Finally, we reach everyone’s favourite mountain in the Bible. Named after the olive groves that once grew there, the Mount of Olives or Mount Olivet is one of three peaks on a mountain ridge adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a Jewish cemetery for at least 3000 years and contains approximately 150,000 graves; however, this is not what makes the mountain so famous for us. Several events took place here during the life of Jesus, thus making it a major site of pilgrimage and worship for Christians.
The ridge containing the Mount of Olives stretches 2.2 miles across the Kidron Valley, an area that the Bible refers to as the Valley of Josaphat. The Mount of Olives is the middle peak, rising to a height of 2684 feet. The other peaks are named Mount Scopus and the Mount of Corruption, which reach 2710 and 2451 feet respectively. The ridge is formed of sedimentary rocks, such as chalk and flint and is believed to have developed during the Late Cretaceous period – i.e. dinosaurs were still around.
The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in the Bible concerning King David’s flight from his third son, Absalom. After turning the people of Israel against his father, Absalom declared himself king and David decided to flee to safety on the other side of the Jordan River where he could make plans and prepare his troops for battle.
The second reference to the Mount of Olives can be found in the Book of Zechariah with an apocalyptic prophecy that God would stand upon the mountain, splitting it in two.
The New Testament frequently mentions the Mount of Olives, partly because it is on the route from Jerusalem to Bethany, the home of Lazarus. Matthew and Mark (and Luke, although this Gospel includes other references) record the same events almost verbatim in the New International Version of the Bible. Matthew 21:1-3 (Mark 11; Luke 19) records, ‘As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”’ This, as you will surely recognise, is the beginning of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, which is traditionally read on Palm Sunday. “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (Luke 19:37)
Matthew 24-25 (Mark 13; Luke 21), records the Mount of Olives as the place where Jesus warned his disciples about the eventual destruction of the Temple and signs of the end times. ‘As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"’ (Matthew 24:3) Jesus talks of wars and uprisings, earthquakes, famines and pestilence and encourages his disciples to remain strong. He tells them to watch out for people claiming to be the Messiah and not to fall for anything they say.
The message about the end times was only given to Jesus’ disciples and not to the public who came to hear him speak in the Temple. John 8:1 records that “Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” at the end of the day where he could be alone, away from all the people asking him questions.
The last event involving the Mount of Olives in the Gospels is written in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22. This is where Jesus was arrested having been betrayed by Judas. This, of course, is also written in the Gospel of John, however, John refers to the Kidron Valley rather than the mountain. The beginning of each of these chapters records the last supper, which ends “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) Luke 22:39 says, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him,” thus noting that it was not unusual for Jesus to be there. We all know what happened next.
The final time the Mount of Olives is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles. In chapter one, Jesus is taken up into heaven. Acts 1:12 states, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city,” thus confirming that the ascension occurred on the Mount of Olives. Whereas the prophecy in the Book of Zechariah makes the mountain important to the Jewish community, this final event is the biggest reason why the Mount of Olives has become a Christian pilgrimage site.
There is little significant history involving the Mount of Olives between Biblical times and the 20thcentury. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the mountain became under negotiation to allow people access to the holy sites. The Jordanian’s, however, did not allow this to fully happen, only letting non-Israeli Christians visit the mount. It was not until after the Six-Day War in 1967 that Jews had access to the cemetery, albeit in need of restoration. Unfortunately, the gravesite continues to be prone to vandalism.
The cemetery is not the only thing the Mount of Olives has to offer. I have discovered a list of landmarks and just for fun I shall list a few:
Mount Moriah is famously remembered as the location of the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. ‘Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love--Isaac--and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”’ (Genesis 22:2) God asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, however, upon the mountain, God told Abraham to stop. The knowledge that Abraham would have gone through with the command was enough for God to determine the strength of the patriarch’s faith.
Despite being such a famous event, the name “Mount Moriah” is only mentioned once more in the Bible. This occurs in the Second Book of Chronicles. “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David.” This verse tells us that the mountain has appeared more than once previously, however, it was not necessarily named. Here, Solomon built the first temple of the Lord and, since then, the mountain has been known as Table Mount.
“In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.” Micah 4:1
To modern-day Jews, Table Mount is also called Mount of the House and for Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary. Despite being referred to as a mountain, Table Mount is a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem. It rises approximately 2428 feet above sea level and in 19 BC was artificially widened by Herod the Great, resulting in a flat expanse on the summit that covers an area of 37 acres.
As well as the two mentions of Mount Moriah in the Hebrew Bible, Temple Mount has been the location of many historical and religious events. In Judaism, Temple Mount is the holiest place in the world and it is believed God’s divine presence has manifested there more than anywhere else. According to the Talmud, it was on this hill that God gathered the dust he used to create Adam, the first human. Some rabbis believe it is also the spot from which God created the world.
The Sacrifice of Isaac was the first significant event to take place on Mount Moriah/Temple Mount after the creation. Some also believe it was the location of Jacob’s dream and the place where King David purchased a threshing floor owned by Araunah the Jebusite. David had plans to build a sanctuary on the hill but it was his son Solomon who achieved this in 950 BC.
Solomon’s temple is now referred to as the First Temple; however, there is no archaeological evidence for its existence on Temple Mount. The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed this temple in 586 BC and the Second Temple was constructed in 516 BC. The Roman emperor Titus destroyed the new building in 70 AD and, by the 2nd Century, the site was being used as a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus – a group of three deities comprised of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Jewish texts predict a third and final temple will be built on the coming of the Jewish Messiah.
The Temple gradually became less important during the early Christian period, although paintings of the circumcision of Jesus are frequently depicted as taking place there. Of course, none of these painters knew what the Temple looked like and there is no written evidence of the ceremony taking place there in the Gospels.
In Islam, Temple Mount is the third holiest site. The “Noble Sanctuary” is the location of Muhammad’s ascent to heaven. The Quran considered Temple Mount to be the site of the Temple built by the Islamic prophet Sulayman. Many prophets of Islam are believed to have worshipped there, including Jesus.
It is thought that the hill has been inhabited since the 4000 BC and from around 1850 BC it was home to the Canaanites. The Romans built the city of Aelia Capitolina on the hill in 130 AD during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. Initially, Hadrian had intended to gift the city to the Jews, however, after the construction of the Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus, the Jews were horrified by the idolatrous city. Hadrian went on to issue a decree prohibiting circumcision and encouraged Roman rites involving the sacrifice of pigs. Enraged by these practices, the Jews led a revolt, however, they were defeated and forbidden on pain of death to enter the city.
Emperor Constantine I, the first Christian Emperor, demolished the Temple to Jupiter Capitolinus and invited the Jews to rebuild their Temple. Supposedly, while the Jews were clearing the area, an earthquake damaged all their progress and the construction was abandoned. Archaeological evidence suggests another temple or religious building was built during the Byzantine period, however, there is very little knowledge of this.
The Jews finally gained back control of Jerusalem and Temple Mount in 610 AD when the Sassanid Empire, or Empire of Iranians, pushed the Byzantine Empire out. For five years, the Sassanid Jewish Commonwealth let the Jews practice their ceremonies and permitted them to rebuild the Temple. Unfortunately, the Byzantines took the area back in 615 AD and Christians replaced the Jews. Since then, Temple Mount has changed hands many times. It became a Muslim city when the Arabs defeated the second Byzantine Empire in 637. The Crusaders temporarily reintroduced Christianity from 1099 until 1187 and from the Ottoman period until the 19thcentury, non-Muslims were forbidden from setting foot on Temple Mount.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, Jerusalem and Temple Mount have been under Israeli control. Initially, Jews had the right to visit the area unobstructed and free of charge as long as they respected the religious beliefs of the Muslims living there. Since then, rules have changed and Jews are no longer allowed to pray on the mount. New rules dictate that:
From Biblical times to the present day, Mount Moriah/Temple Mount has seen many significant events and wars. It has been home to three different religions and currently contains constructions or the remains of buildings from each. Just for fun, I have researched what you may find there:
I was recently taken to lunch at a rather nice restaurant in Brentwood. The company was excellent, the food, and if wanted wine, looked delicious but the venue was quite a surprise because I had been taken to The Beeches care home.
I must say, I did rather feel that when the time comes, this is the home where I would like to live. Sommer Turner, the client liaison manager, showed me around. The foyer would not have been out of place in a Five Star hotel. There were restaurants and cafes and I even came across a cinema in the facilities. There were a variety of rooms and at least six activities per day to keep residents stimulated and interested. Activities range from Scrabble and quizzes to dancing, gardening and Saturday Night at the Movies. Art groups were available as well as regular staff and resident socials. There were also opportunities to go into Brentwood on weekly organised trips.
As a minister, I am asked if I could recommend any care homes and from this introduction I received, I would certainly suggest considering The Beeches. It is a Signature Home and the website is www.signature-care-homes.co.uk. It is in Herbert Road off London Road in Brentwood, Essex CM14 4NA
Mount Tabor is located in Lower Galilee, Israel, approximately eleven miles from the Sea of Galilee. It is sphere-shaped and reaches a height of 1,886 feet above sea level and 1476 feet above the nearest town, Kfar Tavor. It is known as a monadnock mountain, which means it is an isolated mountain rising from a flat plain.
Mount Tabor is mentioned for the first time in Joshua 19:22: “the boundary also touches Tabor, Shahazumah, and Beth-shemesh, and its boundary ends at the Jordan—sixteen towns with their villages.” Whilst it is only a brief mention, it helps us understand where the mountain was in relation to Biblical lands. Mount Tabor is located in the northwest section of the Jezreel Plain on the border of the Naphtali and Zebulon lands.
The next time Mount Tabor is mentioned is in the Book of Judges:
Whilst Barak and the Israelites marched to Mount Tabor, the Canaanites were struggling through a muddy terrain after a downpour. The chariots were rendered useless and the soldiers were too slow to escape from the Israelites’ attack. All of the Canaanites bar Sisera were slain but the commander soon met his fate in the tent of Yael the Kenite who killed him with a tent peg to the head.
Mount Tabor became the site of another battle in 55 BC when the Hasmonean dynasty rebelled against Alexander Maccabeus of Judaea. Over 10,000 Jews were killed during the battle and Alexander was forced to flee to Syria. Later, in 66 AD, Mount Tabor became one of the 19 fortified sites during the First Jewish-Roman War.
Battles are not the only thing for which Mount Tabor is famous. Although not mentioned by name, Christian writers believe Mount Tabor to be the location of the transfiguration of Jesus.
During the Crusades of the 11th, 12thand 13thcenturies Mount Tabor’s ownership changed hands many times between the Muslims and the Christians. When the Crusaders were in charge, the Benedictine monks erected a fortified abbey, however, this was later destroyed under Muslim rule and replaced with a fortress.
Another “Battle of Mount Tabor” took place in 1799 during Napoleon Bonaparte’s (1769-1821) Syrian expedition. The French army, which only consisted of 3000 men, fought against the 35,000 strong Ottoman Empire and won.
Today, a Bedouin tribe who are famous for being hospitable and friendly to visitors and pilgrims occupies the mountain. Each year, a 12-kilometre race is held around Mount Tabor and the mountain is also one of the most popular locations for hang gliding in the country.
One of the most popular visitor attractions is the Church of Transfiguration, which was built on the peak of Mount Tabor by the Roman Catholic church of the Franciscan order in the 1920s. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, used the ruins of buildings built during the crusades as the foundations of the church. The structure consists of three naves, two bell towers and two chapels. Whilst the church was built in honour of Jesus, the chapels are dedicated to Moses and Elijah.
Until the reign of the Ottoman Empire, Mount Tabor was completely covered in trees and plants. Most of these were cut down to make room for buildings or to be used by the charcoal industry. Fortunately, the Jewish National Fund reforested the mountain with trees during the 60s and 70s and Mount Tabor once more flourishes with greenery. Over 400 plant species have been recorded on the mountain, including various oak trees, crocuses, lilies, tulips, orchids and irises.
Due to the range of plants, Mount Tabor has become a suitable habit for many animals. Just for fun, here is a list of a few you may find there:
On Saturday 19th October, I attended a day's course with the Association of Christian Writers under the heading Writing, Singing and Whole Life Worship. The speakers were Sam and Sara Hargreaves who are hymn writers amongst other things.
It was a fascinating day where we learnt how they write hymns and lead worship. They took a piece of scripture and invited us to engage with the text in the form of poetry, paraphrasing, being interactive, using it as a basis for prayer, and guided meditation. Those various disciplines started to unlock the scripture in interesting ways.
They went on to tell us the five stages they use when writing songs, which were:
One of the key ideas was to write hymns "into the gaps". Whereas there are many Harvest, Easter and Christmas hymns, there are not many on ecology, infant baptism, and God in everyday life. If you wished your hymns to be used, by writing "into the gaps" they were more likely to be sung at a service.
The final session of whole-life worship reminded us that God is not just for Sunday and the gathered church on a Sunday feeds us spiritually into the scattered church, where we work etc. Likewise, the scattered church should in turn feed into the gathered church where we worship together.
The most useful exercise for me, which I offer to you, involved writing the lyrics to a hymn to a well-known tune. I tried and found it liberating to not be constrained by some of the platitudes of Christianity but able to engage and wrestle with a God who sometimes seems far away. The very act of writing, not for public display necessarily, I found a useful way of communicating with God and it may be helpful for others as well, especially when God seems to be hiding Godself.
(Loosely) To the tune of I Vow to Thee My Country
Where o where is God, my saviour,
I really want to know.
I am hurting, really hurting,
Your coming is far too slow.
I want to love and believe
That you are the God I trust,
But with so many things going wrong,
My faith has turned to dust.
Yet, as I look around me,
Creation in full bloom,
A designer seems the answer,
Perhaps it's not all doom.
All I want from heaven
Is a wink or a slight nod,
To reaffirm my Saviour
Is my link between life and God
I know that my God loves me
and he's not far away,
Christ I'm sure is my salvation
Though I question every day
To be polished at some time as I only had ten minutes. My reason for printing is to show that anybody could have a go and it is quite a novel way to talk with God.
I came away having met talented writers and if you visited Sam and Sara's website (Engage Worship) I am sure you would find helpful resources for your own spiritual journey, not just to lead a service.
On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to preach at Western Road URC. The reading came from Luke 18:1-8. The parable is about the nagging wife who, through her persistence, managed to persuade a judge who cared for neither God nor his people to acknowledge her rights. The main thrust of the sermon was about the persistence of prayer and how one keeps on praying even if one cannot see those prayers answered. The parable also causes us to think: if a judge can be convinced by continual nagging, how much more would a loving father give to his children?
I cited that it took Colonel Harland David Sanders of KFC fame 1009 attempts before his chicken recipe was accepted and that WD40 gets its name allegedly because this was the 40th attempt to get the formula right, however, I wanted to concentrate not on persistency, but prayer.
When thinking of prayer, it is very easy to say that God will always answer. Indeed, it is a Biblical truth that whatever we ask for, God will give. "For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:8) Yet, it is also a Biblical truth that, as Jesus said in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done". So, as we consider prayer, I want us to imagine a cauldron or a pot into which we will put some of our thoughts and see what brews.
We know for sure that God is good, God is love and in God, we can trust. We know for sure God hears our prayers. We know that God wants to do God's best for God's children. God is ultimately in control. We know that God answers prayers either now, immediately, or in God's good time and that God surprises us by answering prayers in ways we weren't expecting. We know that we can use our good and bad experiences to help others and in some ways, when bad things happen, the experience not only strengthens us but can be used to inspire other people.
Into the pot goes the many blessings that God gives us for which we must say thank you. We must have an attitude of gratitude but we must also continually look for those blessings because sometimes they are hidden.
Into the pot of prayer goes our positivity of mind and trust. We know God is working for us and we can be assured that the outcome will be what God wants.
Into the pot must also go the tension between what we want and what God wants for us. We have to align our thoughts with Gods.
Into the pot goes our freewill. As we have been given this gift, we can choose what direction to take our lives. We have to accept that our free will may clash with other people's free will.
Into the pot of prayer goes the knowledge that we are a fallen people, we are sinners. Through Jesus Christ, who has paid the ransom for our sins, we have an opportunity to have a new, bright relationship with God the creator.
I am in no way advocating gambling in this next story but there is a joke where a person cries to God asking to help him win the lottery. God hears the prayer and replies, "meet me halfway and at least buy the ticket." The idea is we have to play our part if prayers are to be answered. I want to emphasise we have a role to play, we cannot only rely on God's actions.
The final ingredient into our pot is that we can be the answer to somebody's prayer. We have it within ourselves to be the hand, the heart, and the feet of Jesus. We should be looking for opportunities where God works through us to be the answer to prayer.
So, what have we got in our pot; and more importantly, what other doubts can you put in the pot to make it your personal stew? The final answer will come when we meet our loving God, creator, redeemer, sustainer in heaven as to why things happened they way they did and why it sometimes seemed God's face was hidden.
I believe that through the persistent power of prayer we can lessen anxiety, remind ourselves of our purpose, our meaning and our value by continually looking to see how we can be the answer to somebody else's prayer. I am reminded of a quote, "Helping a person will not necessarily change the world, but it will change the world for that person." So let's nag, nag, nag.
Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range in north Israel that lies along the Mediterranean Sea. In Arabic, it is known as Mount Mar Elias, which translates as Mount Elias/Elijah. This gives us a clue as to where Mount Carmel is first mentioned in the Bible – the Book of Kings.
“Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.” (1 Kings 18:19-20)
The prophet and miracle worker Elijah, or Elias as he is known in the Greek, challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a contest to determine whose God was really in charge of the Kingdom of Israel. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to build an altar on the mountain and ask their god to set it alight. No matter how much they shouted, their god did not respond. Elijah, on the other hand, built an altar and asked the prophets to drench it with water, which would make it harder to light. Nonetheless, when he called on God, “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” (18:38) Thus, Elijah proved God was the one in charge of Israel.
This event took place during the reign of King Ahab. Biblical scholars have used the dates of Ahab’s reign to try to learn more about the god Baal. Traditionally, the title Baal was the equivalent to Owner of Lord in the Northwest Semitic communities; however, it was also used for a variety of gods. Due to Ahab’s connection with the Phoenicians, it is thought this particular Baal may have been Melquart, the patron god of the Phoenician city of Tyre.
“So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.”(1 Kings 18:42) After Elijah’s challenge, he claimed a storm was coming to end the three-year drought that had plagued the area. From the top of Mount Carmel, Elijah and his servant watched a tiny cloud in the distance develop into a raging storm.
Since Mount Carmel is a mountain range rather than an individual peak, the location of “the top of Carmel” is not certain. There is nothing written in the Bible to pinpoint a particular mountaintop, however, Islamic tradition believes it may have been the mountain known as El-Maharrakah, which means “burning”.
Mount Carmel is next mentioned in the Second Book of Kings not long after Elijah has been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha has taken on the role of his teacher and is walking along a road when a group of boys start calling out insults. “Get out of here, baldy!” In retaliation, Elisha curses them and two bears maul forty-two of the boys. Then Elisha carries on his journey. “And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.” (2 Kings 2:25)
In 2 Kings 4, we are told the story of a Shunammite woman who Elisha visited regularly when passing through Shunem. Elisha promised her that she would have a son, however, during his childhood, the son died. Distressed, the mother insisted on going to find Elisha. She “set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, "Look! There's the Shunammite!” (2 Kings 4:25) The woman berated him for raising her hopes by giving her a son that did not live long, however, Elisha calmly accompanied the woman back home and raised her son from the dead.
Mount Carmel is also mentioned in a vision of Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa. The vision predicts the fate of Israel and the judgement on Israel’s neighbours. “He said: ‘The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.’”
The destruction of Israel is also written about in Amos 9:3: “Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them.”
The name “Mount Carmel” is used in three different ways, both in the Bible and other written histories. One is the entire 24-mile mountain range and another only the northern half (12 miles). The third is the aforementioned headland at the northwestern end of the range. At its widest, the mountain range stretches five miles and rises to 1,791 feet towards the northeast. Made of limestone and flint, the range is covered in vegetation, including laurel, oak, olive and pine trees. There are several towns within the range and also the city of Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel.
Mount Carmel has been listed as a World Heritage Site due to the discovery of Neanderthal remains and caves that represent roughly one million years of human evolution. According to the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus, the Essenes, a Jewish sect from Nazareth in Galilee, once inhabited Mount Carmel. Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine and oil presses in various places on Mount Carmel but whether any of these belonged to the Essenes is debatable.
In the 12th century AD, a Catholic religious order known as the Carmelites was founded on the mountain range in what they claimed to be Elijah’s cave, where the prophet hid after escaping from Queen Jezebel in 1 Kings 19. There is no evidence to prove this, however, it is believed several hermits dwelt in the mountains. A Carmelite monastery was erected on the site and dedicated to the “Star of the Sea”, another name for the Virgin Mary. During the crusades, the monastery was captured converted into a mosque. Much later, in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte, transformed the building into a hospital, only to be destroyed two decades later. Since then, another monastery has been built directly over “Elijah’s Grotto”, which is used as the crypt.
Mount Carmel is also a sacred place in the Bahá’í faith and is the location of the Bahá’í World Centre and the Shrine of the Báb. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have their largest mosque on Mount Carmel.
For fun, I have researched the things you can visit in the Mount Carmel mountain range:
“Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession.” (Deuteronomy 32:49) Along with that instruction, God tells Moses he is going to die on Mount Nebo. God plans to show Moses everything the Israelites will eventually possess but warns Moses that he will never go there himself. This is Moses’ punishment for breaking faith with God in the presence of the Israelites and because he did not uphold God’s holiness among them. Despite the years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses will only see the land from a distance.
Moses’ death occurs in Deuteronomy 34 where we are told, “Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho.” (34:1a) Before he dies, God reveals to Moses the land He promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar.” (34:1b-3)
These are the only two references of Mount Nebo in the Bible, however, as it is the death place of Moses, it is included amongst the list of important biblical mountains. Deuteronomy tells us that Mount Nebo is in Moab; this is the name of an ancient kingdom in the land now known as Jordan. It was a mountainous area bordered by the Dead Sea and the Arabian Desert. The inhabitants of the kingdom were ancestors of Lot via his eldest daughter and it is believed they thrived until around 400 BC.
Mount Nebo is an elevated ridge within the Abarim range in Jordan. It is approximately 2330 feet above sea level and provides extensive views over the surrounding land. It is possible to see as far as the River Jordan from one angle and Jericho from another. On a very clear day, the city of Jerusalem can be seen in the far distance.
Although it is not specified in the Bible, some Christians have assumed that Moses was buried on the mountain. This is also true within some Islamic traditions; however, there is also a tomb to the east of Jerusalem in the Judean wilderness that claims to be Moses’ resting place. To complicate matters, scholars are still debating whether today’s Mount Nebo is the same place as the Mount Nebo mentioned in Deuteronomy. To date, there has been no sign of a tomb at the summit.
In the deuterocanonical book 2 Maccabees, the writer claims the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave on Mount Nebo. Once again, there has been no archaeological evidence of this and, being a non-canonical book, it is not certain how much of the recorded events are true.
In 1933, the remains of a Byzantine church and monastery were discovered on the highest part of the mountain. The church was built during the 4thcentury to mark the location of Moses’ death. It appears to have been enlarged during the 5thcentury, however, was first mentioned in AD 394 in an account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land made by a lady known as Etheria. The surviving text recounts Etheria’s journey from Mount Sinai to Constantinople, during which she stayed in Jerusalem for three years, making excursions to Mount Nebo and to the tomb of Job in what is now Syria.
Six tombs have been discovered in the natural rock beneath the mosaic-covered floor of the church. No one knows who they belong to but, judging by the date of the church building, not Moses.
A modern chapel has been erected on the site of the Byzantine church to protect the ancient remains. Mosaics have been preserved from different periods to give people an idea of the decoration of the original church. It is also regularly used as a place of worship.
In 2000, Pope John Paul II made Mount Nebo one of his destinations during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When visiting the remains of the ancient church, he planted an olive tree as a symbol of peace. Later, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also visited the site, giving a speech from the top of the mountain in the direction of Jerusalem.
As well as the chapel, tourists climb Mount Nebo to see the serpentine cross sculpture created by the Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni. The sculpture symbolises the bronze serpent Moses made in Numbers 21:9. “So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” The cross on top of the sculpture symbolises Jesus’ crucifixion.
Just for fun, I have looked up all the things tourists photograph when visiting Mount Nebo:
Those of you who have read the previous article about Mount Gerizim will be familiar with many of the Bible verses about Mount Ebal. For instance Deuteronomy 11:29: “When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.”
Mount Ebal is the less fertile of the two mountains in the middle of Canaan, now the West Bank territory. It is slightly higher than Mount Gerizim at 3080 feet, which is 60 feet above sea level. Primarily formed of limestone, the slopes contain several caverns that may once have been quarries. Towards the bottom are several tombs but it is not known to whom they belong.
When the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, Moses explained that Mount Ebal was to be used for curses and Gerizim for blessings. This may be on account of the difference in soil qualities. Later, the Israelites were instructed to build an altar upon the mountain: “And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster.” (Deuteronomy 27:4) Further instructions told them to make peace offerings on the altar, eat there, and write the words of the law – the Pentateuch - on the stone.
Immediately after the instructions for the altar have been received, the Israelites are told to split into two groups. One group was to go to Mount Gerizim and pronounce blessings, and the other to remain on Mount Ebal and pronounce curses. “And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.” (Deuteronomy 27:13) There has been no logical explanation agreed upon for the choice of tribes, however, one suggestion is that this was the most equal split in terms of the number of people in each tribe as recorded in the book of Numbers.
The curses pronounced on Mount Ebal were the following:
After the Battle of Ai in the book of Joshua, Joshua renews the covenant at Mount Ebal.
Over time, archaeologists have made many discoveries upon the slopes of Mount Ebal. Known to locals as el Burnat (the Hat), a stone heap resembling an amphitheatre was discovered during the 20thcentury. Pieces of pottery were found among the heap dating from 1220-1000 BC. Further excavations found a walled structure with no windows and doors that was full of stone, ash and burnt animal bones. The archaeologist in charge of the excavation believed the structure to be the remains of Joshua’s altar. Others argue that it could be an Assyrian altar since it does not fit with the Biblical account, which says Joshua’s altar faces Mount Gerizim, whereas these remains are on the opposite side.
A third suggestion for the ruins is a simple farmhouse or guard tower. Nevertheless, if anyone wishes to visit the site, particularly the Israelis, they must liaise with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and be escorted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to ensure their safety. Plans were proposed to make Mount Ebal a tourist destination but as of yet, nothing has come to fruition.
“When the Lord your God has brought you into the land you are entering to possess, you are to proclaim on Mount Gerizim the blessings, and on Mount Ebal the curses.” (Deuteronomy 11:29)
The two mountains mentioned in the above verse can be found in the city of Nablus (previously Shechem) in Israel. I will focus on the first mountain, Mount Gerizim, and look at the second in another article. Mount Gerizim is one of the highest mountains in the landlocked territory of West Bank, which is bordered by Jordan and Israel. The mountain reaches 2890 feet, which is 230 feet above sea level. According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim was considered to be both the oldest and highest mountain in the world.
The Samaritans continue to regard Mount Gerizim as the location chosen by God for a holy temple. The Jews, on the other hand, regard Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to be the true location. In John 4, Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at a well. She does not understand why Jesus, a Jew, is talking to her and points out their differences. In verse 20 she states, “Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Passover is still celebrated by the Samaritans on the slopes of Mount Gerizim. They also consider it the location of the “Binding of Isaac” – the place Abraham almost sacrificed his son.
The first time Mount Gerizim is mentioned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 11:29) corresponds with the Israelites’ entry into Canaan. Moses instructs them to celebrate their arrival with a ceremony of blessings on Mount Gerizim and a ceremony of cursing on Mount Ebal. It is thought these two mountains were chosen for this purpose because they stood at the centre of the land. Mount Gerizim had plenty of fertile land, whereas Mount Ebal had a barren and rugged face.
In Deuteronomy 27, the Israelites were split into their tribes. Half were to remain on Mount Gerizim and the rest on Mount Ebal. Verse 12 states, “When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on MountGerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin.” There has been no agreement amongst scholars as to the significance of the separation of the tribes.
Mount Gerizim next appears in the book of Joshua. After the Battle of Ai, Joshua built an altar on the mountain and the Israelites came forth with offerings and blessings.
The mountain also has some significance in the book of Judges. Jotham, the youngest of Gideon’s 70 sons was dismayed to discover that his brother Abimelek had been crowned king. When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.” (Judges 9:7) Jotham metaphorically uses trees to explain that the people of Shechem have made a poor decision. He believes they have revolted against his father’s family and warns them that if they have acted dishonourably, God will punish them. As we see later in the chapter, God stirred up animosity between the king and the people. King Abimelek, in an attempt to regain his favour by force, ends up being killed by a woman.
An argument between the Jews and Samaritans about the true location of God’s chosen holy place has been going on since the 5thcentury BC. The Babylonian exile had ended and the Persian Period begun, during which the Samaritans built a temple upon Mount Gerizim. A Jewish High Priest later destroyed the temple: either John Hyrcanus or Simeon the Just. Nonetheless, the Samaritans continued to worship on the mountain.
Later, the Christian Roman Empire banned the Samaritans from worshipping on Mount Gerizim and built a church on the summit in 475 AD. Emperor Justinian I made Samaritanism illegal, which led Julianus ben Sabar, a messianic leader, to lead a pro-Samaritan revolt, capturing the majority of Samaria and destroying churches. Unfortunately, Justinian’s armies eventually got the upper hand and the surviving Samaritans were either exiled or enslaved.
Ruins of Justinian’s church can still be seen at the top of Mount Gerizim. Archaeologists believe the architects used portions of the old Samaritan temple for the foundations of the structure. Today there is neither a church nor a Samaritan temple on the mountain; however, Samaritans are safe to worship there.
Just for fun, here are some of the major differences between Jews and Samaritans:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon