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A visit to Samaria
May 19th, 2005

Tayyibeh – City of Refuge of Our Lord




Unlike other villages, Tayyibeh can boast of a Gospel association and a continuous Christian presence from the beginning to our day. Its history is known partly through the presence of visible ruins and partly through the scholars who began to concern themselves with the site in the nineteenth century. Being off the beaten paths, the village was not visited by pilgrims but lived in obscurity down the centuries, keeping fast to its Christian character.



The Gospel Association. Old commentaries on the Gospel of St. John, for example, Maldonato’s, offer no identification for Ephraim of the Gospel. In John 11:54 we read: “Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.” It was the time when Jesus was being sought out; shortly afterwards he was to undergo his Passion. As Father P. Benoit writes (TS 33 [1957], 110): “There he would find the peace of mind to prepare himself for his great sacrifice.” On the basis of clues found in Eusebius’ Onomasticon, Ephraim has been identified since the nineteenth century with the village of Tayyibeh. Some authors have attempted to cast doubt on this identification, choosing to place Ephraim elsewhere, for example, at es-Samiyye; but, as Father Benoit himself writes, “the reasons given have little weight. On the contrary, the Byzantine tradition, attested to by Eusebius in his Onomasticon, fits in perfectly with the et-Tayyibeh site, when one admits that the distances Eusebius gives (5 miles from Bethel and 20 from Jerusalem) are taken on the Roman road which was longer than the direct route. Moreover, this tradition is confirmed by the famous mosaic map of Madaba which indicates this village with the caption: Ephron or Ephraia, where the Lord came.”
In the ninth century a famous exegete named Isho‘dad, bishop of Hadatha in Assyria, wrote commentaries on the four Gospels. Speaking of Ephraim of St. John’s Gospel, he notes: “It is still a large town 5 stages east of Bethel” (I, 255, M.D. Gibson ed., Cambridge 1911 [Horae Semiticae V]; cf. F. Nau, ROC 16 [1911], 435). The location east of Bethel corresponds very well to Tayyibeh, so that it can be assumed that this was the place he meant, although a distance of 5 stages seems a bit too much and the adjective “large” a little exaggerated for this place. Perhaps the writer spoke from hearsay.
In the fourth century St. Epiphanius (Haer. 30, 9, PG 41, 421) recounts an incident which took place while he was traveling along this road accompanied by a Jew. The saint spoke to him of Christ and the latter did not object. The Jew’s behavior greatly surprised the saint who was accustomed to the rebuttals of the Jews; and he asked the reason. The man answered that he believed in Christ because once when he ill and on the point of death, he had heard a whisper in his ear saying that Jesus Christ, the son of God, was going to judge him. For love of Christ the Jew had accompanied Epiphanius in his journey along this desert route, today conveniently paved.



The Village. It is situated on a hill with the ruin of a castle on the top and the houses spread on the southern slope and thus comfortably set in the sunlight. There are two churches: one to the west run by the Greek Orthodox; one to the east served by Latin Catholics. The village has spread to a hillside east of the former, and there can be seen the ruins of the church called el-Khader with the village graveyard, and further down, the church of the Greek Catholics which is of more recent foundation than the others. The village is still all Christian because the Moslems have founded another one to the north, maintaining the separation from time immemorial.
Many antiquities attesting to centuries of life in the village exist in the two hills but no systematic excavation have ever been carried out. The hillside is dotted with many rock-cut cisterns and silos which, as Guérin noted (Judée, III, 45), are of such age as “to demonstrate the ancient importance of this site.” The castle is surrounded by houses and therefore it cannot easily be investigated. A spur of wall made of stones with bosses and the moat can still be seen. The name popularly given to it is St. Elias’ Castle. It was donated by Boniface of Montserrat to King Baldwin.

On the road
Tayyibeh
The Melchite Church

The Latin Church. IThe Latin clergy first came to Taiybeh in 1860 and built a church in 1860-1865, which was replaced by a larger one in 1971. The new church, 28.4 m long and 15.50 m wide, was planned by Samir Harb. It is adorned with a large mosaic composition designed by Prof. Rivetta representing the Lord coming to the village, as well as Charles de Foucauld, who made a spiritual retreat there (P. Médebielle, Ephrem-Taybeh et son histoire chrétienne, Jerusalem 1993).

[Website of the spiritual family of Charles de Foucauld]

The Latin Church
The mosaic
The old parish house

The Sanctuary of el-Khader. This ruined church attracted the explorers’ attention from the earliest times. Guérin (Judée III, 46) describes it and the authors of SWP (II, 324-326) provided also a rough sketch. A. Schneider (OC 6 [1931], 15-22) attempted to identify different building phases in a detailed sketch which we reproduce (Fig. 8). Actually, ancient elements are too changed to enable us to have an exact idea of their development. Anyway, a large complex (28 x 25 m) seems to stand out, with three halls preceded by a beautiful stairway on the west side, belonging to the Byzantine period (Pl. 11,1). The ratio of length and width seems uncommon for a three-nave church; moreover, the central nave has a trichoros plan (i.e. an apsidal transept). For this reason it would be better to think of it as a trichoros church flanked by two chapels. In the ground plan the walls identified as Byzantine are marked in black. The walls marked with diagonal hatching are regarded as medieval. The south nave seems to have become the liturgical church, with the presbytery separated from the prayer hall by chancels, and the central nave functioned as a sanctuary. A stone reliquary with openings on top and on one side was found in the basilica area; and a monolithic baptismal font was set in the south aisle near the apse: it is no longer in use today but is in a good state of preservation. Schneider gives its plan and section with measurements: its width is 106 cm, its inner depth 55 cm. See also Ovadiah, Corpus, 66-67, no. 56.
As we know, el-Khader is a mythical personage and Christians ordinarily identify him with St. George; however, the memory of the prophet Elijah is also present on this hill, centering on a cave southeast of the church and on the castle. The shrine is much venerated and the faithful are wont to fulfill vows by killing a sheep on its threshold. This tradition is mentioned also in old reports (e.g. E. Grant, PEF 1926, 195).

Towards the sanctuary
Front steps
Front door
Interior
Baptsimal font
South chapel



The Model of Arab House. The current practice of tearing down old houses to rebuild them in concrete is rapidly transforming the villages, taking away their “Oriental” character with its little domes and terraces. In order to provide an example of the village appearance as it came down through the centuries, the Latin curate, Don John Sansour, has decided to use a little house in front of the church as a model of the village which is now undergoing change. The interior shows a two-level room, with a small corridor and the tunnel which served to go out into the nearby desert in case of need. Several old objects, no longer in use today, have been collected in the room in order to illustrate the traditional family life.

The tunnel
The living area
The oven


In the Madaba Mosaic Map



Ephron also Ephraia, where went the Lord (external link)

Other links:

Interview with the Latin curate Abuna Raed Abusahlieh (external link)



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