Mount Carmel (Hebrew: הַר הַכַּרְמֶל, Har HaKarmel, ISO 259-3: Har ha Karmell; Arabic: جبل الكرمل, Jabal Al-Karmil), also known in Arabic as Mount Mar Elias (Arabic: جبل مار إلياس, Jabal Mar Elyas, lit. Mount Saint Elias/Elijah), is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. The range is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. A number of towns are situated there, most notably the city of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, located on the northern and western slopes.
Hebrew: הר הכרמל Karem El/Har Ha'Karmel
Arabic: الكرمل/جبل مار إلياس Kurmul/Jabal Mar Elyas
|Elevation||525.4 m (1,724 ft)|
|Length||39 km (24 mi)|
|Width||8 km (5.0 mi)|
|Range coordinates||32°44′N 35°03′E|
|Type of rock||Limestone and flint|
The etymology and exact meaning of the name Carmel have not been consensually agreed upon, but a large majority of concerned scholars see it as derived from the Semitic root krm, which sets it close to the noun כרם (kerem), a word meaning "vineyard". The addition of the suffix l is quite common in Hebrew.
The common explanation is that the Hebrew word karmel (כַּרְמֶל) means plantation, orchard, garden-growth or alike. However, in the context of the Hebrew Bible, the noun karmel appears to denote the scrubby woodland typical of the Carmel and other areas with Mediterranean climate in the Holy Land, an intermediate biome between the dry, semiarid steppe called midbar in Hebrew, and the ya'ar, a forest like the ones in the mountains of Lebanon, with high-trunked trees as for instance cedars.
The much-circulated, centuries-old explanation that the name Carmel means "the vineyard or garden of God", based on a presumed contraction of kerem (vineyard, garden) and 'el (a name of God), has no phylological base. It is grammatically wrong and also has no support in the way the noun is used in the Hebrew Bible. Origen and in part Jerome gave in their interpretations of the name an even more baseless semantic spin, claiming it to mean "knowledge of circumcision".
Geography and geology
- To refer to the 39 km-long (24-mile long) mountain range, stretching as far in the southeast as Jenin.
- To refer to the northwestern 19 km (12 mi) of the mountain range.
- To refer to the headland at the northwestern end of the range.
The Carmel range is approximately 6.5 to 8 kilometres (4.0 to 5.0 miles) wide, sloping gradually towards the southwest, but forming a steep ridge on the northeastern face, 546 metres (1,791 feet) high. The Jezreel Valley lies to the immediate northeast. The range forms a natural barrier in the landscape, just as the Jezreel Valley forms a natural passageway, and consequently the mountain range and the valley have had a large impact on migration and invasions through the Levant over time.
Several modern towns are located on the range, including Yokneam on the eastern ridge, Zikhron Ya'akov on the southern slope, the Druze communities of Daliyat al-Karmel and Isfiya on the more central part of the ridge, and the towns of Nesher, Tirat Hakarmel, and the city of Haifa, on the far northwestern promontory and its base. There is also a small kibbutz called Beit Oren, which is located on one of the highest points in the range to the southeast of Haifa.
Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic
As part of a 1929–1934 campaign, between 1930 and 1932, Dorothy Garrod excavated four caves, and a number of rock shelters, in the Carmel mountain range at el-Wad, el-Tabun, and Es Skhul. Garrod discovered Neanderthal and early modern human remains, including the skeleton of a Neanderthal female, named Tabun I, which is regarded as one of the most important human fossils ever found. The excavation at el-Tabun produced the longest stratigraphic record in the region, spanning 600,000 or more years of human activity. The four caves and rock-shelters (Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad, and Skhul) together yield results from the Lower Paleolithic to the present day, representing roughly a million years of human evolution. There are also several well-preserved burials of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens and the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer groups to complex, sedentary agricultural societies is extensively documented at the site. Taken together, these emphasize the paramount significance of the Mount Carmel caves for the study of human cultural and biological evolution within the framework of palaeo-ecological changes."
In 2012, UNESCO's World Heritage Committee added the sites of human evolution at Mount Carmel to the List of World Heritage Sites. The World Heritage Site includes four caves (Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad, and Skhul) on the southern side of the Nahal Me’arot/Wadi El-Mughara Valley. The site fulfils criteria in two separate categories, "natural" and "cultural".
Ancient agriculture: olive oil and wine
Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine and oil presses at various locations on Mt. Carmel.
As a strategic location
Due to the lush vegetation on the sloped hillside, and many caves on the steeper side, Carmel became the haunt of criminals; Carmel was seen as a place offering an escape from God, as implied by the Book of Amos. According to the Books of Kings, Elisha travelled to Carmel straight after cursing a group of young men because they had mocked him and the ascension of Elijah by jeering, "Go on up, bald man!" After this, bears came out of the forest and mauled 42 of them. This does not necessarily imply that Elisha had sought asylum there from any potential backlash, although the description in the Book of Amos, of the location being a refuge, is dated by textual scholars to be earlier than the accounts of Elisha in the Book of Kings.
Roman and Byzantine periods
According to Strabo, Mount Carmel continued to be a place of refuge until at least the first century.
According to Josephus and Epiphanius,, Mount Carmel had been the stronghold of the Essenes that came from a place in Galilee named Nazareth; this Essene group are sometimes referred to as Nazareans, possibly akin to the Nazarenes, which followed the teachings of Jesus (Yeshua).
World War I
During World War I, Mount Carmel played a significant strategic role. The Battle of Megiddo took place at the head of a pass through the Carmel Ridge, which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel from the south. General Allenby led the British in the battle, which was a turning point in the war against the Ottoman Empire. The Jezreel Valley had played host to many battles before, including the very historically significant Battle of Megiddo between the Egyptians and Canaanites in the 15th century BCE, but it was only in the 20th-century battle that the Carmel Ridge itself played a significant part, due to the development in artillery and munitions.
As a sacred location
In ancient Canaanite culture, high places were frequently considered to be sacred, and Mount Carmel appears to have been no exception; Egyptian pharao Thutmose III lists a holy headland among his Canaanite territories, and if this equates to Carmel, as Egyptologists such as Maspero believe, then it would indicate that the mountain headland was considered sacred from at least the 15th century BCE.
Israelites and Hebrew Bible
- Altar to Yahweh
In mainstream Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, Elijah is indelibly associated with the mountain, and he is regarded as having sometimes resided in a grotto on the mountain. Indeed, one Arabic name for Mount Carmel is جبل مار إلياس (Jabal Mar Elyas, lit. "Mount Saint Elias"). In the Books of Kings, Elijah challenges 450 prophets of a particular Baal to a contest at the altar on Mount Carmel to determine whose deity was genuinely in control of the Kingdom of Israel. As the narrative is set during the rule of Ahab and his association with the Phoenicians, biblical scholars suspect that the Baal in question was probably Melqart.
According to chapter 18 of the Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible, the challenge was to see which deity could light a sacrifice by fire. After the prophets of Baal had failed, Elijah had water poured upon his sacrifice to saturate the altar. He then prayed. Fire fell and consumed the sacrifice, wood, stones, soil and water, which prompted the Israelite witnesses to proclaim, "The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!" In the account, Elijah also announced the end to a long three-year drought, which had previously been sent as divine punishment for Israel's idolatry.
Though there is no biblical reason to assume that the account of Elijah's victory refers to any particular part of Mount Carmel, Islamic tradition places it at a point known as El-Maharrakah or rather El-Muhraqa, meaning the burning.
Two areas have been hypothesized as the possible site for the story about the battle against the priests of Baal. The slaughter could have taken place near the river Kishon, at the mountain base, in an amphitheater-like flat area. The site where the offering took place is traditionally placed on the mountain above Yokneam, on the road to the Druze village of Daliyat el-Karmil, where there is a monastery, built in 1868, called El-Muhraqa ("the burning", possibly related to the burnt sacrifice"). It is regarded as one of the must-visit tour sites in the area of Haifa.
Although archaeological clues are absent, the site is favoured because it has a spring, from which water could have been drawn to wet Elijah's offering. There is also a sea view, where Elijah looked out to see the cloud announcing rain. However, the biblical text states that Elijah had to climb up to see the sea. There is an altar in the monastery which is claimed to be that which Elijah built in God's honour, but that is unlikely, as it's not made of the local limestone.
Hellenistic and Roman periods
Iamblichus describes Pythagoras visiting the mountain on account of its reputation for sacredness, stating that it was the most holy of all mountains, and access was forbidden to many, while Tacitus states that there was an oracle situated there, which Vespasian visited for a consultation; Tacitus states that there was an altar there, but without any image upon it, and without a temple around it. d he is regarded as having sometimes resided in a grotto on the mountain. Indeed, one name for Mount Carmel is جبل مار إلياس (Jabal Mar Elyas; Mount Saint Elias). In the Books of Kings, Elijah challenges 450 prophets of a particular Baal to a contest at the altar on Mount Carmel to determine whose deity was genuinely in control of the Kingdom of Israel. As the narrative is set during the rule of Ahab and his association with the Phoenicians, biblical scholars suspect that the Baal in question was probably Melqart.
Carmelites (12th c.-present)
A Catholic religious order was founded on Mount Carmel in the 12th century, named the Carmelites, in reference to the mountain range; the founder of the Carmelites is unknown; in the original Rule or 'Letter of Life' given by Albert, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who was resident in Acre, around the year 1210 this hermit is referred to simply as 'Brother B'; he probably died around the date 1210 and could have been either a pilgrim, someone serving out a penance or a crusader who had stayed in the Holy Land.
Although Louis IX of France is sometimes named as the founder, he was not, and had merely visited it in 1252.
- Stella Maris site
The Order was founded at the site that it claimed had been the location of Elijah's cave, 1,700 feet (520 m) above sea level at the northwestern end of the mountain range; this, perhaps not coincidentally, is also the highest natural point of the mountain range. Though there is no documentary evidence to support it, Carmelite tradition suggests that a community of Jewish hermits had lived at the site from the time of Elijah until the Carmelites were founded there; prefixed to the Carmelite Constitution of 1281 was the claim that from the time when Elijah and Elisha had dwelt devoutly on Mount Carmel, priests and prophets, Jewish and Christian, had lived "praiseworthy lives in holy penitence" adjacent to the site of the "fountain of Elisha" in an uninterrupted succession.
A Carmelite monastery was founded at the site shortly after the Order itself was created, and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of "Star of the Sea" ("stella maris" in Latin), a common medieval presentation of her.
The Carmelite Order grew to be one of the major Catholic religious orders worldwide, although the monastery at Carmel has had a less successful history. During the Crusades the monastery often changed hands, frequently being converted into a mosque. In 1799 the building was finally converted into a hospital, by Napoleon, but in 1821 the surviving structure was destroyed by the pasha of Damascus. A new monastery was later constructed directly over a nearby cave, after funds were collected by the Carmelite Order for restoration of the monastery. The cave, which now forms the crypt of the monastic church, is termed "Elijah's grotto" by the Discalced Carmelite friars who have custody of the monastery.
- El-Muhraqa site
Under Islamic control the location at the highest peak of the Carmel came to be known as "El-Maharrakah" or "El-Muhraqa", meaning "place of burning", in reference to the account of Elijah's challenge to the priests of Hadad.
- The Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
One of the oldest scapulars is associated with Mount Carmel and the Carmelites. According to Carmelite tradition, the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was first given to St. Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Carmelites refer to her under the title "Our Lady of Mount Carmel," and celebrate 16 July as her feast day.
Mount Carmel is considered a sacred place for Bahá'ís around the world, and is the location of the Bahá'í World Centre and the Shrine of the Báb. The location of the Bahá'í holy places has its roots in the imprisonment of the religion's founder, Bahá'u'lláh, near Haifa by the Ottoman Empire during the Ottoman Empire's rule over Palestine.
The Shrine of the Báb is a structure where the remains of the Báb, the founder of Bábism and forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh in the Bahá'í Faith, have been laid to rest. The shrine's precise location on Mount Carmel was designated by Bahá'u'lláh himself and the Báb's remains were laid to rest on March 21, 1909 in a six-room mausoleum made of local stone. The construction of the shrine with a golden dome was completed over the mausoleum in 1953, and a series of decorative terraces around the shrine were completed in 2001. The white marbles used were from the same ancient source that most Athenian masterpieces were using, the Penteliko Mountain.
Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, writing in the Tablet of Carmel, designated the area around the shrine as the location for the administrative headquarters of the religion; the Bahá'í administrative buildings were constructed adjacent to the decorative terraces, and are referred to as the Arc, on account of their physical arrangement.
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- Amos 9:3
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