Tag Archives: monastery

Nahal Prat or Wadi Qelt

Nahal Prat (nahal: נחל=stream bed) or Wadi Qelt (wadi: وادي‎=valley) flows from west to east across the northern Judean Desert, from near Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of 28 km, from 770 meters above sea level to where it flows into the Jordan River at 395 m below sea level. Hiking trails follow the stream bed, which has water all year around fed by three springs, En Prat, En Mabu’a and En Qelt. My blog post about Wadi Qelt and the St. George Monastery is one of my most popular so I want to tell you about another destination in the area, the Nahal Prat nature reserve. Take highway 1 from Jerusalem towards the Dead Sea and then a left onto road 437 towards Ramallah. Turn right to the Jewish settlement of Anatot (the Levite city mentioned in Jeremiah 1:1), now called Almon (from Joshua 21:18).

Tomb ibn Taymiyya

Ruins of the Jewish Iron age village, time of Kings is at the turning, with the 13th century Arab tomb of Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya (תָקִי אל-דין אבו אל-עבאס אחמד בן עבד אל-חלים בן עבד אל סָלאם בן תימיה אל-חָרַאנִי) on the hill. Drive through Almon to the entrance of the reserve and descend the winding road to a parking lot.

Ein Prat

I took these photographs of En Prat, the valley formed by the steep limestone cliffs and the pools within the reserve.

Fallen Rocks Ein Prat

The remnants of settlements, monasteries and palaces are scattered along the stream, as are signs of stream-based cultivation. A number of aqueducts were found along the stream, the earliest of which dates to the Hasmonean period, used to channel water to the winter palaces near Jericho. These channels continued to be used through the Roman, Byzantine and early Arab periods. This enabled the growing of fruit trees like fig, pomegranate, date and citrus.

Ruins of a later water-operated flour mill can be seen on the ascent to the Faran Monastery, originally founded by the monk Haritoun in the 3rd century, believed to be the first monastery in the Judean Desert. This area, in the desert and not far from the holy city of Jerusalem, with many natural caves, springs and abandoned Second Temple period fortresses, attracted monks seeking seclusion.

Today, for the same reasons, the area is a popular recreation site to hike, picnic and swim in the natural pools.

Pine Ein Prat

Tamat Pool

 

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Mosaics at Bet Qama

Israel Antiquities Authority reported on excavations it is carrying out prior to construction of the extension of highway 6 north of Beersheva.

Byzantine crossRemains of a settlement that extends across more than six dunams were uncovered in the excavation being conducted in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama. The site seems to have consisted of a large estate that included a tower, a church, residential buildings, presumably an inn for travelers, and storerooms, a large cistern, a public building and pools surrounded by farmland. Also found was a stone with a Byzantine cross in secondary usage. It seems to me that this would be a good candidate for a monastery. Bet Qama excavationThe public building was a large hall 12 meters long by 8.5 meters wide. A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks. The well-preserved mosaic consists of 3 square sections each surrounding a circle decorated with geometric patterns. One has amphorae (jars used to transport wine) in two opposite corners, one with a pair of peacocks, the other a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet.

North carpet

Middle carpet

South carpet

Pools and a system of channels and pipes between them used to convey water were discovered in front of the building. Steps were exposed in one of the pools (not a ritual bath, miqve, according to IAA) whose walls were covered with multiple layers of colored plaster (fresco) implying that whatever the pool was later used for, it continued for some time – no theory about what it might have been used for.

Pool w frescoArchaeologists in the Antiquities Authority are still trying to determine the purpose of the impressive public building and the pools whose construction required considerable economic resources. No destruction layer was found, the site was vacated in the Early Arab period.

In other excavations nearby, two Jewish settlements were found. At Horbat Rimon a synagogue and miqve were exposed. At Nahal Shoval the remains of two Jewish ritual baths and two public buildings were uncovered. Both of the public buildings feature raised platforms along the walls facing Jerusalem, a feature of Jewish synagogues of the period.

Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited

I received an email a few weeks ago from Kevin with the BBC in England that he gave me permission to share here.

Dear Shmuel,

I’m producing  a BBC radio series, presented by the British broadcaster John McCarthy. We have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to make a series of ten 15 minute programmes to follow in the footsteps of Edward Prince of Wales who toured much of the Middle East in 1862.  I’ve been looking at your blog, and saw your excellent entry Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land about his time in Israel.

As you know, he visited Egypt, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Greece. His journey and the sights along the way were recorded by the photographer Francis Bedford. This was the first time that a royal tour was captured by the still new medium of photography.

As you are clearly interested in this tour, I would very much like to discuss our recording with you, perhaps with a view to interviewing you as a part of the programme.  We will be intending to visit each of these sites, to take a new photograph to match the old one, and to discuss the changes over the intervening 150 years in each location.

Very best and thanks for your time.
Kevin

Here are another few Bedford photographs.

Tiberias-Sea-Galilee-Bedford

Tomb of Absalom

Mar-Saba-Kidron-Bedford

In reviewing the photographs taken by Bedford in Israel and talking with Kevin we decided to do Mar Saba, the monastery in the Judean desert.

Jeep tour

So we met up with Raanan, a great jeep driver, who took us off-road across the Judean desert to the overlook of the monastery in the Kidron valley. The desert is very green after the winter rains we had this year. We saw sheep, goats, donkeys and camels grazing on the plants and wildflowers. I took the opportunity to photograph some wildflowers (but that’s for another post).

Our challenge was to try to shoot a photograph that matched the one Bedford took 150 years ago. Bedford’s is a very interesting image because of the angle. Bedford had a good eye and chose to shoot the monastery complex cascading down the cliff, focussing on the channel of the Kidron stream between the two cliffs. Here is my image shot March 18, 2013 with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera and 18-200mm zoom lens (ISO 200 50 mm f/10 1/320) in black and white and color.

Mar-Saba-Kidron-B&W

Mar-Saba-Kidron-Browns

Euthemius, Judean Desert Monastery

The history of the third monastery of Euthemius, which bears his name, illustrates the history of Christian monasticism in the Judean desert. Young monks were drawn to the holy Euthemius and the monastery became the most important and central among the Byzantine monasteries in the 5th century CE.

Northern wall Euthemius

Euthemius came to the Holy Land as a pilgrim in 406 from Armenia and stayed at the laura of Faran, founded by the monk Chariton at Wadi Qelt. A laura is a cluster of caves or cells where monks live in seclusion and meditation. They gathered centrally once a week, generally on Sunday, for prayer. After five years, he and a fellow hermit, Theoktistus, moved to a cave on the cliffs of Nahal Og. With additional monks attracted to Euthemius, the site became the first coenobium in the Judean desert. A coenobium is a communal monastery where the monks live together with a strict daily schedule of work and prayer, a walled complex that consists of living quarters, refectory and church.

Inside Euthemius monasteryTo continue in solitude, Euthemius and a fellow hermit, left the monastery and moved to the ruins of Masada. In 428 CE he returned to the monastery of Theoktistus but preferring solitude went to live in a cave to the west of the monastery off the main Jericho-Jerusalem road. When other monks joined him, it grew into a laura. In 475, after a full life, Euthemius died at the age of 97.  After his death, the laura became a coenobium and a crypt was built in the center of the monastery around the same cave where the monastery had begun and his bones re-interred there. Pilgrims came to visit the monastery to pay their respects to Euthemius and a tradition arose to pour wine down a chute to the crypt which poured over his bones – the wine was collected as a keepsake.

By the end of the fifth century many important monasteries were established, including Mar Saba, Martyrius, Gerasimus and St. George – all of which can be visited on a tour of monasteries in the northern Judean desert, also called the desert of Jerusalem because of its proximity to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Unlike most Christian sites, the monastery was not damaged by the Islamic conquest of 638. However, it was severely damaged in the 659 earthquake – the ruins of the church that we see today are from after the earthquake, the mosaic floor is from the Byzantine period.

Mosaic floorThe monasteries in the Judean desert were frequently attacked during the Islamic period and in 809 the monastery was plundered and destroyed in the 12th century. The main arched gate on the northern wall and the eastern wall and the opus sectile floor in the church are from the Crusader period.

Crusader opus sectileThe other important aspect of the Judean desert monasteries are their water systems, for little rainfall falls in the region and water had to be accumulated or it would be impossible to live there. Four tremendous cisterns were discovered in the monastery. You can enter the largest one (12 meters by 18 meters and 12 meters deep that would hold 3000 cubic meters) which is outside the eastern wall. Channels bring water from runoff to a collecting pool and then to the covered cistern.

Large cistern Euthemius

Samaria-Sebaste

After leaving the archaeological park on Mount Gerizim I went looking for the ancient city of Samaria-Sebaste. Samaria was the site purchased by Omri for two talents of silver from Shemer and made the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Kings I 16:24-28). Omri’s son Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and they built a temple to the pagan god Baal which was later destroyed by Jehu, who had Jezebel and 70 princes of Ahab’s family killed. Sebaste, was the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augusta, was Herod’s name for the city when the area was given to him by the Emperor Augustus. Herod rebuilt the city, in full Roman style, a kilometer long cardo of 600 columns, a forum, a Roman basilica, stadium, temple, hippodrome and theater surrounded by a wall and gates.

I picked up 2 trampistim (hitchhikers) who were on their way to Shavei Shomron who pointed me in the right direction to Samaria-Sebaste. The road loops around the settlement, a tall concrete separation wall on the left and then heads north. I stopped for directions at an impromptu stand by the side of the road where a Palestinian fellow was selling two kinds of plums, yellow and purple ones – he gave me 2 to taste and pointed to a dirt road on the right heading up the hill. The road is passable by car, just. A short drive and I was on a straight road through a grove of olive trees with two rows of Roman columns, standing along the road and in a row among the trees (cardo).

Continuing along the road I passed some excavated ruins and noticed a set of stairs to the left going up the hill (acropolis) as I approached the town. Left turn and I pulled into an open area (forum) bordered by rows of columns and parked the car.

A fellow stepped out of the Samaria restaurant and souvenir shop and greeted me. Sari, who had lived in Alabama for a number of years, there are decals of Alabama sports teams on the window, introduced himself and offered to show me around. First stop was the Hellenistic tower and Roman theater.

From there we walked to the top of the hill, the acropolis where Herod built a temple to Augustus over the administrative buildings and parts of the palace of Omri from the 8th century BCE.

There is a great view of the surrounding area and specifically the Roman cardo below.

The monumental steps leading to the temple were redone with the rebuilding of the temple during the reign of Septimus Severus (193-211CE).

From there we walked to the ruins of a small 7th century Byzantine church with Crusader additions where according to one tradition the head of John the Baptist was kept. It’s then a short walk back to the square. In walking through the forum I noticed a section of a fine marble lintel with egg and dart carving.

A great day trip that I would be happy to guide – the ruins at Mount Gerizim and Samaria-Sebaste. To fill out the day, you can cross Samaria to the Jordan valley and add some of these sites: the mosaic zodiac at Bet Alfa synagogue, the archaeological site at Bet Shean, the Crusader fortress at Belvoir, the monastery in Wadi Qelt, the mosaic museum at the Inn of the Good Samaritan depending on your interests.

Mar Saba, a Judean Desert Monastery

Jerusalem sits on the edge of the Judean desert which make exploring this area a great day trip. It’s a fun adventure to take a jeep and drive off road where all you see is a barren landscape and suddenly bump into camels or have a a cluster of buildings come into view over the hill. It’s also a great place for a photo shoot.

  

Christian monks came to the quiet of the Judean desert in the early 4th century identifying with Moses, Elijah, Jesus and others who spent time here. Mar Saba, who lived at Euthymius for 12 years before receiving permission to live alone in the desert, found the spring and caves in the Kidron valley. Some 15 years later, in 483CE he built a laura, a cluster of caves for hermits around the monastery, that bears his name to this day.

This is the largest monastery complex in the Judean desert, multiple buildings enclosed by a wall and tower for protection. He directed it for 50 years. At its peak it accommodated hundreds of monks, today there are about 20 monks who live there. Women are not allowed inside the monastery, the closest they can get is to view the complex from the Women’s Tower; interesting that meat and apples are also prohibited.

As a guide, I can take you to experience the desert and discover that isolated monastery in the Kidron valley.

For more information about Mar Saba, including photographs inside the compound see the entry at the excellent BibleWalks site http://www.biblewalks.com/sites/MarSaba.html

It’s worth combining a visit with other sites in the area, the monastery of St. George tucked into the cliff in Wadi Qelt, the monastery of Euthymius and Martyrius, in the midst of an Industrial park and housing project respectively, museum of mosaics at the Inn of the Good Samaritan and Qasr el Yahud, the site on the Jordan River where according to tradition John baptized Jesus.

Khirbet Hanut Mosaic Vandalized

When you hire me as your guide I can take you places and show you things you probably won’t find on your own. Out of Jerusalem along highway 375 is the shell of a small stone building with a sand floor.

The site is from the Byzantine period, the ruins of a monastery with a mosaic floor including an inscription in Greek dated to 563CE. All you have to do is sweep aside the sand (put there to protect the mosaic).

Image

Unfortunately, because the location is accessible somebody took advantage of this and two days ago destroyed the mosaic. According to the report in YNet Israel Antiquities Authority staff collected 23 bags full of the scattered stone cubes (tesserae) from the mosaic. I had even driven by the site on two different days last week on my way to photograph a field covered with thousands of red poppies and had thought to stop and take photographs but didn’t.

These photographs are from a few years ago and I post them here so that you can see what was destroyed. It is terrible when something like this happens.

Khirbet Hanut is not far from Khirbet Midras where the stunning mosaics uncovered in a Byzantine church were vandalized just over a year ago. I posted photographs of those mosaics in my article Khirbet Midras Mosaics.