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.
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).
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."
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
de Tierra Santa - R. F. Sansur
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