site rising from the Transjordanian plateau 7 km (4 mi.) west of Madaba, bounded on the east by Wadi ῾Afrit (which extends into Wadi al-Jadidah, Wadi al-Kanisah, and Wadi al-Hary farther south) and on the north by Wadi Abu al-Naml, which extends into Wadi ῾Ain Musa. Mt. Nebo's highest crest reaches an altitude of 800 m above sea level. Its other peaks are only slightly lower; of them, the two most important historically are the western peak of Siyagha and the southeastern peak of al-Mukhayyat (map reference 2218 × 1315).

In the Hebrew Bible Mt. Nebo, part of the Abarim Mountain, was located east of the Jordan River, opposite Jericho. It was also known as Pisgah (Dt. 34:1; Nm. 21:20, 33, 47). As a Christian sanctuary dedicated to Moses, Mt. Nebo was known by scholars and visited by Byzantine pilgrims. Eusebius (Onomasticon 136.6) wrote: “Nabau, which in Hebrew is called Nebo, is a mountain beyond the Jordan, in front of Jericho in the land of Moab, where Moses died. Until this day it is indicated at the sixth milestone of the city of Esbus [which lies] to the east.” The Roman pilgrim Egeria (381–384) and the bishop of Maiumas of Gaza, Peter the Iberian (fifth century), relate in great detail their visits to the Memorial Church of Moses on Mt. Nebo in Arabia. Egeria, after having crossed the Jordan on her way from Jerusalem, stayed at Livias and then took the road to Esbus. At the sixth Roman mile she took a detour to the Springs of Moses and from there climbed to the summit of Mt. Nebo (Itinerarium 10–12). The pilgrim Theodosius (first half of the sixth century) relates that not far from the city of Livias, east of the Jordan River, pilgrims could visit “the water made to flow from the rock, the place of Moses' death and the hot springs of Moses where lepers come to be cured” (Theodosius 19). The pilgrim from Piacenza (second half of the sixth century), adds: “From the Jordan to the place where Moses died, it is eight miles” (Itinerarium 10.5).

Moreover, in the Bible, as on the inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, Nebo is a city listed among the Cities of the high plateau of Moab, in the territory of Madaba (Nm. 32:3, 38, 33:47; 1 Chr. 5:8; Is. 15:2; Jer. 48:1, 22; 1 Mc. 9:37). The Mesha inscription records that King Mesha conquered the town, killed the inhabitants, and “took from thence the vessels of Yahweh and dragged them before Chemosh” (1. 14–18). [See Moabite Stone.] Eusebius (Onomasticon 136.9ff.) knew the locality of Nebo as a desert 13 km (8 mi.) from Esbus. The biographer of Peter the Iberian, in the second half of the fifth century, knew Nebo as a village on the mountain inhabited by Christians (Life 85). The survival of the name Nebo in the region was discovered In 1838 by Edward Robinson and Eli Smith (Robinson and Smith, 1941, vol. 2, p. 307). The local bedouin also know the mountain as Jabal Nabo or Jabal Musa in homonymy to Wadi ῾Ain Musa located on the northern slope of the mountain (Saller, 1941, vol. 1, p. 72).

The discovery in Arezzo, Italy, of Egeria's memoirs (edited by Francesco Gamurrini In 1886), and the subsequent discovery of the biography, in Syriac, of Peter the Iberian In 1895 (see above), were decisive in identifying the Memorial of Moses with the ruins at Siyagha on the northwest spur of Mt. Nebo. The ruins were first visited and described In 1864 by the French explorer the Duke de Luynes (1874, vol. 1, pp. 148ff.). In 1933, archaeologists from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF) in Jerusalem began exploring Siyagha. Sylvester Saller directed three lengthy excavations, In 1933, 1935, and 1937 that resulted in the discovery of the basilica and of a large monastery that, in the Byzantine period, had grown up around the sanctuary. In 1963, Virgilio Corbo began the restoration of the basilica. Michele Piccirillo has directed the project since 1976. [See the biographies of Saller and Corbo.]

Nebo, Mount

NEBO, MOUNT. Figure 1. The old Diakonikon-Baptistery at Siyagha with mosaic floor. Dated to 530 CE. (Archive Studium Biblicum Franciscanum; photograph by Michele Piccirillo)

view larger image

The ridge of Mt. Nebo has been inhabited since remote antiquity, as the dolmens, menhirs, flints, tombs, and fortresses from different epochs testify. However, its real fame is derived from the death of Moses described in Deuteronomy 34. In the fourth century, the Christians in the region constructed a memorial church in honor of Moses on the Siyagha peak, an obvious effort to perpetuate the memory of the biblical episode. It was a triapsidal church (a cella trichora) with a vestibule in front of it, tombs covered by its mosaic floor, and two funeral chapels on each side. An open court in front of the sanctuary's facade was bordered on the north by a covered passageway leading to the diaconicon chapel, including a cruciform baptistery basin (see figure 1). The chapel was lavishly decorated with offerings from the officials of the Byzantine government by a team of three mosaicists: Soelos, Kaiomos, and Elias. The work was completed in August 531, in the time of Bishop Elias of Madaba and of the Roman consuls Lampadius and Orestes.

In the second half of the sixth century the three-nave basilica was built, in the time of Bishop Sergius of Madaba and of Abbott Martyrius. The primitive church Egeria and Peter the Iberian visited became the presbytery of the new sanctuary. The basilica had a long diaconicon on its north side, on a higher level, and a new baptistery chapel (a fotisterion) on the south side, with a narthex at the facade. The first stage of the work was completed In 597, as stated in the mosaic inscriptions in the baptistery chapel. The sanctuary was decorated with wall and floor mosaics. At the beginning of the seventh century, in the time of Bishop Leontios and Abbott Theodore, the Chapel of the Theotokos (of the Mother of God) was added on the southern wall, covering two rooms of the monastery. In front of the altar, in the area of the presbytery, a rectangular panel can still be seen of mosaic flowers, gazelles, and two bulls standing before an alter with a ciborium on it. The mosaicist intended to depict the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem.

While the sanctuary was undergoing its various stages of architectural development, the adjacent monastery gradually expanded. Dayr Siyagha reached its maximum size during the sixth century. The monastery, dominated by the Memorial Church of Moses, presents itself as a complex of different, yet interrelated, sectors, composed of several rooms that open into a central courtyard. The sectors seem functionally specialized: community rooms in the atrium of the basilica and living quarters or cells in the southern sector. From the archaeological research underway, it appears that the monastery developed from monastic units more or less isolated and situated on the top of or on the slopes of the mountain as the so-called hermitage of Procopius on the west slope (Piccirillo and Alliata, 1990). When the three-naved basilica was completed In 597, the size of the monastery was probably reduced, for unknown reasons, to the area of the atrium in front of the church facade and to the southern sector; the other sectors were abandoned. Archaeological research into the ecclesiastical edifices in the valleys around Mt. Nebo support Saller's conclusion that the superior of the main monastery also had jurisdiction over the monks living in the valleys near the water supply, where the monastery may have had its orchards and vegetable gardens (Saller, 1941). The monastery was completely abandoned in the ninth century.

Khirbet el-Mukhayyat.

The fortified place of Khirbet el-Mukhayyat, on the southeast spur of the mountain, with an attested continuity of settlement from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman-Byzantine period, according to its Franciscan excavators, fits well with the locality of Nebo mentioned by ancient sources (Saller and Bagatti, 1949, pp. 207–217). In 1863 the French explorer Félicien de Saulcy listed the name of the tell, but the ruins were not visited until 1881, by Claude R. Conder of the Survey of Eastern Palestine. [See the biographies of Saulcy and Conder.] In 1901 Alois Musil visited the site, described it, and was the first to propose its identity. In 1935, the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land acquired the acropolis. The following year Jerome Mihaic improved the road leading to the ruins and began a program of archaeological research. Saller and Bellarmino Bagatti (1949) published the results. In 1962 Julius Ripamonti of the University of Caracas, Venezuela, undertook a systematic study of the necropolis and at the same time excavated a small monastery and an Iron Age tower (see below). Saller subsequently studied the pottery found in the tombs, which furnished excellent points of reference for establishing a chronological sequence of human habitation at el-Mukhayyat. Bedouin excavated an Early Bronze III tomb on the southwestern slope of the acropolis; Ripamonti excavated several Iron II tombs (Saller, 1966) on the north side of the tell; and Saller (1967) published the tombs of the Hellenistic–Roman period. The Iron Age tower Ripamonti excavated is unpublished.

Three churches and a monastery have been excavated at Khirbet el-Mukhayyat: the Church of Saint George built on top of the acropolis In 536, in the time of Bishop Elias of Madaba and decorated with mosaics by a team of three mosaicists—Nahum, Kiriakos, and Thomas; the Church of Sts. Lot and Procopius built in the time of Bishop John of Madaba (sixth century) on the lower terrace of the acropolis; the Church of Amos and Casiseos on the west slope of Wadi ῾Afrit; and the small monastery on the opposite side of the same valley. [See Madaba.]

Recent excavations have proven that the Church of Amos and Casiseos is the oldest in the village (Piccirillo, 1984). It takes its present name from its benefactors, whose names were carved on the chancel posts. The church, poorly paved with stone blocks, may have been built in the second half of the fifth century; it was flanked on the north by a room near a water cistern hewn in the rock of the mountain. In the time of Bishop Phidus of Madaba, under the direction of the priest John and the deacon Silvanus, the area was transformed into a chapel with a mosaic pavement and a square presbytery, preceded by a vestibule also decorated with a mosaic under the deacon Kaiomos. In the time of Bishop John, the chapel was enlarged and rebuilt on higher ground. Based on the style the same team of mosaicists responsible for the mosaic floor in the Church of the Sts. Lot and Procopius executed the mosaic in the new apsed chapel.

The small monastery of al-Kanisah, built following the contours of the terraces of the mountain on the eastern slopes of Wadi ῾Afrit, is composed of a chapel, with a mosaic, on the highest point with respect to the rooms to the south; several rooms are constructed along the slope of the mountain going north. A cave runs underneath the monastery that was used for storage. To the south of the chapel, at a higher point, a wine press was found hewn in the rock, which is typical of agricultural monasteries.

῾Ain Musa Valley.

Archaeological exploration of the valley of ῾Ain Musa, the toponomic point of reference for the identification of the nearby ruins of Siyagha with the Memorial of Moses, following Egeria's journey, began In 1984. During her visit to Mt. Nebo, the pilgrim Egeria met many monks in the valley near the “springs of Moses” and saw their cells and a tiny church. “Between the church and the cells was a plentiful spring which flowed from the rock, beautifully clear and with an excellent taste,” she wrote (Itinerarium 11.2).

Before the discovery of Egeria's manuscript, the first account by a modern visitor to the ῾Ain Musa was written In 1864 by the Duke de Luynes, who noted the nearby Christian hermitage hewn in the rock (see above). In 1934, Nelson Glueck surveyed the fortress of al-Mashhad near the spring, collecting Iron Age and Nabatean sherds and a number of contemporary clay figurines (see Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research 14 [1933–1934]: 24–27, 15 [1935]: 110). Saller and Bagatti (1949) identified several Byzantine ruins along the path leading to the Roman road on the Mushaqqar ridge, a road with its milestones already known from the survey carried out by J. Jermer-Durand In 1884 (“Voie de Hesban au Jourdain,” Revue Biblique [1895]: 398–400, [1896]: 613–615). Saller and Bagatti (1949) provided a general sketch of the region with its dolmens, circles, tombs, fortresses, and Byzantine buildings. A more detailed map of the Roman road from Esbus to Livias taken by pilgrims to reach the Memorial of Moses was drawn In 1973 by the members of the Ḥesban (Esbus) expedition, who surveyed and mapped the Roman-Byzantine fortress of al-Mahatta near the sixth Roman milestone.

A rescue excavation by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF) under Michele Piccirillo In 1984–1985 in a farmhouse among the vineyards revealed the church of a small monastery, named the Church of Kaianos, with two superimposed mosaic floors: the “upper church,” like the “lower” one, had a slightly raised, square presbytery. Iconographically, a unique motif in the mosaic of the upper church is an anonymous Arab camel driver depicted with a loincloth and a mantle over his shoulders. The lower church was built in the time of Bishop Cyrus of Madaba, at the beginning of the sixth century, on top of two tombs. In the area of the presbytery, a bilingual inscription, funerary in character, in Greek and in Christo-Palestinian Aramaic, the language spoken by ordinary people in the region, was recovered (Puech, 1984).

A second church is located along the path connecting the spring with the Roman road. It was part of a small monastery built on the slope of the mountain. It was excavated by the SBF In 1986–1987. It is square and includes a room on the south with a mosaic and a paved courtyard. The church's mosaic floor is nearly intact and is one of the best-preserved works of the local workshops of mosaicists.

In 1994 the SBF excavated a small monastery east of the spring in the Wadi ῾Ain al-Kanisah south of the mountain. The chapel was dedicated to the Theotokos as stated in the mosaic inscriptions. It was repaired In 762 at the time of Bishop Job of Madaba (Piccirillo, 1994).

[See also Churches; and Mosaics.]


  • Alliata, Eugenio. “La ceramica dello scavo.” Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF)/Liber Annuus 34 (1984): 316–317.
  • Alliata, Eugenio. “La ceramica dello scavo della cappella del Prete Giovanni a Khirbet el-Mukhayyat.” SBF/Liber Annuus 38 (1988): 317–360.
  • Alliata, Eugenio. “Nuovo settore del monastero al Monte Nebo-Si-yagha.” In Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land, New Discoveries: Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, edited by Giovanni Claudio Bottini et al., pp. 427–466. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (SBF), Collectio Maior, 36. Jerusalem, 1990.
  • Bagatti, Bellarmino. “Nuova ceramica del Monte Nebo (Siyagha).” SBF/Liber Annuus 35 (1985): 249–278.
  • Corbo, Virgilio. “Nuovi scavi archeologici nella cappella del battistero della basilica del Nebo (Siyagha).” SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 241–258.
  • Corbo, Virgilio. “Scavi archeologici sotto i mosaici della basilica del Monte Nebo (Siyagha).” SBF/Liber Annuus 20 (1970): 273–298.
  • Knauf, E. Axel. “Bemerkungen zur frühen Geschichte der arabischen Ortographie.” Orientalia 53 (1984): 456–458.
  • Luynes, Duc de. Voyage d'exploration à la Mer Morte, à Pétra et sur la rive gauche du Jourdain, vol. 1. Paris, 1874, p. 148ff.
  • Milani, C. Itinerarium Antonini Placentini. Milan, 1977.
  • Milik, J. T. “Nouvelles inscriptions sémitiques et grecques du pays de Moab.” SBF/Liber Annuus 9 (1959): 330–358.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “Campagna archeologica a Khirbet el Mukhayyet (Città dei Nebo), agosto-settembre 1973.” SBF/Liber Annuus 23 (1973): 322–358.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “Campagna archeologica nella basilica di Mosè Profeta sul Monte Nebo-Siyagha.” SBF/Liber Annuus 26 (1976): 281–318.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “Forty Years of Archaeological Work at Mount Nebo-Siyagha in Late Roman-Byzantine Jordan.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 1, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 291–300. Amman, 1982.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “Una chiesa nell'wadi ῾Ayoun Mousa ai piedi del Monte Nebo.” SBF/Liber Annuus 34 (1984): 307–318.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “The Jerusalem-Esbus Road and Its Sanctuaries in Transjordan.” In Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan, vol. 3, edited by Adnan Hadidi, pp. 165–172. Amman, 1987.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “La cappella del Prete Giovanni di Khirbet el-Mukhayyat (Villaggio di Nebo).” SBF/Liber Annuus 38 (1988): 297–315.
  • Piccirillo, Michele, and Eugenio Alliata. “La chiesa del monastero di Kaianos alle ῾Ayoun Mousa sul Monte Nebo.” In Quaeritur inventus colitur: Miscellanea in onore di padre Umberto Maria Fasola, vol. 40, pp. 561–586. Studi di Antichità Cristiana, 40. The Vatican, 1989.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. Chiese e mosaici di Madaba. SBF, Collectio Maior, 34. Jerusalem, 1989. See pages 147–225.
  • Piccirillo, Michele, and Eugenio Alliata. “L'eremitaggio di Procapis e l'ambiente funerario di Robebos al Monte Nebo-Siyagha.” In Christian Archaeology in the Holy Land, New Discoveries: Essays in Honour of Virgilio C. Corbo, edited by Giovanni Claudio Bottini et al., pp. 391–426. SBF, Collectio Maior, 36. Jerusalem, 1990.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. Mount Nebo. SBF Guides, 2. 2d ed. Jerusalem, 1990.
  • Piccirillo, Michele. “Le due inscrizioni della cappella della Theotokos nel Wadi ῾Ayn al-Kanisah-Monte Nebo.” Studium Biblicum Franciscanum/Liber Annuus 44 (1994): 521–538.
  • Puech, Émile. “L'inscription christo-palestinienne d'῾Ayoun Mousa (Mount Nebo).” SBF/Liber Annuus 34 (1984): 319–328.
  • Robinson, Edward, and Eli Smith. Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petraea. Boston, 1941, vol. 2, p. 307.
  • Saller, Sylvester J. The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo. 2 vols. SBF, Collectio Maior, 1. Jerusalem, 1941.
  • Saller, Sylvester J., and Bellarmino Bagatti. The Town of Nebo (Khirbet el-Mekhayyat) with a Brief Survey of Other Ancient Christian Monuments in Transjordan. SBF, Collectio Maior, 7. Jerusalem, 1949.
  • Saller, Sylvester J. “Iron Age Tombs at Nebo, Jordan.” SBF/Liber Annuus 16 (1966): 165–298.
  • Saller, Sylvester J. “Hellenistic to Arabic Remains at Nebo, Jordan.” SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 5–64.
  • Schneider, Hilary. The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo, vol. 3, The Pottery. SBF, Collectio Maior, 1. Jerusalem, 1950.
  • Stockman, Eugene. “Stone Age Culture in the Nebo Region, Jordan.” SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 122–128.
  • Yonick, Stephen. “The Samaritan Inscription from Siyagha: A Reconstruction and Restudy.” SBF/Liber Annuus 17 (1967): 162–221.

Michele Piccirillo