Drive along the same route prophet Moses (pbuh) was forbidden to travel on by the King of Edom (Numbers 20-21), and picture yourself standing where Moses was laid to rest, and where the late Pope John Paul II tread on his first pilgrimage of the millennium.
Visit the Sanctuary at Mount Nebo: the memorial of Moses (pbuh), the presumed site of his death and burial place, and a center for pilgrimages since earliest Christian times. You’ll be inspired by the biblical feel from start to finish as you experience this divine tour of Mount Nebo.
Nebo is one of the most revered holy sites of Jordan, located 35 km south of the capital Amman and 10 km west of the Roman Byzantine town of Madaba, for this is where Moses (pbuh) was buried and is an elevated ridge of the Abarim in Jordan, approximately 710 metres (2,330 ft) above sea level.
The site’s association with the last days of Moses is described in moving words in Deuteromony (34:1-7). The episode of Balak and Balam (2:13-26) also took place here.
The site’s other name is Pisgah: “And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Nebo, to the top of Pisgah which is opposite Jericho”. From the mountaintop, which is the highest point in the Moabite range, rising to about 800 meters at its apex, you can admire the dazzling view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, to the rooftops of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Centuries ago, pilgrims flocked to this mount on their final destination to visit the sanctuary. These pilgrims left behind vivid accounts of their travels, which helped archaeologists identify this sanctuary.
Mount Nebo – In the summer of 1933, excavations at Syagha, one of the highest peaks at Nebo, began under the direction of the Jerusalemite Franciscan Fathers.
Three long archaeological campaigns had previously resulted in the discovery of the Basilica and of a large monastery, which had continued to expand through the 6th century.
Mount Nebo’s first church was constructed in the 2nd half of the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses’ death. It had three apses and was preceded by a vestibule paved with plain white mosaic; two funeral chapels stood to the north and south of the lateral apses.
At Mtn. Nebo, Six tombs have been found hollowed from the natural rock beneath the mosaic-covered floor of the church. In the present presbytery you can see remnants of mosaic floors from different periods.
The earliest of these is a panel with a braided cross presently placed on the east end of the south wall.
While hanging around
During the 19th Cent. the region attracted the attention of explorers, including Felicien de Saulcy (1853 – first regional map), Le Duc de Luynes (1864 – first photo and sketch of the ruins), among others, who contributed to the descriptions of the territory in relation to the biblical texts.
The pilgrimage account of the nun Egeria describing her ascent to the sanctuary at the end of the 4th Cent., and the biography of Peter the Iberian, who visited it a century later, were decisive for the identification of the Moses Memorial on Mtn. Nebo.
In 1932, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land acquired the two main archaeological sites of Mtn. Nebo: Ras Siyagha (Memorial of Moses) and Khirbet al-Mukhayyat (identified later as the City of Nebo.) Since then, extensive excavations, surveys and a comprehensive preservation and conservation program have been undertaken by archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem, unearthing a large monastic complex encompassing an area of about 6,640 sqm. The center of the complex is a basilica built between 5th and 6th Cent. A.D. on an earlier sanctuary.
In 1976, Fr. Michele Piccirillo, a Franciscan priest and the archaeologist in charge, uncovered the extraordinary Diakonikon-Baptistery mosaic in the northern hall of the basilica, below a simple mosaic floor.
With its hunting and pastoral scenes of colourful almost intact tesserae, its Greek inscriptions stating the building’s function as “diakonikon”, its precise date (August 530 A.D.), and even the name of its creators, the mosaicists Soel, Kaium, and Elias, it is one of the most remarkable Byzantine mosaics in Jordan.
The churches in the ‘Uyun Musa Valley
The Valley of ‘Uyun Musa
In the summer of 1984, we began the archaeological exploration of the valley of ‘Uyun Musa, thus celebrating a double centennial: the journey of Egeria to Mount Nebo in the spring of 384, the date accepted by scholars (not by us!), and the first centennial of the discovery of the manuscript of Egeria’s travels.
The pilgrim met in the valley near the springs many monks, saw their cells and a tiny church. “Between the church and the cells was a plentiful spring which flowed from the rock, beautifully clear and with an excellent taste” -she wrote. “This – the monks told the pilgrim- is the water which Holy Moses gave the children of Israel in this desert”.
In 1931 the Jordanian government opened a road to the valley to pump part of the water of the springs to Madaba. Therefore, Nelson Glueck, Fr. Saller and Fr. Bagatti could reach the valley more easily and continue exploring westwards. In 1934 Glueck surveyed the fortress of el-Mashhad near the spring, collecting Iron Age and nabatean sherds together with a number of Iron Age clay figurines. Fr. Saller and Fr. Bagatti could identify several Byzantine ruins along the path which leads to the Roman road on the Mushaqqar ridge, a road with its milestones already known from the survey of Fr. Germer-Durand in 1884.
A more detailed map of the Roman road Esbous-Livias taken by the pilgrims to reach the memorial of Moses was drawn in the year 1973 by the members of the Hesban Expedition who surveyed and mapped the Roman-Byzantine fortress of al-Mahatta near the sixth milestone of the road.
An hermitage hewn in the rock, has been located near the springs of ‘Uyun Musa. Buildings of the Byzantine period have been identified among the vineyards, and near the spring of ‘Ain Jemmaleh, further west. Since the summer of 1984, two small Byzantine dayrs have been excavated: the church of Kaianos and the dayr of the Deacon Thomas.
The Church of Kaianos
A rescue excavation in a farmhouse has revealed a church of a small dayr with two superimposed mosaic floors.The upper church, like the lower one, has a slightly raised, square presbytery, decorated with a geometric motif of octagon enclosed by a swastika meander. The central nave was decorated with two panels enclosed in a guilloche.
Figuratively the most interesting motif is the portrait of an anonymous camel-driver, partly destroyed. The camel driver is depicted half nude, partly dressed with a loin-cloth, and with a mantle on his shoulders. He carries a bow on his shoulders, and holds a whip in his right hand, while a big sword hangs on his side.
The figure, which is seen several times in the Safaitic and Thamudic graffiti of the desert, depicts an Arab Christian soldier, one of the Ghassanids unified by the Byzantine government under al-Harith, elected philarchos, patrician and king of all the Arabs. The figure of the mosaic fits very well the description of the Arabs, Saracens and Ismaelites given by the Latin historian Ammianus Marcellinus and by Saint Jerome in the Vita Malchi Monaci.
The lower church was originally built above two multiple tombs located respectively in the presbytery and in the main nave. The area of the presbytery was decorated with a plain motif of flowers with a Greek inscription of a funerary character: “In memory of Kaianos and for the repose of our father Rabebos and John and for the salvation of Casiseos…”
The same text is repeated in Christo-Palestinian Aramaic on the northern side of the presbytery translated by Fr. Emile Puech: “The reader will remember the good works of our Lord Gayyan the priest Casiseos and the heirs who have made the furnitures…”. Both texts refer to a community of monks. In the name of Rabebos our father, an ordinary title for the abbot, we possibly have the same name of the abbot Robebos recorded in the inscription of a funerary chapel east of the basilica of Moses on the mountain.
The dayr of Deacon Thomas
The dayr of Deacon Thomas is located along the path which connects the springs with the Roman road. It was built on a flat area on the slopes of the peak of al-Mashhad. The small dayr is a square building composed of the church, on the north, with a mosaiced room on the south and a paved courtyard.
The mosaic was well preserved and quite intact. In the square panel of the presbytery, among four trees loaded with fruit, were a lion facing a zebu, and a lamb at the centre, which was later covered by the reliquary and the altar.
The main nave was decorated with a carpet enclosed in a frame of acanthus scrolls. The scenes are very close to those in the mosaic of the church of Saints Lot and Procopius in the village of Nebo. A comparison of the two works shows that the mosaic in the valley, although moving within the same figurative context, shows some stylistic details which unite it with the mosaics of the first decades of the sixth century AD.
It can be regarded as a transitional work between the group of mosaics of the beginning of the sixth century AD and the masterworks of the middle of the same century.
The flower grid of the south aisle is interrupted in front of the southern door by a medaillon decorated with an eagle and an inscription below it. The inscription records the name of the deacon Thomas, in whose honour the church has been named.
The eagle, a motif found in several mosaics of the region in the same heraldic position, has two Greek letters added to the sides of its head: A and W. The two letters, normally used to indicate Christ at the sides of a cross, give a christological meaning to the eagle as a symbol of life and resurrection for the benefactors.
According to archaeological and stylistic data, the dayr was built in the first half of the sixth CenturyAD and abandoned in the Umayyad period. In a probe trench opened in the southern room outside the church, Early Bronze materials have been recovered.
Latest excavations from Mount Nebo provide new elements related to the architectonical evolution of the basilica of the Memorial of Moses, according to an Italian scholar.
Davide Bianchi, a post-doctoral university assistant at the Institut für Klassische Archäologie at the University of Vienna said in a recent e-mail interview to The Jordan Times that one of their most important discoveries was the identification of the oldest Christian burial-shrine built by monks to commemorate Prophet Moses.
The archeologist said that this evidence allows them to include the coenobium (a monastery) of Mount Nebo within the network of the Jordanian monasteries related to the worship of biblical figures (the monastic complex of St Aaron, near Petra; the two religious compounds linked to the Prophet Elijah, in Thisbe and Wadi Al Kharrar; and the Sanctuary of Lot at Deir ‘Ain ‘Abata, in the Zoara Valley).