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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem







Jerash, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman cities in the Middle East, lies in a broad valley among the biblical mountains of Gilead, about 50 kilometres north of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Ruins of ancient Jerash with modern city in the background (Britchi Mirela / Wikimedia)

Ruins of ancient Jerash with modern city in the background (Britchi Mirela / Wikimedia)

Under the name of Gerasa, it was one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis. This league of Greek cities, which came under Roman control in the 1st century BC, is mentioned in the New Testament.

People from the predominantly pagan Decapolis followed Jesus during his ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:23-25). Although Jesus visited the region (Mark 7:31), there is no evidence that he entered Gerasa.

The city became Christian in the Byzantine period, when its 25,000 inhabitants had more than 20 churches and bishops who took part in early Church councils. Ruins of most of the churches can still be seen.

Conquests by Persians and Muslims in the 7th century, followed by devastating earthquakes in the 8th century, caused the city to be abandoned. It was rediscovered only at the beginning of the 19th century, remarkably preserved after being buried in sand for centuries.


Triumphal arch stands outside city

Hadrian’s Arch (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Hadrian’s Arch (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Jerash is divided by the Wadi Jerash, with the ancient city on the west side of the valley and the modern city — dating from the first half of the 20th century — on the east.

Outside the ancient city’s South Gate stands a grand triumphal arch with three openings, built to mark a visit by the emperor Hadrian in AD 129-130.

Adjacent to this is a hippodrome, constructed in the 2nd century for horse and chariot races, with a seating capacity of 15,000.

This 245-metre by 52-metre arena is now the venue for the twice-daily (except Tuesdays) Roman Army and Chariot Experience, in which authentically dressed actors perform as legionaries, gladiators and chariot drivers.

Oval Plaza at Jerash (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Oval Plaza at Jerash (Zairon / Wikimedia)

Inside the ancient city, the Temple of Zeus at the south end of the cardo overlooks a vast colonnaded Oval Plaza that served as Jerash’s forum. Nearby is the South Theatre, seating more than 3000 spectators and still in use.

The main street, the Cardo Maximus, extends for 800 metres in a northerly direction from the Oval Plaza.

Halfway along the Cardo, a monumental staircase leads to an esplanade with the remains of an open-air altar. Beyond are the tall Corinthian columns of the hilltop Temple of Artemis, which dominated the city. To the right is the North Theatre.

An abundance of churches

Jerash had more than 20 churches, all built between AD 368 and AD 611, with some even sharing walls. Their abundance may be due to a practice of the Byzantine Church — still the custom in some Eastern churches — to permit only one eucharistic service at each altar every day.

Gateway to the Roman temple which was rebuilt as the church now called the Cathedral (Dennis Jarvis)

Gateway to the Roman temple which was rebuilt as the church now called the Cathedral (Dennis Jarvis)

Most of the ruined churches are to the west of the Cardo Maximus, between two side streets, the South Decumanus and the North Decumanus. They include:

The so-called Cathedral (though there is no evidence that it was the seat of the bishop). The oldest church in Jerash, it was built on the ruins of a Roman temple, on the southern side of the esplanade leading to the Temple of Artemis.

Its outdoor atrium contains a small pool, believed to have been filled with wine when the miracle at the wedding in Cana was celebrated.

Against an outer east wall is a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with an inscription mentioning Mary and the archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The Church of St Theodore is to the west of the cathedral, and on a higher level.

An inscription that was over the main door reads: “The one passing by this place used to close his nose because of the bad smell; today he raises his right hand and draws the sign of the Holy Cross.” This is probably a reference to the sacrifices previously burnt on the nearby altar in front of the Temple of Artemis.

General view of the Church Complex (Fadi Shawkat Haddad)

General view of the Church Complex (Fadi Shawkat Haddad)

The Church Complex, west of the Church of St Theodore, has three adjoining churches that share an atrium. All were built between AD 529 and AD 533.

The Church of St George, on the south side, was still in use in the 8th century, when its mosaics were destroyed by iconoclasts opposed to the representation of humans and animals.

The mosaic floor of the Church of St John the Baptist, in the middle, is also damaged, but images can be seen of the four seasons, plants and animals, and the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Memphis.

The Church of Sts Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers who were doctors, is on the north side. Its mosaic floor, the most splendid in Jerash, has survived. Besides gazelles, rabbits, peacocks, sheep and other animals, the images include the churchwarden Theodore and his wife Georgia, praying with outspread arms.

West of the Church Complex is the Church of St Genesius, built in AD 611 — just three years before the Persian invasion that was the beginning of the end for Jerash.


Tel.: 962 2 635-1272 (Visitors’ Centre)

Open: Apr-Oct 8am-6pm; Nov-Mar 8am-5pm. Last entry to site one hour before closing time.



Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Caffulli, Giuseppe: “Jerash, Pompeii of the East”, Holy Land Review, spring 2010
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Haddad, Fadi Shawkat: A Christian Pilgrimage Journey in Jordan (published by author, PO Box 135, Amman 11733, 2015)


External links

Jerash, Jordan (AtlasTours)
Jerash (VisitJordan)


West Bank



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.


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.


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


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).


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.


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.


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.


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




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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