The raising of Lazarus of Bethany brought much attention to Jesus and His ministry (John 11). According to John’s account, beginning in verse 45, many who saw the sign believed on Him. This caused the chief priests and Pharisees to convene a council. They were concerned about what the Romans might do if Jesus continued His work. Caiaphas, the high priest that year, told the council that it would be better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish. In fact, John says this was a prophecy that Jesus was going to die for the nation. The text says,
So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:53 ESV)
Jesus had other plans. Jesus carefully orchestrated His death. From the beginning of His ministry He spoke of His hour. After the raising of Lazarus he withdrew to a place northwest of Jerusalem on the edge of the wilderness at Ephraim.
Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. (John 11:54 ESV)
Jesus would offer Himself as the sacrificial lamb at the time of the Passover. This took intricate planning.
Where is this place called Ephraim?
The identity of this place is complicated, partly because of the obscurity of the place and because of the change of names in the various languages that have prevailed in the territory over the centuries. Let’s try to work through some of the details.
Baal-hazor, where Absalom had sheep shearers, is said to be near Ephraim (2 Samuel 13:23).
The Ephron of 2 Chronicles 13:19 is often identified with Ephraim and the Ophrah of Joshua 18:23. Ophrah was in the tribal territory of Benjamin and near Bethel. Ophrah, which we are equating with Taybeh (tie-BAY), is only 4 miles north-east of Bethel and about 15 miles from Jerusalem.
What is the name of Ephraim today? Ephraim is often identified with a Christian Arab town in the West Bank Palestinian territory known as At-Taybe. On Highway 60 a sign points to Taybeh, the spelling I am using. Carta’s Israel Touring Atlas spells it Et-Tayibeh.
Checking the Maps. Taybeh should be reached easily from Highway 60 by taking Highway 449 east at Ofra, and then a smaller road to the village. This is not possible. Ofra is an Israeli settlement, and the road is blocked for those wishing to go to Taybeh. Instead, it is necessary to take Highway 457 east, then 458 north. At the intersection with 449 (east), take the small road to the left to reach Taybeh. Highway 449 leads to the Jordan Valley and Jericho. The paved road is only wide enough for one vehicle at places and is in bad repair.
Gustaf Dalman says,
This et-Tayibeh, whose ancient name was, according to the villagers’ own recollections, ‘Afra’… (Sacred Sites and Ways, 1935, page 217).
Yoel Elitzur, says there is a surviving tradition that Taybeh was known in the past as Afra. He cites the work of Lydia Einsler from 1893, and then says that he,
…personally heard myself in the village, from speakers of various ages and levels of education. (Ancient Places Names in the Holy Land, 2004, page 268).
Note the similarity in the pronunciation of Oprah, Ephron, Afra, and Ephraim.
A book I have enjoyed for several decades is Eugene Hoade’s Guide to the Holy Land, published by the Franciscan Printing Press in Jerusalem. There is no date in the book, but I have owned it for several decades. Google books lists this book of 823 pages as having been published in 1984.
Hoade says that Taybeh is 869 meters in elevation. This equates to 2851 feet, about 400 feet higher than Jerusalem. He says that Taybeh is,
a Christian village, those inhabitants claim that they have been Christian from the very beginning. There is a flourishing Latin parish (1860): the Rosary Sisters have the Girl’ School since 1908: there is a Greek Orthodox Church, under which is a mosaic. The Greek Catholics built the new church of St. George in 1964, and the Latins are in the process of building a new church, which has a beautiful mosaic in the apse, representing the people meeting Jesus. (page 545)
We drove to the top of the hill and the end of the village, turned around, and made a photo of what I think may be the Latin church and school.
The Greek Catholic (Melkite) church of St. George was built in 1964. On the hill behind this church may be found the ruins of a Byzantine church.
From the ridge on which Taybeh is built, the wilderness can be seen to the east. This is similar to the view that many of you have seen from the Mount of Olives, or from the Herodium, when you look to the east. The photo below shows the view east of Taybeh.
In reading about Taybeh, I have learned that all of the churches keep the Western Christmas and the Eastern Easter.
I have credited all of the photos to my traveling companion Dan Kingsley. Because we had little time to linger, we agreed that Dan would make the photos, sometimes from the car window, and we would share them. I have cropped and enhanced them as needed.