Wednesday, December 16, 2020

“Mount of Paradise” – “Mount of Franks” – “Herodium”

“The mountain of the Little Paradise” – “The Mountain of the Franks” – “Herodion”: three traditions of one place

The Palestinian monuments are remarkable for being much more durable than historic periods, epochs and even civilizations. Peoples and cultures change, they endow these monuments with their own narrative, completely different from previous. Things which were told about this or that site before, withdraw into the shadow or disappear. There is no doubt that this process will continue further, and something which is being told us today about a certain monument, will be said differently in the future.

In this article we will consider the cultural aspects of one of the most picturesque Palestinian mountains, which for centuries has been attracting travelers, researchers, and still keeps being in the center of attention. We will study different traditions concerning this mountain in their chronological order. The plenty of historical literature on this topic makes it possible to trace all the peripetias of the culturological process.

The Arabic tradition

South of Jerusalem 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) and south-east of Bethlehem 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) lies a picturesque cone-shaped volcanic mountain. At its top there are the ruins of an ancient fortress. The local Arab inhabitants call it almost poetically Jebel el-Fureidis (جبل الفرديس), which is usually translated as “the Mountain of the Little Paradise”. It might be taken as an earthly Paradise.

The author of this article visited this mountain in October, 2010, accompanied with an Israeli guide; and since that time he has been carefully taking the historical evidence about this landmark.

Jebel el-Fureidis nowadays. Now the mountain and the adjacent area make the Israeli National Park “Har Herodion” (הר הרודיון).

An Arabic word “el-Fureidis” is plural of “Firdous”, which means “paradise” or “the gardens” (Le Strange 1890: 439). This word has Persian roots adopted by the Arabs. In the Middle aged Damascus, the one of the city gates adjoined to the quarter with gardens were called “Faradis”. The people of Syria very often call the vineyards and the gardens by the name “Firdous”.

In his book, Nasir Khusraw told that in 1047 he went from Jerusalem to Hebron. “Along the road leading south you can see many villages surrounded by cultivated fields and gardens. Trees that do not need to be watered such as vines, fig trees, olive trees and sumach grow randomly and plentifully there. In two parasang distance from Jerusalem there is a place where you can see the spring, vineyards and gardens. The charm of this place gave it the name of Faradis" (1881: 98–99).

In the Middle Ages this area was one of the most picturesque and ambrosial places in Palestine. European travelers supported the words of Nasir Khusraw: “The name of "the Little Paradise," which the place still bears, may have arisen from the beauty of the gardens, no less than of the town (i.e. the remains of the buildings at the foot of the mountain)” (Geikie 1888: 242; Fulton 1900: 282). “The preserved man-made terraces to the north and north-west, at the foot of the mountain and its slopes bear evidence of the former tree and orchard crops” (Schick 1880: 89).

In 18th and 19th centuries European visitors wrote about the terraces on the slopes of Jebel el-Fureidis. These terraces are clearly visible in the drawing in the book of Richard Pococke dated 1745 (see below). Today, these terraces are nowhere to be seen: they were either filled up during Israeli archaeological excavations, or hidden by hiking trails and a spiral road leading to the top of the mountain.

The cone-shaped mountain towering in the middle of the gardens was visible from afar and inspired a reverent attitude towards itself. The Arabs monitored the condition of the mountain and protected it the best they could. In any case, when curious European guests climbed to the top and examined the ruins of the fortress, the local sheikh came himself or sent people to see that foreigners were not digging for treasure (Saulcy 1865: I 176).

View of Jebel el-Fureidis from Bethlehem. 19th century drawing (Wilson 1881: I 137)

Sometimes it came to clashes between locals and foreigners. The Jesuit missionary Michel Nau describes such a scene in 1674: “A little more than one league from Bethlehem, we reached the foot of a high mountain, which is separated from all the others. I have heard that it is called the Mountain of Franks; but in the local village it is called Ferdays or Ferdaous, that is, Paradise. We rode the horses until the rise rate forced us to dismount to climb to the top. Then two or three Arabs, seeing us and not knowing that our company was headed by the [French] Ambassador himself, started shouting at us, forbidding us to go further. Seeing that no one was embarrassed by what they were shouting, they began to throw large stones from the top of that place, which jumped and rolled down the slope with frantic speed and would certainly have killed or knocked over whoever they hit. We managed to dodge them, and then our dragomen quickly rushed to them (to the Arabs), prevented them from continuing, and then we peacefully reached the peak” (1757: 439).

The locals acted this way, since they considered themselves as guardians of this sacred mountain, been called to protect it from the encroachments of foreigners and infidels. The harshness and ferocity with which fellahs sometimes defended their shrines was well known in Palestine and beyond.

The very shape of the mountain, which is an almost perfect cone, truncated at the top, has long suggested that this mountain, at least partly, is man-made. “It is clearly seen that human art has helped the form suggested by nature, — noted Conrad Schick. — Both the present round shape and the present height of the mountain were created only by the infilling” (1880: 89; cf. Binos 1787: II 162). Even today there are plenty of those who supports the idea about the artificial origin of this mountain today.

The blooming gardens that Nasir Khusraw wrote about disappeared during the Ottoman rule. In the drawings made by European travelers of the 19th century, as well as in the newsreel footage of the early 20th century, we see that around the mountain there is a desert, scorched by the sun, the cultivation of which has stopped long ago.

Jebel el-Fureidis in 19th century drawing

The fact that there are ruins of a fortress (castrum) at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis seems to have been known for a long time. But in a complete way, this fortress was opened step by step. After examining the bibliography, Titus Tobler noted that in 1674 the ruins of a large fort covering all the peak, were discovered on the mountain (1854: II 569). Tobler refers to the account of the beforementioned Michel Nau, who in 1674 saw underground cisterns, chambers and covered passages (1757: 438). But Nau had already seen what had been excavated before him. Further Tobler reports that in 1681 at the northern foot of the mountain they found the remains of a pond with a fountain in the middle.

Since 1738, more and more attention has been paid to this place by European travelers. We need to add that in the late 18th century, a visit to “the Mountain of the Little Paradise” and inspection of the ruins at its top became almost an obligatory point in the routes of foreign visitors to Palestine. After visiting Jerusalem, pilgrims headed to Bethlehem and Hebron; then came Jebel el-Fureidis. Despite the zealous attitude of the locals to their sacred mountain and the ban on excavations, nevertheless, the fortress was gradually excavated.

Old Christian (Crusader) tradition

Among Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, it was common to call this cone-shaped peak the Mountain of Franks. In general, the Muslims called all Christians and Crusaders, in particular, Franks. European travelers willingly used this designation, applying it to the Crusaders.

This Fureidis was called Frank Mountain by the Crusaders, and must have been a strong fortification during all the ages in which isolated tells afforded the natural plat form for castles. There is none of equal height and size in Palestine”, — William Thomson noted (1860: II 427–428). “The French Mountain is high, and very steep, and there are no other mountains in the immediate neighborhood; a strong citadel on the summit might be deemed almost impregnable”, — Pliny Fisk told (1828: 372).

The famous Dutch artist Cornelis de Bruyn, who climbed the cone-shaped mountain in 1681, provided the following description: “As for the Mountain of Franks, it is very steep and high. You can reach its peak only with great difficulty, so to speak, climbing. At the top I found several ruins of a castle or fort, where the Franks fought against the infidels for forty years after they lost the city of Jerusalem. These remains are made of very large stones: we see them in the form of caves. Below, next to the mountain, there is still a pond with a fountain in the middle, but now there is no water” (1714: 279).

“Ruins of Mountain of Franks”. The engraving from de Bruyn's book (1714: 135)

The engraving in de Bruyn's book shows a rather obscure structure, consisting of large ashlars. In the middle of it, there really is something that looks like a cave or rather a hole in the wall.

The English prelate Richard Pococke, who visited it in 1738, describes the Mountain of Franks in more details: “We returned about two miles in the same way, and crossing the valley, we went along a plain ground, to the foot of what they call the Mountain of the Franks, or of Bethulia, from a village of that name near it, though no such place is mentioned by ancient authors in this part of Palestine ; it seems best to agree with the situation of Bethhaccerem, mentioned by Jeremiah as a proper place for a beacon, when the children of Benjamin were to found the trumpet in Tekoa.

There is a tradition, that the knights of Jerusalem, during the holy war, held this place forty years after Jerusalem was taken, which was the reason of its being called the Mountain of the Franks; and it is probable, that they might have kept this place some time after they loft Jerusalem, as it was a fortress very strong by nature : But the garrison consisting only of forty men, as they died off the rest must have been obliged to surrender, supposing this tradition is true.

It is a single hill, and very high, as represented in the eighth plate A, and the top of it appears like a large mount formed by art. The hill is laid out in terraces, the first rising about ten yards above the foot of the hill, above this the hill is very steep; and on one side there is a gentle ascent made by art, as represented in the view of it and as the hill was not so steep to the south, they cut a deep fosse on that side, to add a greater strength to it; the foot of the hill was encompassed with a wall. There was a double circular fortification at top, as may be seen in the plan of it at B, the inner wall was defended by one round tower, and three semicircular ones at equal distances, the first being to the east.

At the foot of the hill to the north there are great ruins of a church, and other buildings. On a hanging ground to the west of them there is a cistern, and the basin of a square pond, which appears to have had an island in the middle of it, and probably there was some building on it. These improvements were also encompassed with a double wall, and they say, that there are remains of two aqueducts to it, one from the sealed fountain of Solomon, and another from the hills south of that fountain. From the top of this hill I was shewn a plain to the south south-east towards the Dead Sea, where they have a tradition, that the garden of balsam trees was situated" (1745: II 42).

“Bethulia or the Mountain of the Franks”. Fragment of a drawing from the book by R. Pococke (VIII).

De Bruyn and Pococke reflected a tradition that had existed for several centuries. Felix Fabri, a Dominican monk who came to Palestine in 1483, was one of the first to convey the legend about the staunch knights who defended the castle on the top of a certain mountain:

There was here a great castle, with lofty towers, called Rama. It is about this place that the passage in Jer., ch. xxxi., and in Matt., ch. ii., 'In Rama was a voice heard, weeping and wailing,' is believed to have been written... There was enough space within the circuit of its walls to grow sufficient corn to give the people of the castle bread throughout the year. This castle was built by one of the Latin Kings of Jerusalem. When Saladin, King of Egypt, took Jerusalem and the Holy Land by force of arms, and drove out all the Latin Christians from thence, he took all the other castles, towns, and villages, but could not by any means win this Castle of Rama, which was manfully defended by the Christians. He therefore raised the siege, and the Latin Christians continued to dwell in the castle for thirty years after the taking of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, neither could the Saracens drive them out. They would be there at this day had not God fought against them; for at the end of thirty years God sent a pestilence into the castle, and in a short time all the women died, from the little girl even to the old woman, and the greater part of the men. The remnant, beholding this, deserted the castle, and fled. When the Saracens found out this, they climbed up the mountain, and pulled down the castle, razing it to the very ground, so that at this day scarce any traces of the walls can be made out. Because of its impregnability, the Christians named this castle Bethulia, after Bethulia, Judith's Castle, which is in Galilee" (Fabri 1893: II (2): 403-404; translated from the Latin).

Although Fabri calls this object Rama Castle and Bethulia Castle (both names are derived from the Bible) and doesn't give the local Arabic name, nevertheless, due to the fact that he mentions it when describing the “Teqoa Desert” and the vicinity of Bethlehem, it becomes clear that what he describes is Jebel el-Fureidis seems. This is how the story of Fabri was understood by Christian pilgrims traveling the Holy Land, and it was on this cone-shaped mountain that they placed the Castle Bethulia.

In the 15–16th centuries and at the beginning of the 17th century, the toponym “the Mountain of Franks” didn't come into use yet; the mountain was called “Bethulia” or “Bethulia castrum”. Jean Zuallart reports: “From here we see a round mountain on which the Christians had previously built an impregnable fort, where they remained for over forty years after Saladin conquered the city of Jerusalem and the land left by the successors of the beforementioned Godfrey de Bouillon, but due to the lack of help and the decrease in their number, they were forced to leave him, and because of its valor this fort is known as Bethulia” (1608: III 222). Similarly, this mountain is called Joannes Cotovicus (1619: 225), Francisco Quaresmius (1639: II 687), Jean Thévenot (1665: 405) and other authors. The same toponym appears on the maps of Palestine issued in Europe in the 16–18th centuries.

Drawing of 19th century (Wilson 1881: I 137)

As far as it can be determined, a French pilgrim Laurent d'Arvieux, who visited Palestine in 1660, was the first to use the name “the Mountain of Franks”. He writes: “In the east you can see the ruins of the fortress of Masada, built by Herod. Half a league to the south of these mountains there is a high hill with the ruins of a castle called Bethulie, which the Franks had been preserving for forty years after they lost the entire Holy Land... Those who do not know its real name call it the Mountain of the Franks” (1735: II 243). In the future, the name “the Mountain of Franks” became dominant in Christian descriptions of the Holy Land, although the former toponym “Bethulia” continued to be preserved.

At his time, Mourot shared the opinion that originally the mountain was called Bethulia; then, under the influence of the Franks or pilgrims, they began to call it “Mount Bethulia of Franks”; later the name “Bethulia” was simply skipped and the mountain was called nothing else but “the mountain of the Franks” (1883: II 230). Indeed, the sources mention the toponym “Bethulia Francorum – a fort built by Christians near Bethlehem” (Hartley 1703).

The French explorer Michaud, who visited this place in 1831, tried to give the legend of the Franks a historical justification, finding in the chronicles of the Crusades that fortress that can be identified with the castle on the top of Jebel el-Fureidis:

A widespread tradition in the country says that after the loss of the Holy City, the Frank soldiers had been holding this castle for forty years, until, finally, famine, which was stronger than the enemy, forced them to surrender. The historical fact preserved by this tradition is not worth discussing; but the Bethlehemite legend is accorded with history when it dates the refers of the Mountain of Franks to the time of the Crusades. Here, I think, could be the castle of Saint-Abraham, about which Albert of Aix tells.

The chronicler reports that this castle has such a name because it was believed that it was built by Abraham and that the patriarch had his tomb there. “The Turks,” adds Albert of Aix, “all other pagans and Jews showed the greatest respect for this fortress and venerated it “with all devotion, and the Catholic believers maintained it with no less care and zeal”. During the first Crusade, Godfrey needed only one assault to take the fort. This castle was given to Guillaume Charpentier and the count de Melun as compensation for the loss of Caifa, which Tancred took from them. Then it belonged to Jacques d'Avesnes, mentioned at the siege of Arsur Godfrey. Today, Arabs of all faiths this mountain is still revered, which fits very well with the story of Albert of Aix” (1834: 202–203).

Michaud means that place of “Historia Ierosolimitana” of Albert of Aachen, where it is said, “Carpenel felt there was nothing better he could do at this time than to move out of the town with all his men, and to turn aside now to the very strong and wealthy castle which is called St Abraham (castellum dicitur ad sanctum Abraham), towards the mountains and the towns of Sodom and Gomorra. This is the castle, of course, that the duke overcame with quite a short attack, the gentiles having fled; it was six miles from Jerusalem and the first patriarch Abraham is reputed to have built it and lived there, and to have been buried there. The Turks and the other Jews and gentiles honoured and revered this fortress with very great devotion, and it is respected and accorded no less renown by Christian worshippers” (VII 26; translated from the Latin).

The location of this castle “in the direction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah” is likely to indicate a southeast direction from Jerusalem, but the distance of six miles (9.6 km) does not correspond to the actual distance to the Mountain of Franks: 12.5 km.

Nevertheless, Albert of Aachen noted the fact of veneration of the fortress of St Abraham not only by the Christians, but also by the Turks and Jews, and in general by the local population. But it was Jebel el-Fureidis which the Palestinian population treated as a sacred mountain, and, therefore, worshipped the ruins of the fortress at its top.

A plan of the fort at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis compared to the plans of circular castles and forts in the Medieval Europe.

It is also important to note that d'Arvieux, de Bruyn, Pococke and other European guests were quite observant travelers, they saw the Crusader fortresses in Palestine and had a good knowledge of their structure. And here, while examining the ruins of the fort at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis, they perceived it as a similar structure. The small stone blocks that make up the walls and towers of the fort are completely identical to the ashlars which the Crusaders carved for their numerous structures in Palestine.

By its design, this fort resembles knight castles in different European countries, built during the Crusades period or later, which had a round shape, high round and semicircular towers.

The Crusaders usually built their castles and guardian forts on the tops of the steep mountains. The Mountain Suba is very similar to Jebel el-Fureidis, located 9.5 km westwards from Jerusalem, on the top of which the Crusaders built Belmont Castle, which was in charge of the Knights of the Hospitaller Order. Likewise, on a deserted mountain, lying 12.5 km east of Jerusalem, the Templars built Maldoim Castle to patrol the road to Jericho.

The Mountain Suba, westwards from Jerusalem, on which the Crusaders built Belmont Castle.
Aerial photo of 1940s

South of Jerusalem, Crusader forts such as Bethafava, Teqoa and Bethsour are known to guard important roads. But none of them are located within the six miles from Jerusalem indicated in the “Historia Ierosolimitana” for “castellum sanctum Abraham”. Therefore, Jebel el-Fureidis remains a possible place to locate the castle of Saint-Abraham. In addition, it is difficult to imagine that the Crusaders did not take advantage of the strategic position of this mountain, which dominates the surrounding area. From this place to Ein Gedi, the Roman road ran in ancient times, which continued to function in subsequent times. From the Byzantine period, there are the ruins of two churches located at the foot of the mountain. It is likely that the fortification at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis also existed under the Romans and Byzantines.

We can also add that a Russian traveler Andrew Muravyov in 1830 observed in the vicinity of Bethlehem, in his words, “the ancient Crusader castle shining on the top of the mountain, which was given the name of St. Louis” (1840: II 201). Obviously, we are talking about the Mountain of Franks. But Muravyov does not say where he got this name from; probably the guides told it to him.

* * *
As the rebellious 19th century came, the old legend of the Knight's Castle at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis ceased to suit the Christian Orientalists-Palestinian researchers, and a revolutionary coup, comparable to the fall of the Bastille and the storming of the Tuileries Palace, happened in their minds.

In 1806 Ulrich Jasper Seetzen already referred to the Crusader tradition with a certain criticism: “Soon after that we had a beautiful conical mountain peak, which is known as el-Pherdeis, and where you can still find the ruins of an old fortress, which at some time the Knights of St. John had been bravely defending for many years. The inhabitants of Taamera (Beit Ta'mar) are proud to be descendants of these knights; and that also seems possible, although those knights, if I am right, should have sworn eternal chastity; Suffice it to say the well-known way of life of the Knights of Malta of our time. However, I suspect that their legend isn`t based on historical facts that have been meticulously passed down orally from father to son; especially on written documents, since none of this tribe can read or write. Probably, it was the European monks who gave them a reason to think so, — probably it was the same reason that prompted the Bedouin of the Öbbedije tribe to consider themselves descendants of the Englishmen” (1854: II 222).

No, Seetzen doesn't completely reject the Crusader tradition so far, and has no doubts that there was a fortress of the Knights of the St. John Order on the top of the mountain. He suspects that this legend isn't based on written documents and is mostly the myth created by the European monks. By the way, the reference to the Order of St. John is a new detail, not known from other sources. Talking about the Mountain of Bethulia, Von Troilo spoke of the knights of the Holy Sepulcher (1676: 313).

Seetzen's message that the local Arabs consider themselves to be the descendants of those knights and allegedly adopted the Christian tradition of this mountain seems unplausible. However, other travelers also report the same: “At the foot of the mountain lie the ruins called Beit Tamar, which are supposed to be the remains of Bethulia (Bethel) of the Holy Scriptures, that is why the Bethlehemites call the Arabs who once lived here, bethulians” (Berggren 1828: III 49; Sepp 1863: I 530). Whether these messages reflect some reality or are part of the Christian legend of the Mountain of Franks, is still a mystery.

Shots from the 1920s film “Hebron the Ancient” showing the Mountain of Franks.

Having examined this mountain in 1818, Irby and Mangles expressed the opinion that the remains of the fortress belonged to a much more ancient period than the state of the Crusaders, “This post is said to have been maintained by the Franks forty years after the fall of Jerusalem; though the place is too small ever to have contained even half the number of men which would have been requisite to make any stand in such a country; and the ruins, though they may be those of a place once defended by Franks, appear to have had an earlier origin, as the architecture seems to be Roman” (1823: 340).

Edward Robinson stroke the strongest blow against the Crusader tradition, “The present name of the “Frank Mountain” is known only among the Franks; and is founded on a report current among them, that this post was maintained by the crusaders for forty years after the fall of Jerusalem. But, to say nothing of the utter silence of all the historians of the Crusades, both Christian and Muhammedan, as to any occupation whatever of this post by either party... The earliest direct mention of the mountain in modern times, as well as of this story of the Franks, is apparently by Felix Fabri in A. D. 1483... Subsequent travellers have repeated this report in different forms; but all the circumstances lead only to the conclusion, that it is in all likelihood a legend of the fifteenth century” (1841: II 171–172).

Deniers are usually intolerant as well as affirmators are. Speaking of the complete silence of all historians of the Crusades regarding this fortress, Robinson was too categorical. Before we got to know that the castellum sanctum Abraham from the “Historia Ierosolimitana” was identified with the Mountain of Franks. It is also possible that the legend of the knight's castle arose earlier than the 15th century, but it was associated with Jebel el-Fureidis at the time the remains of the fortress were discovered there.

However, Robinson still knocked down the Crusader tradition. At that moment, it didn't have strong enought defenders. The Palestinian scholars who followed Robinson just smashed the already toppled tradition: “There is absolutely nothing here that would resemble, more or less, the building of the Crusades times. Without the slightest hesitation, let's leave aside the tradition according to which this building was built as a Crusader castle... An absurd tradition that does not deserve to be refuted, claims that after the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Latins took refuge in this fortress and held on there for forty years, despite the efforts of the Muslim conquerors. This beautiful story lacks any plausibility; for to defend a fortress for forty years, you need food, water and, above all, defenders. Where would they get it all? Let us not forget, moreover, that in the East the number forty plays the same role as the number seventeen among us, loving liars,” wrote de Saulcy (1865: I 171–172).

This caustic ridicule of the alleged delusions and dementia of their ancestors served the main purpose: to establish a new perspective of the history of Jebel el-Fureidis. Instead of the old tradition, zealous Christian Palestinian scholars sought to establish their own other tradition and bring their own understanding instead of the previous understanding of history. They took advantage of the fact that the deceased “underdeveloped” ancestors could no longer answer them to the point of the question.

New Christian (Herodian) tradition

The opinion that the fortress at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis has a more ancient origin than the time of the Crusaders appeared in the early 19th century. Irby and Mangles tend to believe that the fortress should be dated to the Roman-Byzantine period. Other Palestinian researchers have pointed to earlier times, from Ancient Israel to Herod.

The very idea that the beautiful cone-shaped peak southeast of Bethlehem is associated with King Herod the Great could only have been born in a Christian context, where the works of Josephus Flavius were highly respected, and European travelers were guided by them in their trips to Palestine. Beginning with Giovanni Mariti (1769), almost all writers describing the Holy Land have profusely quoted Josephus Flavius, just as their predecessors had quoted the Gospels.

The writings of the Old Hebrew author, preserved by the Christian Church in acknowledgement of the fact that he mentioned Christ (allegedly mentioned), became unusually authoritative and mandatory for use by the Guide to Palestinian history and toponymics. Every traveler who gets familiar with this or that place in Palestine had to look into the books of Josephus Flavius and find a correspondence to this place in there. The reference to Joseph's writings gave weight to the traveler's statements and gained the trust of listeners and readers.

The view of the Palestinian researchers on the personality of Herod the Great was changed under the influence of the “The Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews” by Josephus. For medieval Christians, he remained a cruel despot, stigmatized in the Gospels as the murderer of the babies of Bethlehem. Four miles south of Bethlehem and two miles from Teqoa, near Jebel el-Fureidis, pilgrims were shown the graveyard of these murdered innocents babies, says John of Würzburg (1890: 54). Christians felt a strong aversion at the mention of the very name of Herod. This name has become a synonym of the monster of the human race. The author of the most popular book in the Middle Ages “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville” said that first Herod killed his wife, then two sons from her, then another wife and son, finally, having lost his mind, he killed his own mother (p. 173). Likewise, in Rabbinic tradition, Herod is stigmatized as the murderer of the Jewish sages (b. Baba Bathra 3b). All the acts of the Edomite king are continuous executions and destruction.

Aerial photo of the Jebel el-Fureidis of 1931

A completely opposite situation took place in the early 19th century. The image of King Herod was undergoing a drastic transformation. More and more often, the ruler of Judea was presented as a great builder and creator. Writers noted his wisdom (Geikie 1888: 44, 602), generosity (Pierotti 1864: I 3), unresting energy (Geikie 1888: 574), courageous deeds (Geikie 1888: 549). In 1867, de Saulcy published a huge work “The History of Herod, King of the Jews”, which was a great success among readers. When speaking about the fact that Josephus admired Herod's majesty (Geikie 1888: 212), European authors were thus filled with the same admiration — or rather, they attributed their own admiration for Herod to Josephus. The ruler of Judea outmatched even the Roman emperors with his greatness and scope of activity. The Herodian party, which existed in Evangelical times, was suddenly reborn within the walls of the Church in the 19th century and continues to flourish to this day.

The cult of Herod, which was surprisingly developed among the Orientalists, led to the fact that almost all monumental constructions in Palestine, in one way or another, began to be considered as the creation of this king. Thus, several versions of Herod's tomb arose, for which one or another ancient construction was taken. Respectively, the Herodian base was found at the Haram esh-Sharif, near the constructions in Palestinian Caesarea Maritima, Antipatris, Sebastia and Sepphoris.

It was almost inevitable that the fortress at the top of a great cone-shaped mountain south of Jerusalem would be claimed one of the creations of Herod the Great. This conclusion was already predetermined. The question was who would be the first to express this idea.

It is believed that Edward Robinson first expressed this idea when he visited Jebel el-Fureidis in 1838 and examined the ruins of the fortress on the top of the mountain (Netzer 1999: 46; Netzer 2006: 179). But Robinson himself calls his predecessors, “The first suggestion as to the identity of the Frank Mountain with Herodium, so far as I have been able to find, is in Mariti; Viaggi, Germ. p. 545. He relates, that the Greek monks of St. Saba, who accompanied him towards Bethlehem, pointed out, on a mountain towards the south, the castle of Herod, which they called Erodion. This seems to have been the Frank Mountain; though Mariti does not name it, and perhaps did not recognise it. The same suggestion is made by Berggren, Resor, III. P. 50. Stockh. 1828; and in the Modern Traveller in Palestine, p. 183. Then by Raumer, Paläst. P. 220” (1841: II 173–174).

As for the Swedish missionary priest Jacob Berggren, in 1826–28 he published a book in three volumes, in which he described his journey through Europe and the East. The last volume contains the following paragraph: “The Mountain of Franks or French (el Ferdis), in two hours driving east of Bethlehem, on the edge of the desert, overlooking the Dead Sea. The mountain is very high and beautiful; named after the fact that the Franks, after the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin, had held here for 40 years, defending themselves against the forces of the Mohammedans. However, the remains of ramparts, fortresses and old Roman buildings that can be seen here on the top of the plateau, as well as the foundations of four powerful towers, of course, are not the work of the Franks, but remind of the fortifications that Herod the Great erected here; since this mountain is no doubt the Herodium of Josephus and the ancient geographers, 60 stadia from Jerusalem, not far from Teqoa. It was here that Herod, at his request, was splendidly buried, but one should not look in vain for his sarcophagus in any underground storehouse” (1828: III 49; translation from Swedish).

Although Berggren traveled to the Holy Land in 1821–22, this does not mean that even then he believed that the Mountain of Franks was Herodium. Moreover, he does not say that he personally climbed this mountain. When preparing his book, Berggren took new insights from the contemporary literature on the subject, such as the book “Modern Traveller in Palestine”, published in 1824, as well as from “The new London universal gazetteer, or alphabetical geography” dated 1827, где говорится: “Mount Franks, or the Mount of Bethulia, a hill of Palestine, near Jerusalem, supposed to be the ancient Herodium” (1827: 623).

However, the young Austrian botanist Franz Sieber can be considered the first to discover Herodium on Jebel el-Fureidis. He visited Palestine in 1818 and described his journey in a book published five years later. The book says the following: “I also climbed the Mountain of Franks, — probably to ancient Herodium, — a castle whose walls are still clearly visible. It was built by Herod in memory of the battle won there. Since it is located not far from Teqoa, a city, which is now completely ruined, it is this location that doesn't raise doubts that the name [Herodium] can only refer to this pointed, very high mountain, where the Franks held out the longest during the Crusades and fed on what they found in the area.” (1823: 61).

Sieber's confident tone and the reference to the remark of Josephus Flavius, who wrote about the proximity of Herodium to the village Teqoa (War: IV 9.5 [518]), make us believe that this was not a sudden discovery. Either Sieber climbed the Mountain of Franks already prepared enough, or, like Berggren, he took this idea from the contemporary literature when writing his book. Be as it may, we see that already in the early 1820s, among scholars and pilgrims in the Holy Land, the view of Jebel el-Fureidis as a fortress described by Josephus Flavius was actively spreading.

The plan of “Herodium”, from the article of С. Schick “Der Frankenberg” (1880)

Robinson accepted this view and with readiness consecrated it with his authority, “More probable is the suggestion, that this spot is the site of the fortress and city Herodium, erected by Herod the Great. According to Josephus, that place was situated about sixty stadia from Jerusalem, and not far from Tekoa. Here on a hill of moderate height, having the form of the female breast, and which he raised still higher or at least fashioned by artificial means, Herod erected a fortress with rounded towers, having in it royal apartments of great strength and splendour… To the same place apparently the body of Herod was brought for burial, two hundred stadia from Jericho, where he died. — All these particulars, the situation, the mountain, the round towers, the large reservoir of water and the city below, correspond very strikingly to the present state of the Frank Mountain; and leave scarcely a doubt, that this was Herodium, where the Idumean tyrant sought his last repose” (1841: II 173).

Decide yourself to what extent that the shape of Jebel el-Fureidis with uneven proportions and a truncated top resembles to the shape of the female breast (μαστοειδῆς in Josephus' work). If one tries, they can really see the female breast. We should note, however, that none of the travelers of previous centuries, who watched this mountain, had such association. In the drawings made by these travelers, Jebel el-Fureidis appears as an uneven summit with a sloping top, also quite uneven.

Almost all European Palestinian scholars enthusiastically followed Robinson in establishing a new tradition. “I found the description of the Frank-Mountain, or, as it is called by the Arabs, Jebel-Fareidis (i. e., the Hill of Paradise), by Professor Robinson, perfectly accurate, — wrote Van de Velde, — Robinson gives his reasons for identifying this place with the fortress of Herodium in Josephus” (1854: II 38–39). “It is doubtless the Herodium of Josephus, which he somewhat fancifully compares to the breast of a woman”, — declared William Thomson (1860: II 427).

If this conical pyramid, which catches the eye of all Jerusalem and far beyond the Dead Sea, were built exclusively by human hands, as Josephus would like to think, then we would have one of the most memorable burial cones after the pyramids,” Johann Sepp solemnly concluded (1863: I 531).

Victor Guérin noticed that the distance from Jerusalem to Jebel el-Fureidis is 80 stadia (more precisely 84 stadia: Tobler 1854: II 570), and not 60 stadia from Jerusalem to Herodium, indicated by Josephus, but Guérin explained this mishap by an inaccuracy made by the oracle of Christian Palestinian scholars: “We know from numerous examples that the distances noted by the Jewish historian are often wrong” (1869: Judea, III 127).

De Saulcy admitted that he didn't see anything at the top of the cone that would remind him of Masada or Haram esh-Sharif. However, he continued to claim to see Herodium ashlars and seats and dug out a mosaic that turned to be Herodian (1865: I 175). Colonel Conder even had the extravagant thought that the Arabic word Ferdus (“Paradise”) underlying Jebel el-Fureidis is actually a distorted name for Herodus (Quarterly statement 1877: IX 27). This idea was very popular among Palestinian scholars and still remains very popular (Schwartz 2015: 6).

Josephus Flavius describes the area around Herodium as waterless (Ant.: XV 9.4 [323]). However, Jebel el-Fureidis cannot be said to be located in a waterless area. There are several streams flowing near the mountain, and there are also springs, the closest of which — ‘Ain Hamda — is at a distance of 1.8 km. Nasir Khusraw wrote about this spring (see above).

Herod had, at immense expense, an abundant supply of water brought into it from a distance”, “what is more, the water comes here from far off,” says Josephus about Herodium (War: I 21.10 [420]; Ant.: XV 9.4 [325]). Indeed, there is an ancient aqueduct that runs from the Solomon's Pools towards Jebel el-Fureidis. However, before reaching 800 m, this aqueduct is over, all traces of it are lost in the soft chalky formation (Conder 1874: 28; Arubas 2015: 313–314). The question arises: was the water supplied to the very mountain that the European travelers of the 19th century declared Herodium? Where did the aqueduct actually lead? In addition, the short length of this aqueduct — 5.5 km — does not fit with Joseph's words that water was supplied to Herodium from afar and that at the foot of the mountain the aqueduct ran along the roofs of buildings (Ant.: XV 9.4 [325]). There is an impression that Josephus Flavius describes some secluded place in the waterless Judaean Desert, and not the area of “the Mountain of the Little Paradise”, which has long been famous for flowering gardens, irrigated with water from the surrounding springs.

The towers of the fortress at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis are round and semicircular. Indeed, Josephus Flavius reports about the round towers (τὴν ἄκραν πύργοις) of Herodium, but does not say that the whole castle has a wonderful round shape. In the construction practice of the ancient Jews, there is no other such example that some kind of fortress was of a perfect circle shape. The most important fortresses built by Herod — Alexandrium, Cypros, Hyrcania, Machaerus — have a rectangular or polygonal shape. But this obstacle didn't confuse the researchers of the 19th century at all (as, by the way, and the 20th). The followers of the Herodian tradition claimed that the architecture of the castle at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis was generally unique for the Hellenistic and Roman world (Netzer 1999: 28). Thus, the unsurpassed genius of Herod the Great was extolled. It would be the same if we said: the fortress at the top of Jebel el-Fureidis received a round shape thanks to Divine intervention. In fact, as we have shown above, the construction of this fort is quite consistent with the structure of Medieval castles.

The plan of “Herodium”, from the article of С. Schick “Der Frankenberg” (1880)

By the middle of the 19th century, the view of Jebel el-Fureidis as the Hebrew Herodium had triumphed everywhere. Soon the magnificent tomb of Herod the Great was also “found”, which Josephus did not speak about (he only wrote that Herod was buried in Herodium), but which was announced by Edward Robinson and other founders of the new tradition. Sepp reports on the discovery of Herod's tomb: “So this is the royal tomb! To the west, at the foot of the mountain, there is a 200-foot square pond called “Birket Bend es-Sultan” that surrounds an artificial island that is now a square structure in the center of a dry reservoir” (1863: I 531). John Geikie has already described this as a local tradition, “The tradition of the locality is that Herod was buried at the foot of the hill, beside the great public reservoir; and a mound which may one day repay a search, stands now in the centre of the long-dried pool” (1888: 242). However, Schick doubted this place and was inclined to look for Herod's tomb on the top of the mountain and generally not consider the entire complex at the same time as a castle and a fortified mausoleum (1880: 98).

Only one author, the Russian traveler Abraham Norov, timidly tried to combine both traditions, the old and new one, “Behind Bethlehem, a mountain is drawn on the horizon, which looks like a truncated cone. It is called the Mountain of Franks since the time when the Crusaders built there, on the ruins of ancient Herodium, a significant fortification, which for a long time had been serving as their defense against Muslims” (1844: I 344). Norov specifically marked that he didn't agree with Robinson and Smith, who rejected some important Palestinian traditions (1844: I iv). But this quite reasonable view went unnoticed and wasn't worked out.

Carl Ritter made a conclusion on the research in the 19th century, “Before their day, Pococke, Mariti, Berggren, and von Raumer had shown the identity of the Frank Mountain with the Herodium or burial-place of Herod the Great, described by Josephus. Irby considered the architectural traces hardly extensive enough to have been a fortress, but he recognized the remains at the foot as Roman work. Wolcott entirely coincides with this, although he confesses that there is very little coherence in the ruins; and of the two hundred polished stones of which Josephus speaks, as forming a magnificent staircase to the top, no trace whatever remains. Wolff, however, noticed stones which he thought might have had such a use... On the other hand, Robinson declares himself decisively in favour of the conjecture that that place is to be identified with the ancient Herodium; and not less strong in this is Reland... ... It was in this Herodium west of the Dead Sea that the body of Herod was interred, although recent travelers have not been able to discover the place of the sepulture: inscriptions and sculptures are utterly wanting” (1870: III 94–96).

Thus, during 40 years, a bold idea, expressed in 1823 by a rather exalted Austrian botanist, was finally established as a common tradition. The toponym “the Mountain of Franks” lasted until the 1920s, after which European authors began to call this peak almost exclusively Herodium. The old Crusader tradition was consigned to oblivion.

However, the toponym “Jebel el-Fureidis”, which reminds of the first Arab tradition, still remained on the maps of Palestine (for example, on the PEF map of 1879). But at that time it had no future so far. The British authorities had in their Mandate for the possession of Palestine an indication to create a Jewish state. But instead they established a new toponym “Mount Herodes” on the maps. Other British maps feature the toponym “Tel Hordus” (Herod's Hill), clearly invented in the Jewish community at the beginning of the 20th century. These names smoothly turned into the current toponyms "Har Herodion", "Har Hordus – Herodion", which appeared on Israeli maps.

We could not but note that all the discoveries made in the 19th century were not based on the results of archaeological excavations. Like the old Crusader tradition, the new Herodian tradition is based on speculative assumptions following the trend of the time. But these assumptions formed the basis for future archaeological research carried out in the 20th century at Jebel el-Fureidis, and significantly influenced the interpretation of these excavations. There is also no doubt that if the Crusader tradition had survived in the 19th and 20th centuries, the archaeological excavations on the mountain and around it would have received a relevant interpretation.

VisitEditionJebel el-FureidisBethuliaMountain of the FranksHerodium
1047Nasir KhusrawFaradis
1483Fabri 1893, II (2): 403–404+
1586Zuallart 1608 III 222+
1596Cotovicus 1619: 225+
1616–26Quaresmius 1639, II 687+
1658Thévenot 1665: 405Béthulie
Buchenröder 1666+
1660D'Arvieux 1735, II 194BéthulieM. des François
1666–68Von Troilo 1676: 313–314+
1666–74Nau 1757: 438–439FerdaysM. des François
1681Bruyn 1714: 279M. des François
1697Maundrell 1732: 88+
1697Morison 1714: 487BéthulieM. des François
1700–09Heyman 1759, I 368+
Hartley 1703B. Francorum+
1738Korte 1781, I 137Frankenberg
1738Pococke 1745, II 41–42++
1749–52Hasselquist 1766: 146+
1758Bachiene 1771: 67–68Frankenberg
1767Mariti 1770, IV 270–272FardaysM. de i Francesi
1776–79Binos 1787, II 162Béthulie
Paulus 1792, I 111Frankenberg
1806Seetzen 1854, II 222–223el Pherdéis+
1814Light 1818: 169Monte Francese
1816Buckingham 1821: 345+
1817–18Irby and Mangles 1823: 340+
1818Sieber 1823: 61Berg der Franzosen+
1821Berggren 1828, III 49–50el FerdisFrankernes+
1823Fisk 1828: 372French Mountain
Modern Traveller in Palestine 1824: 182+++
1827Bird 1827: 146Mount Ferdees+++
1830Muravyov 1840, II 201Св. Лудовикъ
1830Russell 1837: 207–208+++
1831Michaud 1834, V 201–204FerdâysBéthulieMont-Français
Pinner 1832: 122Frankenberg
Biblical Repository 1833, III 619+
1834Raumer 1838, II 219–220+Frankenberg+
1835Norov 1844, I 344Гора ФранковъИродіум
1836Robinson 1841, II 170–174++
1837Kherardene 1840: 140Mont-FrançaisHérodion
1837Schubert 1840Frankenberg+
Taylor 1838: 309+
1839Bonar and Murray 1839: 150+
Allioli 1840: 320+Frankenberg+
Kitto 1841: 40Franks' Mount
1846Schilling 1877: 76Frankenberg
Michelot 1848: 273BéthulieM. des Francs+
1851Van de Velde 1854, II 38–40Jebel-Fareidis++
1853Azaïs 1880 I 315–316M. des Français+
Tobler 1854, II 566–572Dschebel el-FeredisBethulia der FrankenFrankenberg+
1854–60Damas 1866: 326–327+
Gratz 1858: 300++Frankenberg+
1856–59Saintine 1860: 301–302Djebel-AfrédisM. des Français+
Thomson 1860, II 427–428+++
Kiepert 1861: 11Djébel-Furêdis++
1860Smith 1861, I 208++
Sepp 1863, I 529–531Dschebel Ferdîs+FrankenbergHerodion
Pérégrinations 1863: 112–113Èl-Fereidis++
1863Tristram 1871: 65–66+++
1863Saulcy 1865, I 168–175Djebel FoureïdisM. des Francs+
1864Saint-Aignan 1864: 293–294+++
Herst 1865: 273–274+Frankenberg+
1866Mrs. Finn 1866: 147+++
Ritter 1870: 92–96+++
1873SWP III 330–332++
Albouy 1878: 788El-FureydisM. des Francs+
Schick 1880++Frankenberg+
Morand 1882 II 323M. des Francs+
1882Mourot 1883 II 230–231Dschebel el-FouréidisBéthoulie des FrancsM. des Francs +
De Vaux 1883: 247M. des Francs +
Lian 1883: 126M. des Francs +
1883Baudot 1896: 163–168Djebel FoureidisM. des FrancsHérodion
Geikie I 1887: 241–243+++
Rauzy 1897: 128–129M. des FrancsHérodion
1890Parraud 1891: 206M. des Francs+
Newman 1892:​ +++
Baedeker 1898: 131–132+++
1900Mission: Bulletin 132: 63M. des Francs+
1907Béréziat 1911: 70M. des Francs+
Meistermann 1909: 297Djebel Foureidis+

Appendix: Herodium of the Monks of Deir Mar Saba

Let's have a look at the report of the Italian traveler Giovanni Mariti, who explored Palestine in the 1760s, and whom Edward Robinson considered to be the first of his predecessors in the localization of Flavian Herodium. “The name “Herodium” was long lost when it was pronounced by a monk from Saint-Saba, whom Mariti's father took as a guide to Bethlehem,” Morand marked (1882: II 323). This is a very interesting post. First we will quote it in the Italian original, and then translated into English.

Distante alquanto dal Monastero di S. Teodosio, e all' Austro del medesimo vedemmo in un Monte un antico Castello, o Fortezza. I nostri conduttori, e quei Monaci di S. Saba, che con noi erano, ci dissero essere il Castello di Erode. Questa è certamente quella magnifica Fortezza, che Erode il Grande (o altrimenti chiamato Erode l'Ascalonita) fece fabbricare sulla strada, che va a Masada, in quel luogo fin dove fuggendo egli da Gerusalemme colla sua Famiglia, gli convenne combattere co’ Parti, e co’ Giudei stessi, i quali lo seguitarono come nemici, per sessanta stadi fuori della Città; nella quale distanza avendoli sconfitti, fabbricò per memoria questo Castello, il quale dal suo nome lo chiamò Erodion. (Ioseph. De Bello lib. L Cap. XXV.)

Era questo un Monticello fatto a mano chiamato Astaide. Erode ne contornò, e ne cinse la sommità di Torri tonde, e di abitazioni regali, che ornò riccamente. Vi condusse delle acque con grandissima spesa fin da lontano, e vi fabbricò una scala di dugento scalini di marmo per rendere la salita più comoda. Appiè vi fece un' altra abitazione regale, delle stanze per gli amici, e delle scuderie per gli animali. Vi erano anche altre fabbriche, le quali si estendevano per la Pianura, che era circa il Colle, che costituivano la Città di Erodio, alla quale presedeva, per difesa, la Rocca, che era nel Colle stesso (Ioseph. De Belle Lib. I. Cap. XXVII; Ant. lud. Lib. XV. Cap. XII.). La Città di Erodio era una delle Toparchie della Giudèa (Plin. Lib. V. Cap. XIV. Ioseph. De Bello Lib. III. Cap. III).

Morì Erode l'Ascalonita l’anno 3 di Nostro Signore in Gerico, e secondo la sua volontà fu portato, per esser sotterrato nel Castello di Erodion, da esso fabbricato, il quale era distante dugento stadj, o venticinque miglia dalla Città di Gerico “Corpus autem per ducenta stadia delatum erat in Herodium, ubi, prout fuerat mandatum, sepultum erat” (Ioseph. De Bello Lib. I. Cap XXXIII). (...) Ho combinato, che il Castello di Erodion da me ora descritto, sia quello, ove veramente fu sepolto Erode il Grande

A fragment of a map of Palestine by Brandis Lucas of 1475. The East is in the upper part.

The translation: “At some distance from the Monastery of St. Theodosius, in the south, we saw an ancient castle or fortress on the mountain. Our guides and those monks [of the monastery] of St. Sabbas (Deir Mar Saba) who were with us told us that it was Herod's Castle. This is undoubtedly that magnificent fortress that Herod the Great (otherwise called Herod Ascalonite) built on the road leading to Masada, in the place where, fleeing Jerusalem with his family, he fought with the Parthians and even with Jews themselves who chased him like enemies, sixty stadia outside the city. At this distance, in memory of this victory, he built a Castle, which he named Erodion in honor of his name (Joseph. War: I 13.8 [265]).

It was a artificial hill named Astaide. Herod circled the top of this hill with round towers and surrounded it with royal lodging, which he richly decorated. At a tremendous expense, he brought water there from a distant place and built a staircase of two hundred marble steps to make the ascent more convenient. He established another royal residence there, rooms for friends and stables for animals. The plain around the hill is covered with other buildings that made up the whole city of Erodion, and on the hill rises a castle that dominates the entire area. (Joseph. War: I 21.10: [419–421]; Ant.: XV 9.4 [323–325]). The city of Erodion was one of the toparchies of Judea (Plin. Lib. V. Cap. XIV).

Herod Ascalonite died in the 3rd year A.D. in Jericho, and by his will he was buried in the castle Erodion built by him, which was two hundred stadia, or twenty-five miles from the city of Jericho. “The body was transferred at a distance of two hundred stadia to Erodion, where, according to the will, it was buried” (Joseph. War: I 33.9 [673]). (...) I believe that the Castle of Erodion, which I have just described, is where Herod the Great was actually buried” (Mariti 1770: IV 256–259).

Basically, Mariti's original message is the first two sentences. Everything else is a retelling and direct quotes from the writings of Josephus Flavius about Herodium. It is clear that the Italian traveler subsequently interpreted the “Castle of Erodion” shown to him, rereading the works of the Hebrew historian. Personally, he did not climb this mountain and did not examine the remains of the fortress.

The phrase is remarkable: “It was an artificial hill named Astaide”. Did such a toponym exist? The fact is that Mariti borrowed this toponym from the Italian translations of the works of Josephus. In the Greek original of “The Jewish War”, when describing the hill on which Herodium was built, the word μαστοειδῆς (“the female breast”, in the phrase “artificial hill, having the form of the female breast”; I 21.10 [419]) is used. Medieval Italian translators misunderstood this word as the name of the hill and rendered it in the form “Astaide”. This inaccuracy was reproduced by Giovanni Mariti. However, this does not cancel the main question: what kind of mountain did the guides show Mariti in the Judaean Desert, calling her Herodium?

Of course, Christian writers and geographers remembered about Flavian Herodium, the burial place of King Herod. On European maps of Palestine of the 15th and 18th centuries, Herodium was usually placed southeast of Jerusalem, sometimes closer to Teqoa (1570; 1598; 1748), sometimes closer to Jerusalem (1710; 1737), sometimes closer to Jericho (1650; 1695; 1742; 1809), although, according to Josephus, the fortress was two hundred stadia from Jericho (War: I 33.9 [673]). Christian geographers were well aware of Flavius's description of Herodium, but until the 19th century they did not think to encroach on the well-known Bethulia–the Mountain of Franks. On a number of maps (1616; 1619; 1641) Bethulia castrum is depicted, as it should be, at the site of Jebel el-Fureidis, north of Teqoa, and Herodium is located east of it and north of the monastery Mar Saba.

A fragment of a map of Palestine of 1782. The East is in the upper part.

It is curious that in Hebrew texts of the Middle Ages, in Jewish adaptations and retellings of the works of Josephus Flavius, the Greek name Ἡρώδειον and the Latin Herodium is rendered as ארודיאן — “Erodian”. This title appears in “Sefer haq-Qabbala” (1514), in the published work of Maimonides in 1529, and in the Hebrew translation of “The Jewish War”, published in 1559. Thus, one can say that the Jews did not have their own information about this Judaic fortress. They did not even associate its name with the name of Herod (הורדוס). In the realm of the Palestinian toponymy, Jews dutifully followed their teachers — Christian writers and apologists.

Not far from the place where the Dead Sea begins to expand,” wrote Jean Zuallart, “about twenty-five miles or two hundred and twenty stadia from Jericho, almost opposite the monastery of St. Sabbas, there are the ruins of the city, the palace and the castle Herodion, built by Herod (nicknamed Great, who killed Innocent babies) in the citadel, located among the mountains, where the Jews fought with him, when fleeing from the Parthians and Jews, he fled to his castle Massada four miles from there” (1608: IV 48).

Zuallart doesn't say that he personally visited this castle in 1586, but it is clear that it conveys the enduring opinion of the inhabitants of the monasteries of the Judean Desert, who probably observed the ruins of an ancient fortress in the vicinity of Deir Mar Saba. In various works and guidebooks of the 17th and 18th centuries, we find the same view redarding the location of the legendary Herodium (Hornius 1672: 294). The impression is that we are talking about one of the peaks near the monastery. Moreover, in this case, Mount Muntar and Khirbet el-Mird (Hyrcania), which are located in the northeast of Deir Mar Saba, must be excluded from consideration. Both of these peaks were inhabited in the Byzantine period and in the Middle Ages; churches and small monasteries stood were located there.

Two centuries after Jean Zuallart, the same monks of the Judean Desert again declared that the Herod's castle is in their habitat. However, the place shown to Giovanni Mariti by his guides should not have surprised him. It was there that he found Herodium on the Christian maps of that time, and read about it in guidebooks and descriptions of the Holy Land.

Did the monks point to Jebel el-Fureidis, which is located southwest of the monastery of St. Theodosius? It should be born in mind that the monastery of St. Theodosius is located in the present Arab village ‘Ubeidiya, and the distance between these two points is 7.5 km. Moreover, this area is occupied by several hills, in particular, Khirbet Juhzum, Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘ and Za‘atara. Therefore, Jebel el-Fureidis can't be observed from the monastery of St. Theodosius.

Meanwhile, Mariti, like many Christian pilgrims, knew Jebel el-Fureidis well as the Mountain of Franks. Elsewhere he says: “Near the Bethlehem desert, or rather, between it and the Thekoya desert, there is a high mountain separated from the rest, steep at the top. The Dragomen told us that it was called the "the Mountain of Franks"” (1770: IV 270–271). Further, Mariti expounds the Crusader tradition, after which he explains: “On the other hand, the Arabs and the indigenous people of the country call this mountain “Fardays”, which means “Paradise”, perhaps because at its foot there were gardens irrigated with a spring. Besides the Arabs, I also found that the Greeks also call the delightful places and gardens Παράδεισοι, that is, Paradisi. In this sense, this word is sometimes used by the Latins. At the top of this mountain there are the remains of a fortress, and I believe it belongs to the time when the Latins ruled the kingdom of Jerusalem; although the fortunate location of the Mountain makes one think that there was a fortress more ancient than this fort” (1770: IV 272).

Therefore, the “Castle of Erodion”, shown by the guides of Mariti to the south of the monastery of St. Theodosius, is not Jebel el-Fureidis, but some other mountain. In his multivolume work, the Italian researcher demonstrated an excellent knowledge of Palestinian toponyms. He excelled at observation and shared considerations that are very valuable for Palestinian scholars. No wonder Titus Tobler, who compiled a bibliography of scholars working on Palestine, wrote: “It would be fair to say that it was not Robinson, but an Italian priest who laid the foundations for the critical history of [the Holy Land]” (1853: I LXIII).

The fragment the map of “the Land of Promise” of 1786

To the south of the monastery of St. Theodosius, two kilometers away, the towering Khirbet Juhzum is clearly visible. There are also the ancient foundations of houses, as well as cisterns and caves are located. A little to the west — Khirbet el-Makhrum with the ruins of the Byzantine monastery of St. Theognis. A kilometer to the south is the cone-shaped mountain Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘, where there are also ancient ruins. In July 1863, on the way from Bethlehem to Deir Mar Saba, Victor Guérin visited Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘ and described it as follows: “Located on the mountain separating two deep valleys, where the camp of the Taamra tribe is located, these ruins seem to be the remains of an ancient military structure; several cisterns dug into the rock bear witness to ancient works” (Judee, III 88). We add that, strategically, this is a great place to build a fortress.

From Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘ to Jerusalem it is 8.6 km or 48 stadia, which is closer to the 60 stadia indicated by Josephus from Jerusalem to Herodium than the 84 stadia from Jerusalem to Jebel el-Fureidis.

The location of Khirbet Umm et-Tala' does not contradict the word πλησίος (“not far, in the neighborhood”), which Josephus uses, speaking about the proximity of Herodium and the village of Teqoa (War: IV 9.5 [518]). From Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘ to the present Arab village of Tuku‘a (formerly Teqoa) is 8 km distance. And this can be considered: not far. After all, Josephus' fortress of Masada also turns out to be “not far from Jerusalem” (War: IV 7.2 [399]), although there is 52 km between them!

This mountain should not be confused with the hill of the same name Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘, which is located near the Israeli settlement Migdal Oz (south of Bethlehem) and which is identified with the “tower of the flock” mentioned in the Bible (Gen 35:21; Micah 4:8). Archaeological excavations were carried out on that hill. But the Arabic Khirbet Umm et-Tala‘ remains almost unexplored.

In the Judean Desert, there are many mountains, with their shape resembling a woman's breast, mentioned by Josephus when describing Herodium. The French traveler Victor Baudot describes the Judean Desert in this way: “On all sides there are charred female nipples (mamelons), glistening in the sun like molten metal” (Baudot 1896: 167). For example, this rather high mountain is located near the abandoned Jordanian fort of Umm Daraj.

The mountain near the abandoned Jordanian fort of Umm Daraj

Continuing his way to Deir Mar Saba in 1863, V. Guérin arrived at the monastery of St. Theodosius, from where he turned to the southeast and after 3.5 km found himself on a very remarkable mountain, which he described as follows: “A pile of ashlars more or less square in shape, the remains of a small column, now inverted, appear to me as Burj el-Hummar. This fort (fortin), located on a mountain plateau, dominates the entire neighborhood” (Judee, III 92).

The toponym Burj el-Hammar — “the tower of the asses” appears on the PEF map of 1879 (Palmer 1881: 342), halfway between the monasteries of St. Theodosius and St. Saba, but then disappeared on subsequent maps and now is not mentioned in guidebooks. We believe that this place should be sought to the east of the Arab village of ‘Ubeidiya, on a high plateau, next to the highway from ‘Ubeidiya to Deir Mar Saba. Interestingly, there are 11.2 km from this place to Jerusalem, that is, 62 stadia — a distance that almost exactly coincides with the distance indicated by Josephus from Jerusalem to Herodium.

So, we see that the Judean Desert southeast of Jerusalem is abound with the ruins of various fortresses and forts that were created over the centuries. Some of them, in one way or another, fall under the description of Herodium given by Josephus. One of these fortresses was shown by the monks to Giovanni Mariti as a castle built by King Herod.

At that moment, Mariti showed an annoying sluggishness, which later, he apparently realized himself. Therefore, he cites detailed quotes from the works of Josephus Flavius instead of his own description of “Erodion”. If Mariti then seized the moment and took efforts to climb the mountain shown to him by the guides, he would see everything with his own eyes and his message would be of much greater value. In such a case, an Italian explorer of the 18th century could become the founder of such a tradition of Flavian Herodium, which would exist along with the Crusader tradition of Jebel el-Fureidis, and not instead of it.

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