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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
I. MOUNT TABOR (Sept. Γαιθβώρ [v.r. Ταφώθ ], ὄρος Θαβώρ, Θαβώρ, but τὸ Ι᾿ταβύριον in Jeremiah and Hosea, and in Josephus [Ant. 5, 5, 3; War, 4:1,1, etc.], who has also Ἀταρβύριον, as in Polybius, 5, 70,6; Vulg. Thabor), a mountain (הִר, Judges 4:6; Judges 4:12; Judges 4:14, elsewhere without this epithet, Joshua 19:22, Judges 8:18; Psalms 79:12; Jeremiah 46:18 Hosea 5:1), one of the most interesting and remarkable of the single mountains in Palestine. It was a Rabbinic saving (and shows the Jewish estimate of the attractions of the locality) that the Temple ought of right to have been built here, but was required by an express revelation to be erected on Mount Moriah.
1. Description. — Mount Tabor rises abruptly from the north-eastern arm of the plain of Esdraelon and stands entirely; insulated, except on the west, where a narrow ridge connects it with the hills of Nazareth. It presents to the eye, as seen from a distance, a beautiful appearance, being so symmetrical in its proportions, and rounded off like a hemisphere or the segment of a circle, yet varying somewhat as viewed from different directions, being more conical when seen from the east or west. The body of the mountain consists of the peculiar limestone of the country. It is studded with a comparatively dense forest of oaks, pistacias, and other trees and bushes, with the exception of an occasional opening on the sides and a small uneven tract on the summit. The coverts afford at present a shelter for wolves, wild boars, lynxes, and various reptiles. Its height is estimated at 1300 feet from the base, and 1865 from the sea-level (Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 498). Its ancient name, as already suggested, indicates its elevation, though it does not rise much, if at all, above some of the other summits in the vicinity. It is now called ebel et-Tu; a name which some have tried to identify with Tabor, as if it were a contraction. But Jebel et Tur means simply the "fort-hill," and is used to designate the Mount of Olives and Gerizim, as well as Tabor. It lies about six or eight miles almost due east from Nazareth. The ascent is usually made on the west side, near the little village of Debirieh, probably the ancient Daberath (Joshua 19:12), though it can be made with entire ease in other places. It requires three quarters of an hour or an hour to reach the top. The path is circuitous and at times steep, but not so-much so as to render it difficult to ride the entire way. The trees and bushes are generally so thick as to intercept the prospect; but now and then the traveler as he ascends comes to an open spot which reveals to him a magnificent view of the plain. One of the most pleasing aspects of the landscape, as seen from such points, in the season of the early harvest, is that presented in the diversified appearance of the fields. The different plots of ground exhibit various colors, according to the state of cultivation at the time. Some of them are red, where the land has been newly ploughed up, owing to the natural properties of the soil; others yellow or white, where the harvest is beginning to ripen or is already ripe; and others green being covered with grass or springing grain. As they are contiguous to each other, or intermixed, these part-colored plots present, as looked down upon from above, an appearance of gay checkered work which is singularly beautiful. The top of Tabor consists of al irregular platform half a mile long by three quarters wide, embracing a circuit of half an hour's walk and commanding wide views of the subjacent plain from end to end. A copious dew falls here during the warm months. Travelers who have spent the night there have found their tents as wet in the morning as if they had been drenched with rain.
It is the universal judgment of those who have- stool on the spot, that the panorama spread before them as they look from Tabor includes as great a variety of objects of natural beauty and of sacred and historic interest as any one to be seen from any position in the Holy Land. O1n the east the waters of the Sea of Tiberias, not less, than fifteen miles distant, are seen glittering through the clear atmosphere in the deep bed where they repose so quietly. Though but a small portion of the surface of the lake can be distinguished, the entire outline of its basin can be traced on every side. In the same direction the eye follows the course of the Jordan for' many miles, while still farther east it rests upon a boundless perspective of hills and valleys, embracing the modern Hauran, and farther south the mountains of the ancient Gilead and Bashan. The dark line which skirts the horizon on the west is the Mediterranean the rich plains of Galilee fill up the intermediate space as far as the foot of Tabor. The ridge of Carmrel lifts its head in the north-west, though the portion which lies directly on the sea is-not distinctly visible. On the north and north-east we behold the last ranges of Lebanon as they rise into the hills about Safed, overtopped in the rear by the snow-capped Hermon, and still nearer to us the Horns of Hattin, the reputed Mount of the Beatitudes. On the south are seen, first the summits of Gilboa, which David's touching elegy on Saul and Jonathan has fixed forever in the memory of mankind, and farther onward a confused view of the mountains and valleys which occupy the central part of Palestine. Over the heads of Dû hy and Gilboa the spectator looks into the valley of the Jordan in the neighborhood of Beisan (itself not within sight), the ancient Bethshean, on whose walls the Philistines hung up the headless trunk of Saul, after their victory over Israel. Looking across a branch of the plain of Esdraelon, we behold Endor, the abode of the sorceress whom the king consulted on the night before his fatal battle. Another little village clings to the hill-side of another ridge, on which we gaze with still deeper interest. It is Nain, the village of that name in the New Test., where the Savior touched the bier and restored to life the widow's son. The Savior must have often passed at the foot of this mount in the course of his journeys in different parts of Galilee. It is not surprising that the Hebrews looked up with so much admiration to this glorious work of the Creator's hand. The same beauty rests upon its brow today, the same' richness of verdure refreshes the eye, in contrast with' the bald aspect of so many of the adjacent mountains. The Christian traveler yields spontaneously to the impression of wonder and devotion, and appropriates as his own the language of the psalmist (Psalms 89:11-12)—
"The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine; The world and the fullness thereof, thou hast founded them. The north and the south thou hast created them; Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name."
2. History. — Tabor is not expressly mentioned in the New Test., but makes a prominent figure in' the Old. The book of Joshua (Joshua 19:22) names it as the boundary between Issachar and Zebulon (see Psalms 89:12). Barak, at the command of Deborah, assembled his forces on Tabor, and, on the arrival of the opportune moment, descended thence with "ten thousand men after him" into the plain, and conquered Sisera on the banks of the Kishon (Judges 4:6-15). The brothers of Gideon, each of whom resembled the children of a king, were murdered here by Zebah and Zalmunna (8, 18, 19). Some writers, after Herder and others, think that Tabor is intended when it is said of Issachar and Zebulon in Deuteronomy 33:19, that "they shall call the people unto. the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness." Stanley, who holds this view (Sinai and Palestine, p. 351), remarks that he was struck with the aspect of the open glades on the summit as specially fitted for the convocation of festive assemblies,-and could-well believe that in some remote, age it may have been a sanctuary of the northern tribes, if not of the whole nation. The prophet in Hosea 5:1 reproaches the priests and royal family with having "been a snare on Mizpah and a net spread upon Tabor." The charge against them probably is that they had set up idols and practiced heathenish rites on the high places which were usually selected for such worship. The comparison in Jeremiah 46:18, "As Tabor is among the mountains and Carmel, by the sea," imports apparently that those heights were proverbial for their conspicuousness, beauty, and strength.
After the close of Old-Test. history, Tabor continued to be a strong fortress. In the year B.C. 218, Antiochus the Great got possession of it by stratagem and strengthened its fortifications. The town existed on the summit in New-Test. times; but the defenses had fallen into decay, and Josephus caused them to be rebuilt (War, 4. 1, 8).
3. Present Condition. — Dr. Robinson (Bibl. Res. 2, 353) has thus described the ruins which are to be seen at present on the summit of Tabor: "All around the top are the foundations of a thick wall built of large stones, some of which are beveled, showing that the entire wall was perhaps originally of that character. In several parts are the remains of towers and bastions. The chief remains are upon the ledge of rocks on the south of the little basin, and especially towards its eastern end; here are in indiscriminate confusion, walls and arches and foundations, apparently of dwelling- houses, as well as other buildings, some of hewn, and some of, large beveled stones. The walls and traces of a fortress are seen here, and farther west along the southern brow, of which one tall pointed arch of a Saracenic gateway is still standing, and bears the name of Bab el-Hawa, Gate of the Wind. Connected with it: are loopholes, and others are seen near by. These latter fortifications belong to the sera of the Crusades; but the large beveled stones we refer to a style of architecture not later than the times of the Romans, before which period, indeed, a town and fortress already existed on Mount Tabor. In the days of the Crusaders, too, and earlier, there were here churches and monasteries. The summit has many cisterns, now mostly dry." The same writer found the thermometer here, 10 A.M. (June 18), at 98° Fahr., at sunrise at 64°, and at sunset at 740. The Latin Christians have now an altar here, at which their priests from Nazareth perform an annual mass. The Greeks also have a chapel, where, on certain festivals, they assemble for the celebration of religious rites. Stanley, in his Notices of Localities Visited with the Prince of Wales, remarks, "The fortress, of which the ruins crown the summit, had evidently four gateways, like those by which the great Roman camps of our own country were entered. By one of these gateways my attention was called to an Arabic inscription, said to be the only one on the mountain." It records the building or rebuilding of "this blessed fortress" by the order of the sultan Abu-Bekr on his return from the East A.H. 607. In 1873 the monks began the construction of a convent on the north-east brow of the mountain.
4. Traditional Importance. — In the monastic ages, Tabor, in consequence partly of a belief that it was the scene of the Savior's transfiguration, was crowded with hermits. It was one of the shrines from the earliest period - which pilgrims to the Holy Land regarded as a sacred duty to honor with their presence and their prayers. Jerome, in his Itinerary of Paula, writes, "Scandebat montem Thabor, in quo transfiguratus est Dominus; aspiciebat procul Hermon et Hermonim et campos latissimos Galilneae (Jesreel), in quibus Sisara prostratus est. Torrens Cison qui mediam planitiem dividebat, et oppidum juxta, Naim, monstrabantur." This idea that our Savior was transfigured on Tabor prevailed extensively among the early Christians (see Robinson, Bibl. Res. 2,358 sq.), who adopted legends of this nature, and often reappears still in popular religious works. — If one might choose a place which he would deem peculiarly fitting for so sublime a transaction, there is certainly none which would so entirely satisfy our feelings in this respect as the lofty majestic, beautiful Tabor. It has been thought difficult, however, to acquiesce in the correctness of this opinion. The summit of Tabor appears to have been occupied by a town as early as the time when the Israelites took possession of the country (Joshua 19:22). Indeed, such a strong position would scarcely be left unoccupied in those stormy times of Syria's history. Accordingly, as above seen, it is susceptible of proof from the Old Test., and from later history, that a fortress or town existed on Tabor from very early times down to B.C. 50 or 53; and, as Josephus says that he strengthened the fortifications of a city there, about A.D. 60, it is certain that Tabor must have been inhabited during the intervening period, that is, in the days of Christ (comp. Polybius, 5, 70, 6; Josephus, Ant. 14:6, 3; War, 2, 20, 1; 4:1. 8; Life, § 37). But as in the account of the transfiguration it is said that Jesus took his disciples "up into a high mountain apart and was transfigured before them" (Matthew 17:1-2), we must understand that he brought them to the summit of the mountain, where they were alone by themselves (κατ᾿ ἰδίαν ). Yet it is not probable that the whole mountain was occupied by edifices, and it is quite possible that a solitary spot might have been found amid its groves, where the scene could have taken place, unobserved. The event has, indeed, been referred by many to Mount Hermon, on the ground that our Lord's miracle immediately preceding was at Caesarea Philippi; but the interval of a whole week ("‘ six days," Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2, "eight days," Luke 9:28) decidedly favors the idea of a considerable journey in the interval. (See TRANSFIGURATION).
Some Church traditions have given also to Tabor the honor of being Melchizedek's hill, from which he came forth to greet Abraham, so that here is another king's dale, rivaling that at Gerizim, if tradition is to be followed. The whole legend will be found at full length in Athanasius (Opp. 2, 7 [Colon. 1686]). That father tells us that Salem, the mother of Melchizedek, ordered him to go to Tabor. He went, and remained seven years in the wood naked, till his back became like a snail's shell.
The mountain has been visited and described by multitudes, of travelers, especially (in addition to those named above) Russegger (Reis. 3, 258), Hasselquist (Voyage, p. 179), Volney ( Voyage, 2, 272), Schubert (Morgenl. 3, 175), Burckhardt (Syria,.p. 332), Stephens (Travels, 2, 317), Nugent [lord] (Lands, etc., 2, 198); see also Reland, Palaest. p. 334;' Hackett, Illustr. of Script. p. 304; Thomson, Land and Book, 2, 136; Porter, Handb. p. 401; Badeker, Palest. p. 364; Ridgaway, The Lord's Land, p. 371.
II. The PLAIN (or rather OAK) OF TABOR (תָּבוֹר אֵלוֹן; Sept. ἡ δρῦς Θαβώρ; Vulg. Quercus Thabor) is mentioned only in 1 Samuel 10:3 as one of the points in the homeward journey of Saul after his anointing by Samuel It was the next stage in the journey after "Rachel's sepulcher at Zelzah." But, unfortunately, like so many of the other spots named in this interesting passage, the position of the Oak of Tabor has not yet been fixed. (See SAUL). Ewald seems to consider it certain (gewiss) that Tabor and Deborah are merely different modes of pronouncing the same name, and he accordingly identifies the oak of Tabor with the tree under which Deborah, Rachel's nurse, was buried (Genesis 35:8) and that again with the palm under which Deborah the prophetess delivered her oracles (Gesch. 1, 390; 2, 489; 3. 29), and this again with the Oak of the old Prophet near Bethel (ibid. 3, 444). But this, though most ingenious, can only be received as a conjecture, and the position on which it would land us "between Ramah and Bethel" (Judges 4:5)— is too far from Rachel's sepulcher to fall in with the conditions of the narrative of Saul's journey, so long as we hold that to be the traditional sepulcher near Bethlehem. We can only determine that it lay somewhere between Bethlehem and Bethel, but why it received the epithet "Tabor" it is impossible to discover. Yet we see from the names Chisloth-Tabor and Aznoth-Tabor that the mountain gave adjunct titles to places at a considerable distance. (See ZELZAH).
III. The CITY OF TABOR (Sept. Θαβώρ v.r. Θαχχεία; Vulg. Thabor) is mentioned in the lists of 1 Chronicles 6 as a city of the Merarite Levites, in the tribe of Zebulun (1 Chronicles 6:77). The catalogue of Levitical cities in Joshua 21 does not contain any name answering to this (comp. Joshua 21:34-35). But the list of the towns of Zebulun (ch. 19) contains the name of CHISLOTH- TABOR (ver; 12). It is therefore possible either that this last name is abbreviated into Tabor by the chronicler, or (which is less likely) that by the time these later lists were compiled the Merarites had established themselves on the sacred mountain, and that the place in question is Mount Tabor.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Tabor'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/t/tabor.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.