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Jesus in Birzeit May be

Jesus in Birzeit, Maybe !!

 

Did Jesus ever pass through Birzeit? I don’t even dare question whether he stayed or spent a night in our town.

 

Reading the New Testament, one is sure Jesus was in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Shechem (the ancient Nablus), Jericho, Jordan Valley and many places around the see of Galilee and Egypt.

People, traveling from Galilee (where Jesus lived) to Jerusalem and vise versa, used three highways.

The first highway went southeast through Jordan Valley via Jericho. Coming from Jericho to Jerusalem,one has to go uphill. That is why the term “ ascended to Jerusalem” appears often in the Holy Book. Also,remember the story of the “Good Samaritan”,which is supposed to have taken place somewhere between Jericho and Jerusalem.

The second highway was more direct,beginning from Galilee, passing near Jenin, through Shechem, then Jerusalem.

The third highway went southwest through the present Ras Ele’in, Rantees,Aboud,Birzeit,Jifna where it connects with the second highway.

Writing about Jesus and Birzeit,I am interested in (a) the tract, between Nablus and Jerusalem, because Birzeit is in between, and (b) the offshoot that goes from Jifna through Birzeit to Aboud.

First, let me explain why did people have to take the longer highway, via Jordan Valley or Ras Ele’in? Between Galilee (the large area around Nazareth) and Judea (the areas centered around Hebron and Jerusalem) there was a third district called Samaria centered around Nablus. The Samaritans and the Jews had periods of intermittent enmity and peace. If the times were not favorable, travelers avoided Samaria, and used the first or the third highway.

Birzeit,Jifna,Taybeh and Beereh are close together; they are all places in what was then considered Judea.

Jokingly,whenever we meet,we the Christians of Birzeit,Jifna and Taybeh, each boast about the possibility of Jesus passing through his village. What are the grounds of this wishful thinking?

The present road between Jerusalem and Nablus is roughly the same road that existed since more than 2000 years. From Jerusalem,it goes through El-Ram, Beereh, Wadi El-Harameyeh, etc., etc. till Nablus. It can’t be otherwise. Why?

A. It is straight; it is the shortest way.

B. It is the easiest, the most natural, using the easy passes between the mountains when the terrain gets rough.This is especially evident in Wadi El-Harameyeh.If one has the chance of having a bird’s view, it couldn’t be more obvious.This was also the road during the 400 years of Turkish rule. The road was paved for carriages at the end of the Ottoman times.Since then the road was merely broadened or asphalted or just corrected here and there. 

C. Historically, along the line I just described, lots of caravansarais (inns, khans), water springs or military towers spread to make it easier and safer for travelers who went on foot. It is a known fact that there were such khans in El-Ram, Beereh, Wadi El-Harameyeh and Khan El-Libban and all along the main road. Also the ruins of a Crusader tower that safeguarded the highway, still exist near Wadi El-Harameyeh (locals call it Burj Bardawil, a tower name derived from Baldwin, a Crusader king).

 Beereh

The town Beereh is not mentioned in the New Testament,but Christian scholars and literature, as well as,tourist guidebooks mention Beereh as the site where Mary and Joseph looked for their son, the child Jesus, among the travelers and did not find him. They had to go back all the way to Jerusalem to find him still in the temple. What is in fact mentioned in the New Testament is that this accident took place after one day of walking away from Jerusalem. Why Beereh? It was known through history that after one day of walking from Jerusalem to the north, towards Nazareth, Beereh was the next station. People rest, eat and sleep. Animals too.Then, all start a next day journey. Where is the next station after Beereh? I think it was Wadi El-Harameyeh for a half-day journey, and Khan El-Libban after one-day journey.Wadi El-Harameyeh means the Valley of Robbers, i.e. highway robbers, an additional proof that the ancient highway passed from here.

 Jifna

What about Birzeit,  Jifna or Taybeh? 

Which of the three is a better candidate for being exactly on the second,short highway? I would like to believe it is Birzeit. Yet, I don’t want to be biased. I strongly believe Jifna, which is halfway between Beereh and Wadi El-Harameyeh, is the strongest, most probable candidate. Why?

A.     Jifna is just less than half a mile away from the present main road. Birzeit and Taybeh are farther away,1.5 and 4 miles respectively. Jifna is located in a flat valley. The present road, adapted to modern traffic, runs a bit higher, along side the foot of a nearby hill.I think that the original highway passed exactly through Jifna.

B.  Jifna contains more ruins than Birzeit,an evidence that it was more inhabited or earlier inhabited than our town.

C.  An extra evidence for the importance of Jifna and/or its proximity to the main highway is the fact that the Roman general, later emperor, Titus,has chosen it to camp and prepare his army there, before invading Jerusalem in 70 A.D.,to quell the Jewish revolution and to destroy the second temple.

D. Jifna is mentioned as Gophna in the famous 6th century mosaic floor map found in Madaba,Jordan,a huge map of Palestine during the Byzantine era. This is a proof of the importance of Jifna those times.

E.  Jifna is the same as the ancient Gophna, the chief city of one of the ten toparchies into which the Romans divided Judea.This means Jifna was an important town then. Important towns are more likely to be located directly on the main highways. Also it is the same as Ophni, one of the cities mentioned in the Bible (Guide To The Holy Land by E.Hoade, Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1973, p. 662).

If Jesus really passed through Jifna, as a child, together with his parents or alone as an adult,it remains to be questioned, how many times did he travel? The journey between Jerusalem and Nazareth took some five to seven days; therefore I don’t think Jesus traveled very often.

Did he just pass or did he spend a night or two till he could join the second caravan? If he stayed for a night or more, did he make a quick visit to Birzeit, which is just a twenty-minute walk from Jifna? I doubt it.

 Poor Birzeit! Or is it not?

If Jesus passed through Jifna, on his way to Shechem (remember the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman) then at least he must have seen Birzeit from a distance. After Beereh, the main road went through Baloo’, Zarazeer, Jalazun then Jifna. Some of you know these places; others have to get help from their friends or elders. Jalazun used to be a water spring belonging to Jifna, but a short distance (300 meters) away from it, before it became a refugee camp.

In the past, before the road was paved with asphalt for automobiles, even Birzeitis who wanted to go to Beereh or Jerusalem, used to walk to Jifna first, then Jalazun, then Zarazeer, etc.. Zarazeer, being a high terrain, was the point where travelers, coming from Beereh, had their first view of Birzeit, which, aerially, is just one mile away.

It is close enough for one in Zarazeer to hear somebody crying loud in Birzeit. Old people tell us of a young man from Birzeit who wanted to emigrate to America in 1910. All walked with him till Hamra, on the outskirts of our village towards Jifna. There, they parted. Yet, the father was so sad and was crying loudly. His son, agonized by the sad situation, kept hearing his father till Zarareer. He couldn’t take it anymore and put pieces of cloth in his ears so that he couldn’t hear him.

Don’t lose hope yet. Maybe, Jesus didn’t just see Birzeit; he might have passed through it if times didn’t allow him to go the short way. Birzeitis say Mary and Jesus passed through their village. Coming from Jifna, the Roman road that passed through Birzeit proper, went through El-Hamra,El-Hammam Spring,Fulaifeleh Spring and El-Ighraab Spring. A tract along these places was visible till recently before it was asphalted.

 Taybeh

I still believe Taybeh was far away from the highway, but here follows the big surprise in favor of this village. Some theologians think it corresponds to Ephraim, the city near the desert (John 11, 54),where Jesus kept himself away from the eyes of Jews when they ordered his death (idem p. 661).