BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Where Was Moses Buried?

Early Christians identified Mt. Nebo with the Moses tradition

Where was Moses buried? We don’t know exactly. Nor did the biblical writers: “Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5–6).

 

The monastic complex atop Mt. Nebo grew in the fourth–sixth centuries around where Moses was buried according to the Bible. From Davide Bianchi, “A Shrine to Moses” (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2021), p. 174; Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

 

This uncertainty, however, did not discourage early Christians, who determined that Moses died and was buried on Mt. Nebo, in what is today central Jordan. Known locally by its Arabic name, Siyagha, Mt. Nebo began attracting Christian worshipers in the early fourth century, when Christianity was acknowledged in the Roman Empire as a lawful religion. Its connection to Moses and the Exodus narrative brought in Christian monks, who wanted to live and pray near where Moses was buried, as well as pilgrims, who wished to commemorate the prophet and contemplate God’s promises to his people.

 

The monastic network of Mt. Nebo included other Christian sites, such as ‘Uyun Musa, Khirbat al-Mukhayyat, Ma‘in, and Madaba. Biblical Archaeology Society.

 

In her article “Moses and the Monks of Nebo,” published in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Debra Foran outlines the early history of Christian pilgrimage to and around Mt. Nebo and describes some of the central monuments in the region. “A network of monastic communities extended from [Mt. Nebo] to the east as far as the desert fringes and to the south until the Wadi Mujib (the biblical Arnon River). This development was likely connected to the growing monastic movement across the southern Levant during the Byzantine period, exemplified by the Judean Desert monasteries near Jerusalem.”

Assistant Professor in the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Foran also delves into related questions of how the monks of Mt. Nebo interacted with the local population. “Interwoven into this monastic landscape was an active and prosperous lay population that catered to its ascetic neighbors. The rural population also served the many pilgrims traveling through the region.”

One of the earliest Western pilgrims to the Holy Land was a noble woman named Egeria (or Etheria), who in the 380s visited the alleged place where Moses was buried. In her Latin itinerary, she wrote:

So we arrived at the summit of that mountain, where there is now a church of no great size on the very top of Mount Nabau. Inside the church, in the place where the pulpit is, I saw a place a little raised, containing about as much space as tombs usually do. I asked those holy men [i.e., monks] what this was, and they answered: “Here was holy Moses laid by the angels, for, as it is written, no one knows his burial place, and because it is certain that he was buried by the angels. His tomb, indeed, where he was laid, is not shown to this day; but as it was shown to us by our ancestors who dwelt here, so do we show it to you, and our ancestors said that this tradition was handed down to them by their own ancestors (XII, 1–2).

 

Northern baptistery of the Mt. Nebo Byzantine basilica features a baptismal font (front) and elaborate mosaics dating to c. 530 C.E. Photo by flowcomm, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

The small church that Egeria visited was rebuilt and expanded in the fifth century to include several side chapels and a baptistery (see photo), all of which were decorated with intricate mosaics or paved with marble tiles arranged in geometric patterns. This Byzantine basilica was recently excavated, and a new church (termed the Memorial Church of Moses) was built over it to protect the archaeological remains and provide visitors with the visual experience of the sixth-century church. During the restorations in 2013, an empty tomb was discovered in the center of the nave of the basilica. Foran writes:

Located at the highest point of the mountain, this tomb initially may have been part of an earlier shrine dedicated to Moses that was later incorporated into the basilica and sealed under its floor. The monastic community of Mt. Nebo possibly regarded this tomb as a burial monument dedicated to Moses, and it could have been the one that Egeria and her fellow pilgrims saw in the fourth century.

 

Where was Moses buried? This empty tomb in the center of the basilica on Mt. Nebo is likely the traditional site of Moses’s burial, around which the first monks settled. From Davide Bianchi, “A Shrine to Moses” (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2021), p. 64; Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

 

Several other monastic sites around the alleged burial site of Moses at Mt. Nebo flourished during the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries). Among them were ‘Uyun Musa (the Springs of Moses)—a perennial spring in the valley to the northeast of Mt. Nebo that also offered caves for Christian hermits (see photo). There is also Khirbat al-Mukhayyat, which is a hill about 2 miles southeast of Mt. Nebo that has at least three churches dating from the sixth and seventh centuries. This site is the focus of current explorations within the Town of Nebo Archaeological Project, directed by Foran.

 

Caves at ‘Uyun Musa (2 mi. northeast of Mt. Nebo) provided shelter to the Christian monks who came to live and pray near where Moses was buried. From Davide Bianchi, “A Shrine to Moses” (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences, 2021), p. 166; Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License.

 

To further explore the Christian monuments of Mt. Nebo, read Debra Foran’s article “Moses and the Monks of Nebo,” published in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Subscribers: Read the full article “Moses and the Monks of Nebo,” by Debra Foran, in the Summer 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Read more in Bible History Daily:

Who Was Moses? Was He More than an Exodus Hero?

Video: Moses the Magician

The Biblical Moses

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Spirituality in the Desert: Judean Wilderness Monasteries

Why Moses Could Not Enter The Promised Land

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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6 Responses

  1. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    Supposedly Moses viewed the “Promised Land” from opposite Jericho, but Jericho is to the Northwest, not opposite Mt. Nebo. Also the straight line distance between the two is about 17 miles (27 kilometers). So how much of the “Promised Land” or Jericho could Moses see?

  2. Marilyn Bryant says:

    This article is described as “Having been written” implying the summer issue had already been published. In which case. when can I expect my summer issue to arrive?

    1. Nathan Steinmeyer says:

      Yes, the summer issue has been written and should have already arrived in homes. If you are an active subscriber and have not yet received it, please contact our customer service at:1-800-678-5555 or email [email protected].

  3. Samuel Bess says:

    Fact: We do not know where Moses was buried. That is all that needs to be said.
    To push antiquated here-say and promote mistruth tradition based, regardless of one person’s non-biblical testimony to a tourist visit wastes academic time. Until some archeology unearths an artifact or a document that reliably locates his burial place, the discussion is time wasted. Suffice to rely upon what scripture says. If God had intended us to know where his servant Moses was buried, He would have told us. Anyway, who cares where he was buried. He is an archtype of Adam. That is all you have to know.

    1. Steuart Bailey says:

      And if God said “You shall have no other gods than Me.” Finding Moses burial place could have lead people to worship the creation rather than the Creator.

  4. Blythe Kearney says:

    Where God buried Moses is God’s business

Write a Reply or Comment

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6 Responses

  1. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    Supposedly Moses viewed the “Promised Land” from opposite Jericho, but Jericho is to the Northwest, not opposite Mt. Nebo. Also the straight line distance between the two is about 17 miles (27 kilometers). So how much of the “Promised Land” or Jericho could Moses see?

  2. Marilyn Bryant says:

    This article is described as “Having been written” implying the summer issue had already been published. In which case. when can I expect my summer issue to arrive?

    1. Nathan Steinmeyer says:

      Yes, the summer issue has been written and should have already arrived in homes. If you are an active subscriber and have not yet received it, please contact our customer service at:1-800-678-5555 or email [email protected].

  3. Samuel Bess says:

    Fact: We do not know where Moses was buried. That is all that needs to be said.
    To push antiquated here-say and promote mistruth tradition based, regardless of one person’s non-biblical testimony to a tourist visit wastes academic time. Until some archeology unearths an artifact or a document that reliably locates his burial place, the discussion is time wasted. Suffice to rely upon what scripture says. If God had intended us to know where his servant Moses was buried, He would have told us. Anyway, who cares where he was buried. He is an archtype of Adam. That is all you have to know.

    1. Steuart Bailey says:

      And if God said “You shall have no other gods than Me.” Finding Moses burial place could have lead people to worship the creation rather than the Creator.

  4. Blythe Kearney says:

    Where God buried Moses is God’s business

Write a Reply or Comment

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