Tag Archives: Jericho

A Glimpse of the Tomb of Moses

Driving from Jerusalem to Jericho or the Dead Sea there is a road sign with the words “Nebi Musa”, the prophet Moses. As the landscape flashes by outside your window you may be able to make out a low stone building with white domes that appears fleetingly between the hills. To explore further, take the exit and follow the curving road past a Muslim cemetery on the slope in the desert, an interesting location to photograph in black and white or color.

Nebi musa

Nebi Musa cemetery B&W

Nebi Musa cemetery 2 B&W

From this point you can look across the Jordan Valley and see Mount Nebo where according to the last chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended the mountain to view the land of Israel, that he would never enter. According to Jewish tradition Moses died and was buried in an unknown valley in Moab; according to Christian tradition and some Muslim traditions, Moses was buried on the mountain. 

The Nebi Musa site off the Jerusalem-Jericho road goes back to 1269 when the Mamluk sultan Baybars built a small shrine setting a precedent for others. Over the late medieval period (between 1470 and 1480), accommodation for travelers was added next to the shrine. Gradually, the lookout point for Moses’ distant gravesite beyond the Jordan was confused with Moses’ tomb itself, laying the groundwork for the cultic importance of Nebi Musa to Muslims. Around 1820 the Ottoman Turks restored the buildings which had over the previous centuries fallen into a state of dilapidated disrepair.

The Turks promoted a festive pilgrimage to the shrine that goes back to the time of Saladin that coincides on the calendar with the Christian celebration of Easter. This ‘invention of tradition’, as such imaginative constructs are called, made the pageantry of the Nebi Musa pilgrimage a potent symbol of religious as well as political and national identity among Muslims from the outset of the modern period.

Nebi Musa 2

Nebi Musa Judean desert

Nebi Musa

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Wadi Qelt by Jericho

As you drive from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea you pass close by Wadi Qelt at various points. To access it you can go to the nature reserve below Anatot, St. George Monastery or Herod’s Third Palace at Jericho. The palace was built on both sides of Wadi Qelt which during the winter rains flooded and made the palace appear to be floating on the water. Although Jericho is in AREA A, under the control of the Palestinian Authority and out-of-bounds to most Israelis by Israeli law as a tour guide licensed by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism I am authorized to guide there.

This photo was taken of Wadi Qelt from near the archaeological remains of the palace, looking east as it flows to the Dead Sea. The technical details, shot with a Nikon DSLR camera, ISO 1000, 18mm, F13 at 1/1250 sec.

Aside: I’ve also just published my latest blog post on Times of Israel. Check it out at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/visit-palestine-with-a-guide/ and please share with your friends.

Wadi Qelt below Herod's 3rd palace

 

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Photographs on this website are © Shmuel Browns (unless marked otherwise) – if you are interested in purchasing one of my photos or using one of my photos for your own project please contact me.

Sodom Apple

If you do a tour with me in the area of the Judean desert I can show you an interesting flowering plant called the Sodom Apple (Calotropis procera).

Sodom Apple flowers

The plant occurs throughout the tropical belt and is native to North Africa, Western and South Asia, and as far as Indochina and the West Indies.

Sodom AppleThe Jewish Roman  historian describes the plant “which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes.” The “apple”, a green soft globe, is filled mostly with air and some fine fibers and seeds. The plant is also mentioned in the Mishna but though the fibers can be used as wicks, they are not permissible for use on the Sabbath. The flesh contains a toxic milky sap that is extremely bitter and contains a complex mix of chemicals, some of which are steroidal heart poisons known as “cardiac aglycones”.

 

Hisham’s Palace in Jericho

The Umayyads ruled from Damascus but built a number of palace complexes in this area – we have found ruins of their palaces in Jerusalem, at the southern corner of the Western wall and at Khirbet al-Minya, on the Sea of Galilee beside Karei Deshe.

Palace entrance

One of the most impressive sites from the Umayyad period (661-750) is the ruins of Khirbet al-Mafjar (meaning flowing water ruins), popularly known as Hisham’s palace just outside Jericho and I am now authorized to guide tourists there.

Hisham's name on marble, from Hamilton

Hisham’s name on marble, from Hamilton

The palace is identified with Hisham ibn abd el-Malik (ruled 723-743) because of an inscription containing his name, in ink on a marble slab, found at the site by Dmitry Baramki who excavated there under the British between 1934 and 1948. Based on the artwork that decorated the palace, Robert Hamilton, Director of Antiquities under the British, argued that the palace was a residence of al-Walid b. al-Yazid (ruled 743-744), a nephew of Hisham who was famous for his extravagant lifestyle which probably led to his assassination.  Al-Walid II was a hunter, poet and musician, something of a playboy who loved the good life.

Khirbet al-Mafjar planThe site is thought to have been destroyed by the severe earthquake of 749 CE before it was completed, but an analysis of Baramki’s detailed reports of the ceramic record indicates that the occupation continued through the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods, with a significant phase of occupation between 900–1000.

In walking around the site you will get to view the ruins of the palace, the bath complex, a pavilion and mosque enclosed by a wall; more recently, excavations to the north have uncovered an agricultural estate. The excavations uncovered fine mosaics and elaborate stucco figures, as well as stone sculpture and frescoes. The carved stucco is of exceptional quality in geometric and vegetal patterns; in the bath complex there are even male and female figures, their upper bodies naked.

Pavilion Facade

Caliph on Lions

A statue depicting a male standing figure with a sword on two lions, very likely the caliph patron himself, stood in a niche above the entrance to the bath hall.

The floors are decorated with incredible mosaics but unfortunately, besides the well-known Tree of Life mosaic in the bahw or special reception room in the bath complex, most are currently covered. This floor mosaic consists of a fruit tree (apple, lemon or quince) under which on the left are two gazelles grazing and on the right a lion pouncing on a gazelle. Given that the mosaic is in the bahw the image is more than just a popular hunting scene¹. Here the lion represents the ruling Caliph and the gazelles the subjects, living in peace or being subdued.

Tree of Life mosaic

There is little to see of the plaster sculptures and stucco as they were removed from the site during the British period and are on display in one hall at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

Sculpted ceiling plaster

Entrance

In the back corner of the courtyard are some Umayyad architectural details, part of a sculpted arch with its original paint and an example of a merlon, a step-shaped stone that sits on the top of a wall.

Umayyad

As your guide I can help you create an itinerary that matches your interests and ensures that not only do you get to visit archaeological sites which enable you to understand the context but museums that display and explain the artifacts discovered at the site so that you get the most out of your visit.


Reference
Behrens-Abouseif, Doris, The Lion-Gazelle Mosaic at Khirbat al-Mafjar, 1997.

Lion & Gazelles

¹ Interestingly, I saw a similar motif in mosaic from a Byzantine church on display at the Israel Museum.

Lion killing ox

Grazing

Israel Roundup

Rockefeller Museum

Although few visit, the historic Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem is definitely worth a visit. A blend of western and local eastern architecture, combining historic architecture with modern innovations, the museum was built in 1938, during the Mandate period by the British architect St. Barbe Harrison.

Rockefeller courtyard

Ohanessian tile workIn the main hall is a model of the museum – exit to the courtyard to see the pool, the Armenian mosaics by Ohanessian and the 10 iconic stone reliefs sculpted by Eric Gill representing the major civilizations that left an imprint on this region. Many of the exhibits in the museum are a little dated, walnut wood framed glass cases with dozen of artifacts each, labelling is just a number which you have to cross-reference with a mimeographed book that you can ask for at security. But they have some important pieces: Greekthe Crusader marble sculpted panels from the lintels of the entranceway to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Roman sarcophagi, Umayyad architectural details with their original paint, Crusader capital with goblin from Church of Annunciation, mosaic from an early synagogue, like the one in Jericho also called Peace unto Israel, found in the Druze village of Usifiya.

Having visited the actual site of Hisham’s palace in Jericho and been Romandisappointed at how few of the mosaics and artifacts are on display it was heartening to see the impressive exhibit of sculpture and stucco from Hisham’s palace safe at the museum.

An incredible piece in the courtyard is a Roman wash basin from the 1st century that was found in the Crusader fortress at Montfort – striking how similar it is to the basin that Emperor Augustus sent with Marcus Agrippa as a present for King Herod on display at the Israel museum exhibit on Herod (viewable at https://israel-tourguide.info/2013/02/14/herod-design-realpolitik/).

Wash basin Montfort

There is a very interesting article about architects St. Barbe Harrison and Erich Mendelssohn and their contributions to beautifying Jerusalem. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Jerusalem-the-beautiful-312517

BBC has an article about the Hula painted frog at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22770959

A species of frog that was recently rediscovered after being declared extinct in 1966 has been reclassified as a “living fossil”.

Israel’s Hula painted frog had not been seen for nearly 60 years, but in 2011 one was found lurking in a patch of swampy undergrowth. Tests have revealed that the frog belongs to a group of amphibians that died out 15,000 years ago.

 

BBC interviewed me for their series, In the Prince’s Footsteps and asked me to take them to the Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert. We talked about photographer Francis Bedford’s 1862 photograph of the monastery on his travels with Edward, Prince of Wales to the Holy Land. You can read my blog post at Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited.

You can hear the interview by clicking on the red button.

I am Gabriel A unique 87 line Hebrew inscription, ink on stone, from the beginning of the Roman period, I am Gabriel, is on display at the Israel museum. Its content is prophetic-apocalyptic, its style literary-religious, and its language reminiscent of the later books of the Prophets. Accompanying it are rare ancient manuscripts, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an. The exhibition traces the changing roles of the angel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions.

While thinking about the Israel museum plan to spend a day with Herod the Great, legendary builder and King of Judea. Combines an in-depth guided tour of Herodium, Herod’s palace complex in the desert and the site of his tomb with the monumental exhibit “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey”.  https://israel-tourguide.info/herod-the-great-tour/

Jerusalem Botanic Garden is open for free on Fridays & Saturdays in the month of June 2013 for residents of Jerusalem with presentation of your teudat zehut. This is a great opportunity to wander around the garden and discover the lovely, shaded areas of green that are one of the best kept secrets of the City.  http://en.botanic.co.il/Pages/Show/7