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October 6, 2013October 6, 2013  0 comments  History

Over the last few years Taybeh has received generous support from international donors that have helped transform this once tired and collapsing village in to a well preserved and easily accessible tourist destination for pilgrims and other tourists seeking to acquaint themselves with the area's biblical history, unique landscapes and cultures.

During a glorious sunset, I am now able to walk down the village roads recently beautified and which now provide excellent access to Taybeh. The major street that leads directly into Taybeh from road 60 has been repaired and now provides good access to the village, situated only about a 5 minute drive from the major north south roadway in the Samarian region of the Palestinian Territories, and approximately 30 minutes from Jerusalem. Jericho, is but an easy 15 minute drive away.

But actually, if there is someone that is truly responsible for putting Taybeh on the spiritual map for every Christian it is Jesus Christ. After raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus Christ came to Taybeh, which was known as Biblical Ephraim, to escape the crowds.

"Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went thence unto a country near the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim..." (John 11:54).

Thus, Taybeh became famous for receiving Jesus and the village received its new name in the 12the century when Saladin called the local Christians "Taybeen," meaning "good" or "pleasant." The village of 2000 residents continues to be a peaceful Christian community and retains the reputation of being the only all-Christian village in the West Bank. The village welcomes visitors seeking to tour the ancient Byzantine ruins, meet with local Christians, enjoy a wonderful local meal and, of course, to tour and taste the boutique Taybeh Beer, the famous Palestinian beer that has been produced in Taybeh since 1995.

Despite its somewhat tumultuous history where Taybeh found itself situated in the midst of battles waged by the different occupiers throughout its long history, Taybeh remains a welcoming and quiet location to escape from the nearby cities and is literally known as ‘the village of retreat'. The village is situated in the midst of the current political situation - there are illegal Israel settlements that can be seen in the distance and the Israeli government remains in control of the roads and natural resources of the area.

However, once you see the picturesque hills and valleys it is very easy to fall in love with Taybeh. There is an amazing peacefulness in this area of the West Bank also known as Biblical Judea. The village itself goes back 5,000 years even before the time of Christ. Thus it is truly one of the ancient places in Palestine with Jericho being the oldest having celebrated ten thousand years of civilization already.

Much is changing within this quiet village. Since 1995, our family, the Khourys, have been producing the only Palestinian beer made and the locally brewed beer comes in Golden, Dark, Amber and a Non-Alcohol labels and is widely known as "The Finest in the Middle East."

More recently, two small guest houses opened that can  house up to thirty people each. These include the well-known Taybeh Zamaan Park, a guest house run by the French Sisters, as well as the facilities of Beit Efram. Under construction is Taybeh's first hotel, the new Taybeh Golden Hotel, a theme hotel which will have eighty rooms when it is completed in the next few months. Peter Abu Shanab, a Jerusalem local, has poured his money, heart, soul and architectural skills into redeveloping a magnificent historical building in the Old City of Taybeh housing the offices of the Holylanders Association for the Preservation of Christian Heritage, a non-profit charitable association founded in Jerusalem in 2002. Part of the redevelopment includes the new Peter's Place restaurant, a fabulous dining and cultural spot situated in the Old City. The restaurants excellent food is enhanced by one of the most beautiful views of the surrounding landscape and reservations are a must. Adjacent to the restaurant is a small local museum showcasing a collection of household artifacts and other items dating back hundreds of years providing visitors with an insight into the history of the village and its people and culture. A new wine bar will be located within the hotel serving the boutique wine that the Khoury family recently began to produce locally, in addition to their famous beer. Thus, despite all conceptions of a village, Taybeh surely tried to gain world fame and favor especially through the Taybeh Oktoberfest which was meant to inspire people to visit and boost the economy by supporting local products. The annual festival occured for 7 years in Taybeh, through 2012,   however, this years Oktoberfest  held on October 5 and 6, 2013 is being held in Ramallah, at the Movenpick hotel grounds adjacent to the hotel.


Moving forward, future visitors will be able to view the new exhibit to be featured at Oktoberfest 2014, "Scripture Through the Lens of the Holy Land" that was initially developed in the USA for an educators conference by Carole Buleza showcasing photos from creation to the foundation of the Church.

Visit Taybeh and meet the living stones of today. See the Byzantine church and view the new cave chapel. Tour the Taybeh factory and taste the best beer in the Middle East. Take time to meet the friendly locals and learn about the modern life. Dine at Peters and make sure you stay to past sunset - when you are able to view one of the most special things about Taybeh- the night time sky. From here you can see the lights of Jerusalem at night, the lights of Amman, Jordan and the sparkle on the Dead Sea by a full moon. You'll be surprised at the beauty, the people and how it easy it is to visit.



If you go:

How to get to Taybeh

Driving from Jerusalem via Road 60. After about 15 minutes you will see a sign saying "Taybeh", turn right and follow the signs. 

Via public transportation take bus 18 from the Arab Bus station next to the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem to Ramallah and then  you'll need to  transfer into a shared taxi (service) to Taybeh.

Where to stay in Taybeh:

The village offers couple of options of accomodation:

  • Beit Efram Guest House , 16 rooms, call Fr. Aziz (02) 289 8020
  • Pilgrim's Hostel next to Latin Church, call sisters (02) 289 9364
  • Pension Al Khader, 6 rooms, (02) 289 9771 or 0599 676 747
  • Under construction -  Taybeh Golden Hotel

What to see in Taybeh

Cultural Museum by Peters Place - contact pashanab@yahoo.com

Where to eat in Taybeh:

Recommended restaurants are:

  • Taybeh Zamaan Park (Tel: 0599 774 092 or (02) 289 9411)
  • Peter's Place - www.hoshbutros.webs.com. Tel: 054 983 8349  or (02) 289 8054)

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Editor's Note: Dr. Maria C. Khoury is the author of Christina Goes to the Holy Land promoting a walk of the footsteps of Christ. She has volunteered in community services since 2000 especially with organizing Taybeh Oktoberfest for eight years while her husband David Khoury, served as mayor of Taybeh. View: www.saintgeorgetaybeh.org and www.taybehbeer.com


July 25, 2011July 25, 2011  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

NABLUS, West Bank - What happens when biblical history and modern turmoil collide?


Archaeologists in the tumultuous Palestinian Territories are digging up the ruins of Shekem, where Abraham once stopped, Jacob once camped -- and today litter is strewn.


The biblical ruin lies inside a Palestinian city in the West Bank, where modern researchers are writing the latest chapter in a 100-year-old excavation that has been interrupted by two world wars and numerous rounds of Mideast upheaval.


Working on an urban lot that long served residents of Nablus as an unofficial dump for garbage and old car parts, Dutch and Palestinian archaeologists are learning more about the ancient city of Shekhem -- and preparing to open the site to the public as an archaeological park next year.


The project, carried out under the auspices of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities, also aims to introduce the Palestinians of Nablus, who have been beset for much of the past decade by bloodshed and isolation, to the wealth of antiquities in the middle of their city.


"The local population has started very well to understand the value of the site, not only the historical value, but also the value for their own identity," said Gerrit van der Kooij of Leiden University in the Netherlands, who co-directs the dig team.


"The local people have to feel responsible for the archaeological heritage in their neighborhood," he said.


The digging season wrapped up this week at the site, known locally as Tel Balata.


The city of Shekhem, positioned in a pass between the mountains of Gerizim and Eibal and controlling the Askar Plains to the east, was an important regional center more than 3,500 years ago. As the existing remains show, it lay within fortifications of massive stones, was entered through monumental gates and centered on a temple with walls five yards (meters) thick.


The king of Shekhem, Labaya, is mentioned in the cuneiform tablets of the Pharaonic archive found at Tel al-Amarna in Egypt, which are dated to the 14th century B.C. The king had rebelled against Egyptian domination, and soldiers were dispatched north to subdue him. They failed.


The city also appears often in the biblical narrative. The patriarch Abraham, for example, was passing near Shekhem when God promised to give the land of Canaan to his descendants in the Book of Genesis. Later, Abraham's grandson Jacob was camped outside the walls when a local Canaanite prince raped his daughter, Dinah. Jacob's sons sacked the city in vengeance. The body of Jacob's son Joseph was brought from Egypt hundreds of years later by the fleeing Israelites and buried at Shekhem.


Two millennia ago, the Romans abandoned the original site and built a new city to the west, calling it Flavius Neapolis. The Greek name Neapolis, or "new city," later became enshrined in Arabic as Nablus. In Hebrew, the city is still called Shekhem.


Nablus has since spread, and ancient Shekhem is now surrounded by Palestinian homes and car garages near the city's eastern outskirts. One morning this week, a garbage container emitted smoke from burning refuse not far from the remains of the northwestern city gate in a curved wall built by skilled engineers around 1600 B.C.


A visitor can walk through the gate, passing through two chambers before emerging inside the city. From there it is a short walk to the remains of the city's temple, with a stone stele on an outdoor platform overlooking the houses below.


The identity of the city's ancient residents at the time remains unclear. One theory posits that they were Hyksos, people who came from northern Syria and were later expelled from Egypt. According to the Bible's account, the city was later Canaanite and still later ruled by Israelites, but archaeology has not corroborated that so far, van der Kooij said.


A German team began excavating at the site in 1913, with Nablus under the control of the Ottoman Turks. The dig was interrupted by World War I but resumed afterward, continuing sporadically into the 1930s under British rule. Much of the German documentation of the dig was lost in the Allied bombings of WWII.


American teams dug at the site in the 1950s and 1960s, under Jordanian rule. Israel conquered Nablus, along with the rest of the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war.


Over the years, the site fell into disrepair. The neglect was exacerbated after the first Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s, when Nablus became a center for resistance to Israeli control.


Its condition further deteriorated after the second, more violent, uprising erupted in 2000, drawing Israeli military incursions and the imposition of roadblocks and closures that all but cut the city off from the outside world. In recent years, with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority increasingly asserting security control over the cities of the West Bank, Israel has removed some roadblocks and movement has become more free.


Visitors to Nablus are still rare, but the improvements helped convince the archaeologists that the time had come to resume work.


The new excavations and the establishment of the archaeological park are a joint project of the Palestinian Tourism Ministry, the Dutch government and UNESCO. The project began last year and is scheduled to end with the opening of the park in 2012.


In Israel, archaeology, and especially biblical archaeology, has long been a hallowed national pursuit traditionally focused on uncovering the depth of Jewish roots in the land. For the Palestinians, whose Department of Antiquities was founded only 15 years ago, the dig demonstrates a growing interest in uncovering the ancient past.


The department now has 130 workers and carries out several dozen rescue excavations every year on the sites of planned building projects in areas administered by the Palestinian Authority, said Hamdan Taha, the department's director. Ten ongoing research excavations are being conducted with foreign cooperation.


All of the periods in local history, including that of the biblical Israelites, are part of Palestinian history, Taha said.


Digs like the one in Nablus, he said, "give Palestinians the opportunity to participate in writing or rewriting the history of Palestine from its primary sources."


This article was originally published by foxnews.com - you can read it here and the Associated Press



April 26, 2013April 26, 2013  0 comments  Historical Sites

Sabastiya, located in the northern West Bank, is a small Palestinian village with a charming old town consisting predominantly of Mamluk and Ottomoan style architecture. However, the complex history of the village traces its roots back thousands of years earlier, with significant archaeological remains in and surrounding the village.



Biblical Samaria


According to Biblical accounts, Omri (882-871 BC),  the sixth king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, bought the strategically located hill of Semeron. There he decided to build his new capital, which was transferred from Terzah. He named the city Samaria, after the hill’s previous owner, Shemron. (1 Kings 16:21-24)


Sabastiya Ottoman Building (Old Town of Sabastiya - Ottoman Building)


Ahab and Jeroboam II, the successors of Omri, strenghtened Samaria by surrounding it with a fortification. Ahab, who had a Phoenician wife, built a temple there to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:32), which was later destroyed by Jehu. (2 Kings 10:28)


The Northern Kingdom of Israel together with its capital, Samaria, faced destruction, as foretold by Prophet Micah: “I will make Samaria a pile of ruins in the open country, a place for planting grapevines.” (Micah 1:6) The Assyrians, after defeating King Hosea, captured the city in 721/2 B.C. As the result, the Israelites were exiled to Mesopotamia and the conquered land was populated with the Akkadians.


Garnison of Alexander the Great


In 331 BC, Samaria became Hellenistic village, after Alexander the Great brought thousands of his Macedonian soldiers to the town. Excavations revealed three round towers (13 m in diameter) and later-period massive fortifications with square towers, as well as plenty of artifacts dating to the period of Alexander the Great.


Hellenistic Tower at Sabastiya (Round Hellenistic Tower)


Sebaste of Herod


The Macedonian fortifications were destroyed by Maccabee King John Hyrcanus, who took the city in 108 BC. However, after the Roman conquest in 63 BC and the subsequent fall of the Hashmonean Kingdom, Roman governor Gabinus rebuilt Samaria around 55 BC. In 27 BC, Cesar Augustus awarded Samaria, among many other sites, to Herod the Great. Herod wanted to honor the Emperor, so he gave a new name to the city -  Sebaste, which in Greek means Augustus.


Roman Basilica Sabastiya (Ruins of the Roman Basilica)


Soon after Herod initiated construction of a great temple, which he also dedicated to Cesar. Renowned for his imposing monuments, Herod built there a theatre, stadium and many other public edifices at Sebaste.


However, most of the Herod’s buildings were later rebuilt in the 2nd century AD under the rule of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. Sebaste was also expanded and many new structures were constructed. Even today we can still view the ruins of the basilica and the forum colonnade from that earlier time period.


Early Christianity


Soon after the death and resurrection of Christ, Philip, who was one of the seven deacons, started to preach the Gospel in the principal city of Samaria - Sebaste. His mission was so successful that Peter and John soon joined him there. Many citizens of Sebaste were baptized and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8)


Tomb of John the Baptist


Tomb of John the Baptist Sabastiya (Inside the Tomb)


From the earliest days of the Christian faith, tradition held that the body of St. John the Baptist was entombed alongside prophets Abdias and Eliseus in the town of Sebaste. The earliest written account about the tomb was mentioned in the documents of priest Rufinus of Aquileila (378 – 397 AD). There he writes that the body of John the Baptist was removed from the tomb and burnt by pagans who were against Christians. It is said that, fortunately, the monks from the Jerusalem monastery of deacon Philip rescued some of the relics. The identified site of the tomb is located in the middle of present day Sabastiya.


Byzantine Church Sabastiya (Icon of St. John the Baptist inside the Church of the Head)


The site also contains ruins of a Byzantine church from the 5th century, said to be built over the traditional place of John’s beheading – Church of the Head (Kniset el-Ras). This belief,  however, contradicts, the writings of the ancient historian Josephus Flavius, who wrote that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas in Machaerus, located on the eastern side of the Jordan river.


The ruins of Kniset el-Ras are still visited - many pilgrims pray there while visiting Sabastiya. A small Christian cemetery can be seen at the side of the basilica.


Islam and Crusaders


In 634, Sabastiya peacefully surrendered to the Islamic army. 


Crusader Cathedral of John the Baptist – Mosque of Yahia (Crusader Cathedral of John the Baptist - Mosque of Yahia)


With the arrival of the Crusaders to the Holy Land, a splendid Cathedral of St. John was built at the site of John the Baptist’s tomb. In 1187, The church was however turned into a mosque by Saladin’s nephew Husam ed-Din Muhammad. Since then the mosque of Prophet Yahia (the name of John the Baptist according to the Quran) underwent multiple renovations and changes, but the Crusader structure is clearly visible.


Spring Season Festival in Sabastiya


So let’s come back to our question from the title: Was the body of John the Baptist buried in Sabastiya? Try to find the answer by visiting the place on your own!


The Spring Season Festival in Sabastiya begins on April 27, 2013 and the public is welcome to attend.


Roman Theatre Sabastiya (Roman Theatre)


Program of the Festival:


  • 10.00 am – Tour of the Sabastiya’s Old Town, starting in front of the mosque of Prophet Yahia
  • 12.00 am – Hospitality on the main square – coffee etc.
  • 2:45 pm – Tour in the archaeological area
  • 3.30 pm – 9:30pm – Cultural program at the site of the Roman theater: welcoming words of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Sebastia’s Municipality representatives; performance of a traditional Palestinian wedding; face painting; musical and folk performances.


Tours in English are possible as well. For more information contact Sabastiya Cultural Center at sab-youth-center@hotmail.com or call 09-2532545 or 0569789631.


If you go:


How to get there? Sabastiya is situated around 10 km north-west from Nablus on the road #60. If you are planning to travel by public transportation take bus #18 to Ramallah from the bus station situated in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. After reaching Ramallah, take a collective taxi (orange vans) to Nablus and from there take another collective taxi to Sabastiya. Traveling there on public transportation can be complicated and might take up to 2:30 hours.  The approximate cost for one way travel would be 30 NIS. For those interested in driving themselves, you can rent a rental car from one of the East Jerusalem car rental companies that is insured for travel in  the Palestinian Territories. Alternatively, one can travel there with a private tour guide as well, arranged through Travelujah.


Info: Sabastiya’s Information Centeris located within the Sabastiya Cultural Center project and can be contacted at sab-youth-center@hotmail.com or by calling on 09-2532545 or 0569789631.


Sabastiya Guest House (One of the guest house's rooms)


Accommodations: Sabastiya Guest House is a charming place situated in the center of the village. It offers two double and two single rooms. The rate for B&B per person per night is 120 NIS ($35 per person). To contact the guest house email cultural_centre2006@yahoo.com or call 09-2532545.


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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 


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