Mount Nebo by Andrew Danielson

What biblical traditions are associated with Mount Nebo?

Mount Nebo is located atop a prominent mountain at the edge of the highlands of western Jordan. Alternatively called Pisgah, Mount Nebo is best known within the biblical text through its association with the traditions of Moses and the early Israelites. In the Hebrew Bible, after the Israelite exodus and desert wanderings, the Israelites camped in the vicinity of Mount Nebo prior to their conquest of Canaan (e.g., Num 23, Num 27). From this camp, Moses climbed Mount Nebo to be shown the entirety of the land of Canaan from north to south (Deut 32,Deut 34). Indeed, the view from Mount Nebo is quite commanding, allowing modern visitors to see much of the Jordan Valley, Dead Sea, and Judean Highlands to the west, including the cities of Jericho, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. The biblical tradition holds that Moses was buried in the vicinity of Mount Nebo (Deut 34).

The Hebrew Bible also records a town called Nebo that is related to the Israelite tribe of Reuben (Num 32:3, Num 32:38; 1Chr 5:8) before it was claimed by the kingdom of Moab (Isa 15:2; Jer 48:1, Jer 48:22). The town called Nebo also appears in an ancient inscription called the Mesha Stela that dates to approximately 850 BCE. The inscription records the account of Mesha, the king of Moab who overthrew Israelite rule by capturing a number of cities including Nebo. An account of these events is also partially recorded in 2Kgs 3, though the biblical text does not mention Nebo.

How was Mount Nebo commemorated?

Mount Nebo does not appear in the New Testament, although the site was revered by Christians for its associations with Moses. Christian reverence of the site is well attested by the construction of a church on the mountain during the Byzantine period (324–640 CE) and by the monastic communities living in the surrounding region.

The Byzantine church was a pilgrimage site, as attested by the female Christian Egeria, who journeyed from western Europe to the holy land in the late-fourth century CE. Egeria describes a visit to the church atop Mount Nebo as well as a small spring to the northwest, traditionally associated with the narrative of Moses striking a rock with his staff to receive water (Num 20). The modern Arabic name of this spring similarly preserves this tradition: ʻUyun Musa or “the Spring of Moses” (one of many such named springs).

What archaeological research is happening at Mount Nebo?

While archaeology cannot substantiate the traditions of Moses, research has clarified two important points. First, it appears that the location currently commemorated as Mount Nebo, locally called Jabal Siyagha, was primarily occupied during the Byzantine period. Second, the Iron Age (1200–500 BCE) town associated with Nebo, as recorded in the Mesha Inscription and the biblical texts, was most likely located 2.5 km to the southeast of Jabal Siyagha at a site called Khirbat al-Mukhayyat. Today, cultural heritage work and archaeological research are conducted at both sites by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and the Town of Nebo Archaeological Project in coordination with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.

Andrew Danielson , "Mount Nebo", n.p. [cited 26 Nov 2022]. Online:



Andrew Danielson
Lecturer in Near Eastern Archaeology , University of California, Los Angeles

Andrew Danielson is a Lecturer in Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles with research interests in the Bronze and Iron Age Levant. He is currently the Field Director in the Town of Nebo Archaeological Project, directed by Debra Foran of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Relating to the Byzantine empire, which ruled the Eastern Mediterranean from the fifth century CE to 1453; its capital was Byzantium (modern Istanbul).

migration of the ancient Israelites from Egypt into Canaan

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Associated with a deity; exhibiting religious importance; set apart from ordinary (i.e. "profane") things.

The stage of development during which humans used iron weapons; in the ancient Near East, approx. 1200 to 500 B.C.E.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy, or what later became the larger province of Judah under imperial control. According to the Bible, the area originally received its name as the tribal territory allotted to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.

A stone inscribed in the Moabite language, commissioned by the Moabit king Mesha to celebrate his accomplishments, including a successful revolt against the kingdom of Israel (see 2 Kings 3).

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

a journey, usually with religious significance

An upright stone slab usually inscribed or carved for commemorative purposes.

Num 23

23 1 Then Balaam said to Balak, “Build me seven altars here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me.” 2 Balak did as Balaam had said; and Balak and Balaa ... View more

Num 27

The Daughters of Zelophehad
27 Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Jo ... View more

Deut 32

Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak;
    let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 May my teaching drop like the rain,
    my speech condense like the dew; ... View more

Deut 34

Moses Dies and Is Buried in the Land of Moab
34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and t ... View more

Deut 34

Moses Dies and Is Buried in the Land of Moab
34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and t ... View more

Num 32:3

3“Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon—

Num 32:38

38Nebo, and Baal-meon (some names being changed), and Sibmah; and they gave names to the towns that they rebuilt.

1Chr 5:8

8and Bela son of Azaz, son of Shema, son of Joel, who lived in Aroer, as far as Nebo and Baal-meon.

Isa 15:2

2Dibon has gone up to the temple,
to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
Moab wails.
On every head is baldness,
every beard is shorn;

Jer 48:1

Judgment on Moab
1Concerning Moab.

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel:
Alas for Nebo, it is laid waste!
Kiriathaim is put to shame, it is taken;
th ... View more

Jer 48:22

22and Dibon, and Nebo, and Beth-diblathaim,

2Kgs 3

Jehoram Reigns over Israel
1In the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, Jehoram son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria; he reigned twelve years ... View more

Num 20

20 The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was burie ... View more

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