This article was written by the late poet, scholar and author Mr. Hanna Jaser of Taybeh. Many remember Hanna Jaser from the poetry he wrote and recited at the first annual convention in Detroit. In this essay, Hanna Jaser tells of the rich history of our village Taybeh.


Aphram, Ephrem, Ephrom, three names with slight morphological alterations to indicate the same town, the present day Taybeh, one of the most mystical Canaanite cities Ariha (Jericho), Ur Salem (Jerusalem), Ram Own (Ramoon), Bet Il (Bethel), whose history dated back to eight thousand years before Christ, when it had been founded and named so by the peninsular Arab clan of Canaan, who emigrated towards that country at such a remote time.

This name Aphram had suffered some phonetic deformation during the Joshue tribe invasion (about 1 BC). The name of the city became Ophra (Bible: Jos. 18,23); nevertheless, some decades afterward, the original name Aphram was recovered by its native people until the arrival of the great Saladin who gave it the name of Taybeh (1187 AD).

During his battles against Crusaders, Saladin camped in Tall Al Assur, a high point that dominated the region. Many delegations travelled to greet him, including some Aphram inhabitants. When the leader asked about the village from where this delegation came, one of his soldiers apparently said, "They are from afra", a word badly pronounced which, in Arabic, implies "full of dust." Saladin was really affected by the goodness of these Aphram men as well as by the beauty of their faces. He ordered, then, to change their hometown name, instead of Afra to Taybeh-al-ism which means "Beautiful of name."
 

Taybeh-Aphram is located 35 km northeast of Jerusalem, at a height of 869 m. on a rocky hill dominating the desert depression of Jordan River and the mirror of the Dead Sea. Jesus, after Lazarus' clamorous resurrection, retired with his disciples to this town. John says, "Since that day on, they (the Pharisees) made the decision to kill him. Jesus did not walk in public among the Jews anymore. He went away to a region near the desert, to a city called Aphram, and it was there that he and his disciples dwelt" (H, 53-56). This happened during the first days of Nissan in the year 30. It was at that time, the retirement of Jesus in a rocky desertic hill situated 8 km from Taybeh towards the Jordan, so as to fortify his spirit, pray and fast, and expose himself to temptation. That is why this rocky hill is known as the name (Qruntul), from the Latin root "Quarenta" (forty), allusively at the forty days of Jesus fasting. Certainly we know, according to the Evangelist relates that Taybeh-Aphram is the isolated place where Jesus found the diaphanous quietness to prepare himself and his disciples for the great sacrifice.

In the fifth century, a church was built in the eastern part of the town, probably in memory of the Master's passing. Today, this church is known as St. George's Church. In the 12th century, the Crusaders built another church affixed to the first one. In 1185, Balduinus IV, King of Jerusalem, gave Boniface de Monteferrat the castle of St. Elias, placed in the higher part of the city.

St. George's Church is the most interesting one in Taybeh. Built in the Byzantine period, it consists of a nave and two side chapels, preceded by a beautiful flight of stairs. The church is 29 m wide by 25 m long.

This church is venerated by the Christian people of Taybeh. They come to it to fulfill their vows by sacrificing a lamb at its doorsteps, a tradition recollected by all visitors, either old or modern. In other towns in the Holy Land, the sacrificed lamb is divided into three shares, one to the poor, another to the priest, and the third one to the person who made the offering; however, the Christians of Taybeh do not divide the sacrificed animal. They give it entirely to the poor. Are these the vestiges of old Canaanite worships still blooming on the religion?

We have to remember passionately that this church, St. George (Mar Jiryes), is named in allusion to one of the most universally devout saints, born in the Palestinian city of Ramleh-Lod; but the general name of St. George (Mar Jiryes), in Palestine as in all the Christian and Muslim Arab world, is "El Khader" (The Green). In Taybeh they say: El Khadar. This nomination is attributed to the green mantle that Armenian-Canaanite people were obliged to use in all historic Syria by the Roman Empire so as to be distinguished as plebeian, common people. Leading the Arab armies who liberated that country from Roman domination, Khaled Ibnul Walid conquerered Damascus dressed with green mantle so as to be identified with the Armenian cause against the Romans. From that symbol spouts the name: "Khadar" (the green savior) in relation with the liberty condition of (Mar Jiryes) who saved the Virgin Mary from the evil dragon. In dangerous moments, Taybeh people call out: "Ya Khadar!" (Oh Green Savior).


Charles de Foucauld in Taybeh

Charles de Foucauld, an explorer and French hermit, born in Straesburg (1853-1916) had a hectic life that features a prolonged chapter, rich in spirituality, in the country of Jesus. Having arrived in 1888 as a simple pilgrim, Charles passed Taybeh in January of 1889. But it was only in 1897 that he came back to the Holy Land to relive the mysteries of our redemption. He walked to all the evangelical places like a poor pilgrim. He lived in the Franciscan Clarisses' Monastery, in Nazareth, to practice "Nazareth's life," hidden and humble.

In 1898, he accepted Jerusalem Clarisses' hospitality, and during this period of his life he decided to visit Taybeh-Aphram again. A result of his staying in the evangelical place is the "Eight Days in Aphram, retreat of 1898, from Monday after IV Lent Sunday, (March 14th) through Monday, after IV Lent Sunday (March 21st)." There were 45 pages taken from his "Spiritual Writings", suggested by the evangelical place.

Charles de Foucauld's retreat in Taybeh-Aphram has induced his disciples and followers to come to this place to become immerse, during some days, within a climate of evangelical spirituality.


Two Monasteries in Taybeh

The mystical surroundings of Taybeh Aphram are an ideal place to practice a contemplative life. Here, in the Byzantine period, there existed a flourishing and prosperous civilization.

Three kilometers away from Taybeh to the south, in the middle of a rustic environment, there are the ruins of a small monastery, crowding the top of a naked mountain. This place is known as Dar Hayye, or the Snake's Home. Its buildings have been completely destroyed over the years, and its stones have been used as a quarry. At present, only the basis of the monastic buildings remains, which form a rectangle of some 40 meters from the north to the south, by 20 meters from east to west. It would be impossible, without excavations, to know the purpose of each building.

From the monastery, the view of the landscape is magnificent. To the north, on a hill, is the evangelical city of Taybeh. To the east, the biblical town of Rhammus and, to the south in the background, you can see the Olivete Mont. with its towers dominating Jerusalem.

Some 4 miles to the east of Taybeh, in the middle of a rocky terrain, the ruins of a second monastery can be found. These ruins are known by the people of Taybeh by the name of Chilia - Kilia, according to The Survey of Western Palestine, vol 2, p 395 - alteration to the Green term kilia, cell.

The monastery consists of a funeral chapel and the different outbuildings necessary for the communal life. The whole monastery is built of ashlar. There are also four banisters, which hint at the former existence of a chapel.

The monastic building stretches 165 feet from east to west, and 132 feet from north to south. Near the monastic complex, there is a vast stoned enclosure.

There is a relatively recent towering building, although it has been constructed of stones from the Byzantine period. One can see crosses and graphics engraved on some of these stones by a rectangle. In Syria, this type of graphic is related to the reclusive life. Was there also living here a reclusive monk?

The least one can say that this monastery, isolated and in the middle of a rustic environment, is an ideal place to devote oneself to the contemplative life. From here, one overlooks the Judah desert, furrowed by deep gorges that lead to the Jordan depression.


Hanna Jaser
Investigator
Acalapi Project
Unesco

Bibliography

  • Christianos de Tierra Santa - R. F. Sansur
  • Salvat Dictionary
  • Proper Investigation
  • Crusaders History

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