoed)

Monastery of St Gerasimus (Bukvoed)

The Monastery of St Gerasimus, one of the earliest of the 70-plus monasteries in the Judaean desert, is named in honour of a pioneering monk who is usually depicted with a pet lion.

A verdant and welcoming oasis in the arid lower Jordan Valley, it is on the east side of highway 90 just north of the Beit-Ha’aravah junction, and about 7 kilometres southeast of Jericho.

Across the Jordan River is the place of Jesus’ baptism, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, but the two-storey monastery commemorates an earlier event in Jesus’ life.

According to an old tradition, the monastery was built where Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus took shelter in a cave while fleeing from Herod the Great.

This event is commemorated in the ground-floor crypt beneath the monastery church. An icon illustrates the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and a large painting depicts a contented Jesus being nursed at the breast by his mother Mary.

Fresco of St Gerasimus with his lion (Bukvoed)

Fresco of St Gerasimus with his lion (Bukvoed)

The upper-floor church contains many holy icons and frescoes, including paintings of Gerasimus and his lion. Cabinets in the crypt store the bones of monks killed during the Persian invasion of 614.

 

Hospitable place for pilgrims

A place of hospitality and refreshment for pilgrims, with fruit trees, flowers and birdsong, the gold-domed monastery offers a contrast to the hot and barren environment of the Judaean wilderness.

Founded in the fifth century, it was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Kalamon (Greek for reeds), but was later renamed in honour of Gerasimus, who founded a nearby monastery that had been abandoned.

It was destroyed in 614, rebuilt by the Crusaders, abandoned after the Crusader period, restored in the 12th century, rebuilt in 1588, destroyed around 1734 and re-established in 1885.

In Arabic it is known as Deir Hajla, meaning the monastery of the partridge, a bird common to the area.

Cloister in Monastery of St Gerasimus (© Deror Avi)

Cloister in Monastery of St Gerasimus (© Deror Avi)

The monastery functioned in the form of a laura — with a cluster of hermits’ caves located around a community and worship centre. The hermits spent weekdays alone in their caves, occupied in prayer and making ropes and baskets. They went to the centre for Saturdays and Sundays, taking their handiwork and partaking in Divine Liturgy and communal activities.

The monastic rule was strict. During the week the hermit monks survived on dry bread, dates and water. At the weekends they ate cooked food and drank wine. Their only personal belongings were a rush mat and a drinking bowl.

Hermits’ caves can still be seen in the steep cliffs a kilometre east of the monastery and in the adjacent mountains.

 

Gerasimus redeveloped monastic life

Like many who founded Judaean monasteries, Gerasimus (also spelt Gerassimos or Gerasimos) came from outside the Holy Land — from a wealthy family in Lycia, in present-day Turkey.

Already a monk when he came to Palestine, he followed the monastic leader Euthymius into the desert and became renowned for his piety and asceticism.

Because of the similarity of names, Gerasimus is sometimes confused with St Jerome, the Bible translator who lived in Bethlehem.

Gerasimus is credited with a new development in monastic life. Previously desert monks lived either in caves or in monasteries. He was the first to combine the solitude of a wilderness hermit with the communal aspect of a monastery by bringing hermits together on Saturdays and Sundays for worship and fellowship.

Upper part of iconostasis in monastery church (© Deror Avi)

Upper part of iconostasis in monastery church (© Deror Avi)

He is believed to have attended the crucial Council of Chalcedon in 451, which caused a major rift in the Eastern Orthodox world.

Called to settle differences of opinion on the nature of Christ, the council declared that he has two natures in one Person as truly God and truly man. Gerasimus briefly opposed this declaration, then accepted it.

The lion depicted in icons of Gerasimus comes from a story that he found the animal wandering in the desert, suffering from a thorn embedded in a paw. The saint gently removed the thorn and tended to the wound.

The lion thereafter devoted himself to Gerasimus, serving him and the monastery and retrieving the monastery’s donkey when it was stolen by thieves.

The story has it that when Gerasimus died in 475 the lion lay on his grave and died of grief.

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 02 9943038 or 050 348892

Open: 8am-6pm daily

 

 

 

References

Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Irving, Sarah: Palestine (Bradt Travel Guides, 2011)
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)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

St. Gerassimos (BibleWalks)
The Monasteries of the “Desert of the Jordan” (Christus Rex)

Mount of Temptation

West Bank

 

The Mount of Temptation, with a gravity-defying monastery clinging to its sheer face, is traditionally regarded as the mountain on which Christ was tempted by the devil during his 40-day fast.

Mount of Temptation

Monastery of the Temptation with cable cars immediately below it (Seetheholyland.net)

The summit of the mount, about 360 metres above sea level, offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Moab and Gilead.

The Mount of Temptation is about 5km north-west of the West Bank city of Jericho. Access to the summit is by a 30-minute trek up a steep path — passing through the cliffhanging monastery on the way — or by a 5-minute cable car ride from Tel Jericho.

Unlike some Greek Orthodox monasteries, the Monastery of the Temptation allows women visitors as well as men.

The mountain is also known as Mount Quarantania and Jebel Quarantul. Both names arise from a mispronunciation of the Latin word Quarentena, meaning 40, the number of days in Christ’s fast. This period of fasting became the model for the practice of Lent in Christian churches.

 

Temptations on the mount

Mount of Temptation

The Temptation on the Mount, by Duccio di Buoninsegna (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena)

As recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) — and fleetingly in Mark (1:12-13) — the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert. While he fasted, the devil tempted him three times to prove his divinity by demonstrating his supernatural powers.

Each time, Jesus rebuffed the tempter with a quotation from the Book of Deuteronomy. Then the devil left and angels brought food to Jesus, who was famished.

Tradition dating from the 12th century places two of the devil’s temptings on the Mount of Temptation.

The temptation to turn a stone into bread is located in a grotto halfway up the mountain. The offer of all the kingdoms of the world in return for worshipping the devil is located on the summit.

 

Monks turned caves into cells

Mount of Temptation

Monastery of the Temptation (Dmitrij Rodionov / Wikimedia)

Monks and hermits have inhabited the mountain since the early centuries of Christianity. They lived in natural caves, which they turned into cells, chapels and storage rooms. A sophisticated system of conduits brought rainwater from a large catchment area into five caves used as reservoirs.

A 4th-century Byzantine monastery was built on the ruins of a Hasmonean-Herodian fortress. The monks abandoned the site after the Persian invasion of 614.

The present Monastery of the Temptation, reconstructed at the end of the 19th century, seems to grow out of the mountain. The northern half is cut into the almost sheer cliff, while the southern half is cantilevered into space.

Mount of Temptation

Cliff into which monastery is built (Kourosh)

A medieval cave-church, on two levels, is built of masonry in front of a cave. In the monastery is a stone on which, according to tradition, Jesus sat during one of his temptations.

In the valley of this mountain, Jewish priests and Levites travelled the winding road from Jericho to Jerusalem when it was their turn to minister in the Temple. In the time of Jesus, about 12,000 priests and Levites lived in Jericho.

 

In Scripture

Jesus is tempted by the devil: Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Church

Tel.: 972-2-2322827

Open: Monastery, Mon-Fri 9am-1pm, 3-4pm; Sat 9am-2pm; Sun closed

 

References

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)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)

External links

Temptation of Christ (Wikipedia)

Qumran

Israel

Qumran

Qumran display of clay vessels in which scrolls were found (Seetheholyland.net)

Qumran is famous as the hiding place of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a literary treasure trove hidden since shortly after the time of Christ.

The site is north-west of the Dead Sea, about 15km south of Jericho and about 1.5km west of the road that runs along the western shore of the Dead Sea.

A Bedouin goat- or sheep-herder by the name of Mohammed Ahmed el-Hamed found the first scrolls in 1947, when he threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to drive out a missing animal. The sound of breaking pottery drew him into the cave, where he found seven clay jars containing scrolls that had been wrapped in linen for nearly 2000 years.

Eventually, fragments of about 850 scrolls were found in 11 of the hard-to-reach caves that pockmark the cliffs of the Qumran area. A 12th cave, its contents looted, was found in 2017.

The ancient manuscripts were in various states of completeness. Only a handful were intact, the largest more than 8 metres long. Most were written in Hebrew, some in Aramaic and a few in Greek. Most were on parchment, with a few on papyrus. They had been preserved by the hot, dry desert climate.

The scrolls include at least fragments of every book of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. The oldest existing copies of the Old Testament, they generally confirm the accuracy of later manuscripts. Other scrolls also give a new insight into the Jewish society in which Christianity began.

 

Essenes were ‘unique and admirable’

Who hid the scrolls at Qumran? Academics have hotly debated this question. The prevalent view is that the scrolls were written or copied by a devout group of Essenes, a strict Jewish sect formed in reaction to what they saw as religious laxity in Judaism.

The Essenes at Qumran lived an austere lifestyle in their remote desert surroundings.   Study of the Jewish Law went on in shifts around the clock.

The community gained the admiration of the Roman statesman Pliny the Elder, who wrote: “They are unique and admirable beyond all other peoples in that they have no women, no sexual desire, no money, and only palm trees for company. Owing to the influx of newcomers, they are daily reborn in equal numbers.”

The Essenes believed the end of the world was imminent. They never married because they wanted to be ritually pure when the Messiah appeared.

 

No scrolls mention Christ

Qumran

Close-up of cave 4 at Qumran (Seetheholyland.net)

The Qumran community was driven from its wilderness retreat by the Romans in AD 68, leaving its library of scrolls hidden in caves for safe-keeping.

Although the Essenes existed during the time of Christ, none of the scrolls refer to him or to any other New Testament personality.

Ruins of the sect’s communal site remain, including a watchtower, a dining hall, cisterns and cemeteries.

Visitors can watch a short film on the Essenes and view a small exhibition before going to the archaeological site. From there, the caves above can be seen.

Where are the scrolls now? Most are in Jerusalem (eight at the Shrine of the Book, where pages are regularly on display, and the others at the Rockefeller Museum). Some are in Jordan and Europe.

Related site:

Shrine of the Book

 

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 0972-2-994-2235

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

References

Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
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)
Sussman, Ayala, and Peled, Ruth: The Dead Sea Scrolls (Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Museum Products, 1994)

 

External links

Shrine of the Book (The Israel Museum)
Dead Sea scrolls (Wikipedia)
Qumran (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (Israel Antiquities Authority)
Qumran (BiblePlaces)

Jericho

West Bank

Jericho

Sign for world’s oldest city (© Visitpalestine.ps)

It’s reputed to be the oldest town on earth, with stories to match. The Israelites supposedly brought down its walls with a great shout and trumpet blasts. Here Jesus healed Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and dined with Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. And both Cleopatra and Herod the Great coveted this lush oasis.

Jericho (the name means “City of palms”) is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament.

In perhaps the most famous battle in the Bible, it was the first town captured by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. But did “the walls come tumbling down”, as the song says? Archaeologists are divided on whether Joshua’s Israelites did in fact demolish a walled city.

Water from Jericho’s powerful perennial spring provides irrigation for abundant fruit, flowers and spices. “When the orange and lemon trees are in bloom, in the spring, the air is so heavy with their perfume that the visitor is sure he could bottle some of it and take it home with him,” writes archaeologist Godfrey Kloetzli.

The spring is associated with the prophet Elisha, who purified its waters by throwing salt into it.

Mound rose as towns were destroyed

Jericho

Ancient tower at Tell es-Sultan (Seetheholyland.net)

The first hunter-gatherers settled here around 9000 BC. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements at Tell es-Sultan (or Sultan’s Hill), a sun-baked earthen mound two kilometres north of the present city.

The 15-metre mound was formed over the centuries as towns were destroyed and new ones built on their rubble. The most striking discovery unearthed is a thick-walled stone tower, 7 metres high and 7.6 metres across, dating back to 7000 BC.

Besides being the oldest town on earth, Jericho is also the lowest (more than 250 metres below sea level).

City of priests and Levites

Since Jericho was on the normal route from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through it several times.

Jericho

Sycamore described as Zaccheus’ tree (Seetheholyland.net)

Near the centre of the city, a centuries-old sycamore tree recalls the incident in which the tax collector Zacchaeus, too short to see over the crowd, climbed a sycamore’s branches in order to see Jesus. (The African sycamore fig should not be confused with the sycamore of Europe and North America, which is a different species.)

At a nearby Greek Orthodox monastery, the trunk of a dead sycamore behind a glass frame is also described as the tax collector’s tree.

Jesus chose the steep, rocky road from Jerusalem down to Jericho as the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this parable, Jesus describes the compassion of an alien (the Samaritan) towards a man who had been beaten and robbed, contrasting it with the pitiless attitude of a priest and a Levite who had “passed by on the other side” of the road.

At that time, Jericho was one of the cities designated for the residence of priests and Levites rostered for duty in the Temple, about 28 kilometres away. About 12,000 priests and Levites are believed to have lived there, and they were a familiar sight on the road.

 

Cleopatra wanted a perfume

In 35 BC the Roman politician Mark Antony made a gift of Jericho to his lover Cleopatra of Egypt. Cleopatra had coveted the oasis because she wanted to control the plantations of persimmon (now extinct), which produced a perfume that reputedly “drove men wild”.

Later Cleopatra leased Jericho to Herod the Great at an exorbitant fee that cost him almost half Judea’s income. After Mark Antony and Cleopatra died, Herod gained ownership of the city. He built a palatial residence and died there in 4 BC.

 

In Scripture:

Joshua captures Jericho: Joshua 6:1-21

Elisha purifies the spring: 2 Kings:19-22

Zacchaeus meets Jesus: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus heals Bartimaeus: Mark 10:46-52

The Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37

 

Administered by: Palestinian National Authority.

 

 

References

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)
Kloetzli, Godfrey: “Jericho”, Holy Land, summer 2004.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Jericho (BiblePlaces)
Historical Sites (Jericho Municipality)
Jericho — The Winter Palace of King Herod (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Mount Nebo

Jordan

Mount Nebo

View from Mount Nebo (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

After 40 years leading the headstrong Israelites in the desert, Moses stood on the windswept summit of Mount Nebo and viewed the Promised Land of Canaan — after having been told by God “you shall not cross over there”.

On a clear day, today’s pilgrims can see the panorama Moses viewed: The Dead Sea, the Jordan River valley, Jericho, Bethlehem and the distant hills of Jerusalem.

As Deuteronomy 34:5-6 recounts, Moses died there in the land of Moab “but no one knows his burial place to this day”. Moses did, however, eventually reach the Promised Land. He and Elijah were seen with Jesus at the latter’s Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36).

Mount Nebo is now in western Jordan. At 820 metres high, it looks down 1220 metres on the nearby Dead Sea (which is about 400 metres below sea level).

Early Christians from Jerusalem made it a place of pilgrimage. In the 3rd or 4th century monks from Egypt built a small church on one of its peaks, Siyagha (a name meaning monastery), to commemorate the end of Moses’ life. By the end of the 4th century, an empty “tomb of Moses” was being shown to pilgrims on the mountain.

Pilgrim’s journal assisted excavation

Mount Nebo

Floor mosaics in Mount Nebo Church (© Visitpalestine.ps)

The monks’ church was expanded in the 5th and 6th centuries into a large basilica with a stunning collection of Byzantine mosaics and an elaborate baptistry. Though little remains of the early buildings, the mosaics can be seen inside the present-day shrine.

The main mosaic, about 9 metres by 3 metres, depicts monastic wine-making, hunters and various animals.

In the 1930s the Mount Nebo site was excavated, thanks largely to a description of it in the journal of an early woman pilgrim, Egeria, in AD 394. Six tombs were also found, hollowed into the rock beneath the basilica’s mosaic floor.

Mount Nebo

Pilgrims at Mount Nebo’s serpentine cross sculpture (Seetheholyland.net)

Outside the present-day shrine stands an enigmatic serpentine cross, the Brazen Serpent Monument. Created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, it imaginatively merges the life-saving bronze serpent set up by Moses into the desert (Numbers 21:4-9) and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.

 

Village with several churches

A less well-known site is at Khirbet al-Mukhayyat, a small town to the east, between Mount Nebo and Madaba. Here are the remains of the village of Nebo, mentioned twice in the Bible, where villagers in the 6th and 7th centuries constructed several churches.

On the highest point of the acropolis was the 6th-century Church of St George. The best-preserved floor mosaics are in the Church of Sts Lot and Procopius, who were venerated as martyrs.

 

In Scripture:

Moses on Mount Nebo: Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Transfiguration of Jesus: Luke 9:28-36

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 962-5-325-2938

Open: 8am-5pm (4pm Oct-Mar)

 

References

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)
Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E. (ed.): Mount Nebo. New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997 (Franciscan Printing Press, 1998)

External links

The Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo (Franciscan Archaeological Institute)


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