Mount Nebo

MOUNT NEBO nē’ bō (הַר־נְבֹ֗ו, LXX ὄρος Ναβαυ̂, meaning mountain of Nebo, an ancient pagan deity, or high mountain). A mountain across from Jericho from which Moses viewed the Promised Land.

The only way that one can conclude that the Arab. named Jebel en-Neba is the Mt. Nebo of the Bible is not to take literally the reference to the Western Sea. Mt. Nebo is mentioned only twice (Deut 32:49; 34:1). Some rather specific indications of its location are given in each passage. Deuteronomy 32:49 records God’s command to Moses, “Ascend this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho....” In 34:1 one reads, “Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho.” The places one can see from there are listed in this and the following verses: Gilead as far as Dan, Naphtali, Ephraim, Manasseh, all Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, the Plain, the Valley of Jericho as far as Zoar. On clear days most of these, as well as things beyond such as Mt. Hermon, can be seen. However, the mountain range on which Hebron and Jerusalem are situated obstructs the view of the Mediterranean. The easiest solution to this is to say that it is not literal. God “showed” them to Moses, but anyone else could not have seen them. Another solution is to understand that a mirage is meant. Sometimes it looks like water beyond the Palestinian watershed. Another explanation is to say the verse states only that Judah extends to the Western Sea—not that one can necessarily see that far. A fourth suggestion is that the Dead Sea is meant, not the Mediterranean.

Jebel en-Neba is a spur of the plain of Moab. It is almost opposite the N end of the Dead Sea and therefore not due E of Jericho. It rises c. 4,000 ft. above the Dead Sea or c. 2,700 above sea level. Pisgah, which is associated with Nebo in Deuteronomy 34:1, may be another name for the same peak, or Nebo may be a part of Pisgah. Since several elevations in that same vicinity afford the same view, it is not certain whether the one bearing the name Neba is necessarily the one Moses climbed. A saddle connects it to Ras Siyaghah, which was revered by early Christians. Many ruins, including those of a Byzantine church, appear there. Because of the uncertainties and because the Bible states in two places that Nebo is opposite Jericho, some scholars are still seeking a more satisfactory identification N of the traditional site.

Bibliography

N. Glueck, Explorations in Eastern Palestine, II, AASOR XV (1934, 1935), 109-111; The Other Side of the Jordan (1940), 143-145; W. L. Reed in Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible (rev. 1963), 692f.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A mountain in the land of Moab which Moses ascended at the command of God in order that he might see the Land of Promise which he was never to enter. There also he was to die. From the following passages (namely, Nu 33:47; De 32:49; 34:1), we gather that it was not far from the plain of Moab in which Israel was encamped; that it was a height standing out to the West of the mountains of Abarim; that it lay to the East of Jericho; and that it was a spot from which a wide and comprehensive view of Palestine could be obtained. None of these conditions are met by Jebel `Attarus, which is too far to the East, and is fully 15 miles South of a line drawn eastward from Jericho. Jebel ’Osha, again, in Mt. Gilead, commands, indeed, an extensive view; but it lies too far to the North, being at least 15 miles North of a line drawn eastward from Jericho. Both of these sites have had their advocates as claimants for the honor of representing the Biblical Nebo.

The "head" or "top" of Pisgah is evidently identical with Mt. Nebo (De 34:1). After Moses’ death he was buried "in the valley in the land of Moab," over against Beth-peor.

The name Neba is found on a ridge which, some 5 miles Southwest of Hesban and opposite the northern end of the Dead Sea, runs out to the West from the plateau of Moab, "sinking gradually: at first a broad brown field of arable land, then a flat top crowned by a ruined cairn, then a narrower ridge ending in the summit called Siagbah, whence the slopes fall steeply on all sides. The name Nebo or Neba (the "knob" or "tumulus") applies to the flat top with the cairn, and the name Tal`at es-Sufa to the ascent leading up to the ridge from the North. Thus we have three names which seem to connect the ridge with that whence Moses is related to have viewed the Promised Land, namely, first, Nebo, which is identically the same word as the modern Neba; secondly, Siaghah, which is radically identical with the Aramaic Se`ath, the word standing instead of Nebo in the Targum of Onkelos (Nu 32:3), where it is called the burial place of Moses; thirdly, Tal`at es-Sufa, which is radically identical with the Hebrew Zuph (tsuph), whence Mizpah (mitspah) and Zophim (tsophim. .... The name Pisgah is not now known, but the discovery of Zophim (compare Nu 23:14) confirms the view now generally held, that it is but another title of the Nebo range."

Neither Mt. Hermon nor Da (Tell el-Qady) is visible from this point; nor can Zoar be seen; and if the Mediterranean is the hinder sea, it also is invisible. But, as Driver says ("Dt," ICC, 419), the terms in De 34:1,3 are hyperbolical, and must be taken as including points filled in by the imagination as well as those actually visible to the eye. Mr. Birch argues in favor of Tal`at el-Benat, whence he believes Da and Zoar to be visible, while he identifies "the hinder sea" with the Dead Sea (PEFS, 1898, 110 ff).