Only one Christian village is left in Israel and the Palestinian Territories but it holds fast to its memory of Jesus seeking refuge there shortly before his crucifixion, according to the director of a website on the Holy Land.
The West Bank village of Taybeh (pronounced Tie-bay) is 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem and 7 miles northeast of Ramallah, according to New Zealand journalist Pat McCarthy, who has developed the Seetheholyland.net website (www.seetheholyland.net).
From its elevated site between biblical Samaria and Judea, Taybeh overlooks the desert wilderness, the Jordan Valley, Jericho and the Dead Sea.
The Gospel of John says Jesus went to the village — then called Ephraim — after he raised Lazarus to life and the Jewish authorities planned to put Jesus to death.
“Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.” (John 11:54)
Living amidst Muslim villages, Israeli settlements and military roadblocks, Taybeh’s inhabitants (numbering 1300 in 2010) are intensely proud of their Christian heritage, McCarthy says.
The village’s Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin) and Greek Catholic (Melkite) communities maintain an ecumenical spirit — even celebrating Christmas together on December 25 according to the Western calendar and Easter according to the Eastern calendar.
The village was first settled by Canaanites about 2500 years before Jesus came to visit. It is mentioned as Ophrah (or Ofrah), a town of the tribe of Benjamin, in Joshua 18:23, and shown on the 6th-century Madaba mosaic map as “Ephron also Ephraia where went the Lord”.
McCarthy says the Muslim sultan Saladin changed the biblical name to Taybeh (meaning “good and kind” in Arabic) around 1187 after he found the inhabitants hospitable and generous.
The villagers regard St George — whose traditional birthplace is Lod, near Tel Aviv airport — as their patron. The Greek Orthodox and Melkite churches are both named in his honor.
|A ceramic peace lamp from Taybeh
They also see the pomegranate as a symbol of the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and Resurrection. This fruit appears as a motif in religious art in Taybeh.
A tradition says Jesus told the villagers a parable relating to this fruit, whose sweet seeds are protected by a bitter membrane. Using this image, Jesus explained that to reach the sweetness of his Resurrection he had to go through the bitterness of death.
Economic and political pressures have forced some 12,000 residents of Taybeh to emigrate to the Americas, Europe and Australia, according to McCarthy
To ensure jobs for those who remain, the churches and the Taybeh Municipal Council are working to improve the local economy.
A co-operative to sell olive oil, a ceramic workshop to make dove-shaped peace lamps, and a school to train stone-cutters have been established.