Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
46. Ephron also Ephraia, where went the Lord - (al-Tayyibah)
A locality in the northern part of the territory of the tribe of Benjamin near Beth-El (Josh. 18:23). Ophrah was one of the places attacked by Philistine "spoilers" shortly before the battle of Michmas (I Sam. 13:17). Abijah of Judah captured it together with Beth-El (II Chron. 13:19 as Ephrain). It was the capital of a district ceded by Samaria to Judea in 145 B.C.E., when it was called Aphaerema (I Macc. 11:34).
It appears as Ephraim in the New Testament (John 11:54) and as Ephron in Eusebius (Onom. 28:4; 90:19) and on the Madaba Map. Ophrah is identified with al-Tayyiba, 4 mi. (6.4 km.) northeast of Beth-El.
Michael Avi-Yonah, Encyclopaedia Judaica, ad v. "Ophrah"
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 50)
Ephron which is Ephraia where the Lord walked Gospel of John 11:54; Eus.On. 90:18f. and 28:4f.; Fl. Josephus, Jewish War IV:9:9 (§ 551). The site is identical with at-Tayyiba (coord. 178-151), about 5 km northeast of Betin. The Aramaic form Ephraia is used by St. Jerome in his translation of Eus.On. 86:1f. (87:1f.).
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
Tayyibe, City of Refuge of Our Lord
Unlike other villages,Tayyibe can boast of a gospel association and a Christian continuity from the beginning to our day. Its history is known partly through the presence of visible ruins and partly through the scholars who began to concern themselves with the site in the nineteenth century. Being off the beaten paths, the village was not visited by pilgrims but lived obscurely down the centuries, keeping fast to its Christian character.
The Gospel Association. Old commentaries on the Gospel of St. John, for example, Maldonato's, offer no identification for Ephraim of the Gospel. In Jn 11,54 we read: 'Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.' It was the time when Jesus was being sought out; shortly afterwards he was to undergo his Passion. As Father Benoit writes (TS 1957,110): 'There he would find the peace of mind to prepare himself for his great sacrifice.' On the basis of clues found in Eusebius' Onomasticon, Ephraim has been identified since the nineteenth century with the village of Tayyibe. Some authors have attempted to cast doubt on this identification, choosing to place Ephraim elsewhere, for example, at es-Samiyye; but, as Father Benoit himself writes, 'the reasons given have little weight. On the contrary, the Byzantine tradition, attested to by Eusebius in his Onomasticon, fits in perfectly with the et-Tayyibe site, when one admits that the distances Eusebius gives (5 miles from Bethel and 20 from Jerusalem) are taken on the Roman road which was longer than the direct route. Moreover, this tradition is confirmed by the famous mosaic map of Madaba which indicates this village with the caption: 'Ephron or Ephraia, where the Lord came' (TS 1957, 109).
In the ninth century a famous exegete named Isho'dad, bishop of Hadatha in Assyria, wrote commentaries on the four Gospels. Speaking of Ephraim of St. John's Gospel, he notes: 'It is still a large town 5 stages east of Bethel" (I, 255, M.D. Gibson ed., Cambridge 1911 [Horae Semiticae V]; cf. F. Nau, ROC 16 , 435). The location east of Bethel corresponds very well to Tayyibe, so that it can be assumed that this was the place he meant, although a distance of 5 stages seems a bit too much and the adjective 'large' a little exaggerated for this place. Perhaps. the writer spoke from hearsay.
The Location. The village is at the edge of the wilderness that separates the cultivated area of Bethel and its surroundings from the plain of Jericho. This is why it was chosen by the Lord as a peaceful haven. A road that went through the village joined the two towns since ancient times. Several milestones were discovered near Tayyibe: one of them bears a mutilated inscription in which Father Germer-Durand suggested to restore the name of Marcus Iunius Maximus, legatus of the Tenth Legion Fretensis under Septimius Severus and Caracalla (J. Germer-Durand, RB 4 , 68-69; CIL III, no. 13597, cf. no. 6641, and PIR IV, 3, 340, no. 775).
In the fourth century St. Epiphanius (Haer. 30, 9, PG 41, 421) recounts an incident which took place while he was travelling along this road accompanied by a Jew. The saint spoke to him of Christ and the latter did not object. The Jew's behaviour greatly surprised the saint who was accustomed to the rebuttals of the Jews; and he asked the reason. The man answered that he believed in Christ because once when he ill and on the point of death, he had heard a whisper in his ear saying that Jesus Christ, the son of God, was going to judge him. For love of Christ the Jew had accompanied Epiphanius in his journey along this desert route, today conveniently paved.
The mosaic map of Madaba, in indicating Ephraim, does not feature any building as it does for the other places, perhaps in order to give a better idea of the wilderness.
The Village. It is situated on a hill with the ruin of a castle on the top and the houses spread on the southern slope and thus comfortably set in the sunlight. There are two churches: one to the west run by the Greek Orthodox; one to the east served by Latin Catholics. The village has spread to a hillside east of the former, and there can be seen the ruins of the church called el-Khader with the village graveyard, and further down, the church of the Greek Catholics which is of more recent foundation than the others. The village is still all Christian because the Moslems have founded another one to the north, maintaining the separation from time immemorial.
Many antiquities attesting to centuries of life in the village exist in the two hills but no systematical excavation haever be carried outs . The hillside is dotted with many rocl-cut cisterns and silos which, as Guérin noted (Judée, III, 45), are of such age as 'to demonstrate the ancient importance of this site.' The castle is surrounded by houses and therefore it cannote easily be investigated. A spur of wall made of stones with bosses and a rampart [the moat] can still be seen. The name popularly given to it is St. Elias' Castle. It was donated by Boniface of Montserrat to King Baldovin.
Plan of the Sanctuary of el-Khader at Tayyibah,
done by A. Schneider
The Sanctuary of el-Khader. This ruined church attracted the explorers' attention from remotest times. Guérin (Judée III, 46) describes it and the authors of SWP (II, 324-326) provided also a rough sketch. A. Schneider (OC 6 , 15-22) attempted to identify different building phases in a detailed sketch which we reproduce (Fig. 8). Actually, ancient elements are too changed to enable us to have an exact idea of their development. Anyway, a large complex (28x25 m) seems to stand out, with three halls preceded by a beautiful stairway on the west side, belonging to the Byzantine period. The ratio of length and width seems uncommon for a three-nave church; moreover, the central nave has a trichoros plan (i.e. an apsidal transept). For this reason it would be better to think of it as a trichoros church flanked by two chapels. In the ground plan the walls identified as Byzantine are marked in black. The walls marked with diagonal hatching are regarded as medieval. The south nave seems to have become the liturgical church, with the presbytery separated from the prayer hall by chancels, and the central nave functioned as a sanctuary. A stone reliquary with openings on top and on one side was found in the basilica area; and a monolithic baptismal font was set in the south aisle near the apse: it is no longer in use today but is in a good state of preservation. Schneider gives its plan and section with measurements: its width is 106 cm, its inner depth 55 cm. See also Ovadiah, Corpus, 66-67, no. 56.
As we know, el-Khader is a mythical personage and Christians ordinarily identify him with St. George; however, the memory of the prophet Elijah is also present on this hill, centring on a cave southeast of the church and on the castle. The shrine is much venerated and the faithful are wont to fulfil vows by killing a sheep on its threshold. This tradition is mentioned also in old reports (e.g. E. Grant, PEF 1926, 195).
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Apharaema, Ephraim", 64.
Editor's note: As we are putting the final touches to this page for publication (5 July 2000), in the Church of al-Khader at Tayyibah is starting a new campaign of excavation, conducted by Vincent Michel on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Map Section 5 Place Sources