Mar Elias

    A 12th C Greek-Orthodox monastery, on the side of the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Built over the ruins of a Byzantine church, it serviced the pilgrimage route to Bethlehem.

Mar Elias Monastery

   

1 Kings 19: 2: Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah... And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah..."

 

Home > Sites > Judea > Mar Elias Monastery

 

 

 

 

 

Contents:

Overview

History

Photos

* General view

* Bell Tower

* West Hill

* East ("four") hill

* Shepherds

Biblical Refs

Etymology

Links

Overview:

 

   A 12th C Greek-Orthodox monastery, on the side of the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Built over the ruins of a Byzantine church, it serviced the pilgrimage route to Bethlehem.

    The monastery is named after prophet Elijah (St. Elias), who according to tradition stopped here on his way to the south while fleeing from the anger of queen Jezebel, after slaying the Baal prophets on the Carmel.

 

 

Location:

 

   The site is 817M above sea level, located on the side of the ancient road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, 600M south of Kibbutz Ramat-Rachel. Pointing and clicking on selected points in purple will automatically scroll  to the relevant photo or  site.

 

 

 

History:

 

   The site was founded in the Byzantine period (6th C AD) and was ruined after the Persian  conquest (614AD). It was rebuilt later.

   The monastery was severely damaged by an earthquake (1160), after a previous quake (1033/4) already shattered the structure.  Immediately after the quake, in 1160, the monastery was built again by Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos (Comnenus) during the Crusaders period.

 

 In the 14th C the Greek bishop of Bethlehem, Elias, was buried here (1345).  In his memory the residents of Bethlehem and the area, who  called the monastery Mar Elias. This evolved into a tradition that prophet Elijah (Elias in Greek/Arabic) was associated also with this site - stopping here to rest - when he fled to the desert and to Mount Horeb.

 

  

 

Photos:

 

(a) General view:

 

View of the Mar Elias monastery from the north side.

 

Click on the photos to view  in higher resolution...

Mar Elias Monastery - view from north

 

View of the monastery from the front, on the side of the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

 

Mar Elias Monastery - view from front

 

   View of the structure from the east hill. The three story building, built in the 12th C,  looks more like a fortress; it was designed this way to add protection to its residents.

  

Mar Elias Monastery

 

(b) Bell tower:

 

The square bell tower rises over the monastery.

 

Mar Elias Monastery

 

 

   A closer detail of the bell tower. The symbol of the Greek Orthodox church is seen on the stone above the bell (as detailed on the right). This monogram spells "TΦ" and means "Theopolis" = friend of God.

 

 

 

Mar Elias Monastery - Bell tower

 

(c) West hills (hill of the airplane"):

 

  On the west side of the monastery is a hill called the "hill of the airplane", also known as Khirbet Tabaliya. During the independence war (1948) the Egyptians held forces on this hill, and battled with the Israeli forces. Until 1967 six-day-war the Jordanians fortified the hill and installed blocks on the road.  In 1967 an Israeli jet crashed into the hill and it is therefore named the "hill of the airplane".

 

   In the photo below is a view of the west hill. The main ancient structure is a lime kiln.

 

Mar Elias Monastery - west hill

 

   On the hill  was a chapel named after prophet Habakkuk, and the site is called "the field of Habakkuk".

 

   According to Christian tradition (Apocryphal book - Bel and The Dragon) Habakkuk brought food to the farmers working in the field on this hillside. An angel came down, picked up the prophet by his hair to Daniel who was in the lion-pit. After feeding Daniel the angel brought him back. This saved Daniel, and the King pulled him out of the pit.

 

   As the prophet wrote (last verse - Habakkuk 3, 19): "The lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places".
 

 

 

 

(d) East hill (Giv'at Ha'arba'a - "the hill of the Four"):

 

   The hill on the east (rear) side of the Monastery is called "the hill of the four" and also " the hill of Elijah".

  This hill was a Jordanian post before the 1967 war. A series of bunkers and ruins of these fortifications are cut deep into the top of the hill.

   In 1956 a conference of archeologists from the Israel Exploration Society was attacked by a Jordanian soldier, positioned on this hill. He opened fire at the crowd, killing four people and wounding 16.  The hill is named "the four" honoring their memory.

 

Mar Elias Monastery - east hill - view towards bethlehem

 

   On its foothills are the ruins of the "lower aqueduct", that brought water to the Temple from the Solomon pools. The aqueduct passes along the height level of 745M on the north side of the hill, along the road to Har-Homa ("wall mountain", the new south-east neighborhood east of the hill).

 

  A beautiful panorama is seen from its top - views of Jerusalem on the north, Bethlehem on the south, Har-Homa and the Judean desert on the east, and even Herodion on the south east.

 

  The following photo is a scene of the east.  Clicking on the photo will open a flash viewer, which will allow you to move around, and open  a full-screen view.

 

 <----- Kibbutz Ramat-Rachel          <--- Judean desert ----->        <----- Har-Homa -------------------->         <--Herodion -->

 

 

 

(e) The young shepherds:

 

On the top of the east hill we met children shepherds and their goats, grazing between the trenches of the old Jordanian bunkers.

 

Mar Elias Monastery - east hill - view towards the west

 

The goats and shepherds are seen below, with the background of Jerusalem (left) Kibbutz Ramat-Rachel (right).

 

Mar Elias Monastery - east hill

 

Another view of the third shepherd.

 

Mar Elias Monastery - east hill

 

 

Biblical References:

 

 

1 Kings 19 1-8:

 

   After Elijah slaughtered the false prophets, he fled to the Judean desert, and - according to the tradition - stopped at this site to rest.

 

   "And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.  And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God."

 

Elijah nourished by an angel- by Gustav Dore (French artist, 1832-1883)

 

 

Apocryphal book - Bel and The Dragon (33-42):

 

  Prophet Habakkuk brought food to the farmers working in the field on this hillside. An angel came down, picked up the prophet by his hair to Daniel who was in the lion-pit. After feeding Daniel the angel brought him back. This saved Daniel, and the King pulled him out of the pit.

 

 "Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea; he had made a stew and crumbled bread into the bowl, and he was on the way to his field, carrying it to the reapers, when an angel of the Lord said, 'Habakkuk, carry the meal you have with you to Babylon, for Daniel, who is in the lion-pit.' Habakkuk said, 'My Lord, I have never been to Babylon. I do not know where the lion-pit is.' Then the angel took the prophet by the crown of his head, and carrying him by his hair, he swept him to Babylon with the blast of his breath and put him down above the pit. Habakkuk called out, 'Daniel, Daniel, take the meal that God has sent you!' Daniel said, 'O God, thou dost indeed remember me; thou dost never forsake those who love thee.' Then he got up and ate; and God's angel returned Habakkuk at once to his home. On the seventh day the king went to mourn for Daniel, but when he arrived at the pit and looked in, there sat Daniel! Then the king cried aloud, 'Great art thou, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no God but thou alone.' So the king drew Daniel up; and the men who had planned to destroy him he flung into the pit, and then and there they were eaten up before his eyes".

 

Daniel in the Lions Den - - by Gustav Dore (French artist, 1832-1883)

 

 

 

 
Etymology:

 

  • Mar - Arabic for title of respect ("Holy", "My Lord", "Saint").

 

  • Elias - Greek for "Elijah" the prophet. Elijah plays an important role in the Greek-Orthodox church. According to the tradition and Biblical texts, Elijah gave his spirit and power to John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus.
  • Mar Elias - used by Arab Christians meaning "Holy Elijah"

 

  • Ramat-Rachel - The Kibbutz on the north side; Hebrew for the "plains of Rachel", named after the Rachel (wife of Jacob) who according to the Bible is buried in Bethlehem, several KM to the south (Gen 48:7: "And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem".).

 

Links:

 

* External:

 

 

  • From the Jerusalem archaeological appendix: 

               Mar Elias

               Giv'at Ha'arba'a (hill of four)  - east hill

               Giv'at Hamatos (Kh. Tabaliya) - west hill

 

 

* Internal:

 

  • Kathisma ruins of a Byzantine church north of Mar Elias

 

* Other:

 

Biblical pictures by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) - public domain

 

 

 

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