The Palestinian village of Taybeh holds fast to its memory of Jesus seeking refuge there shortly before his crucifixion. The Gospel of John says Jesus went to Taybeh — then known as 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)
Taybeh (pronounced Tie-bay) is about 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem. From its elevated site between biblical Samaria and Judea, it overlooks the desert wilderness, the Jordan Valley, Jericho and the Dead Sea.
Living amidst Muslim villages, Israeli settlements and military roadblocks, Taybeh’s inhabitants (numbering 1,300 in 2010) are intensely proud of their Christian heritage. 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 of Taybeh was first settled by Canaanites about 2,500 years before Jesus. It is mentioned in Joshua 18:23 as Ophrah (or Ofrah). 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 ruins of the Church of St George, built by the Byzantines in the 4th century and rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th century, lie on the eastern outskirts of Taybeh, behind the Melkite church. A wide flight of steps leads up to an entrance portico, nave, two side chapels and a cruciform baptistery with a well-preserved font.
Next to the Greek Orthodox church is a 4th-century mosaic depicting birds and flowers. A chapel has been built over the site to protect the mosaic.
In the courtyard of the Roman Catholic church stands a 250-year-old Palestinian house, occupied by a local Christian family until 1974. The entrance is claimed to be 2,000 years old, with five religious symbols of that time engraved in the stone façade above the door. Known as the Parable House, it has rooms on three levels — for the family, for large animals and for smaller animals (who also have an access hole under the old wooden door). The house and its domestic and agricultural furnishings illustrate the context of many of the parables of Jesus and also offer an insight into how the Nativity cave at Bethlehem may have been configured.