Mount Nebo

View of the Promised Land and location of the death of Moses

Memorial Marker at Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo is located in the modern day country of Jordan (east of the Jordan River). Though part of the territory given to ancient Israel by God, it did not remain under Israeli control for long portions of Biblical history. Its primary claim to fame comes from the book of Deuteronomy, as the place where God told Moses to go to die. God had told Moses that he was not going to be allowed to cross of the Jordan River, into the main portion of the Promised Land, due to his earlier sin in the Sinai wilderness at the beginning of the Exodus.

Deuteronomy 32:44-52 Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. 45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you - they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." 48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 "Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel." (NIV)

View of Mount Nebo (through a rain soaked bus window)

View of Mount Nebo - final got a sunny day, even sheep grazing on the hillside!


Even though Moses would not physically enter the Promised Land (until the time of Jesus), God supernaturally enabled him to see its entirety from atop Mount Nebo.

Deuteronomy 34:1-6 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land - from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it." 5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. (NIV)

Sign showing distances and direction to Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho and more.
Sorry for the cloudy view... it's rained most every time I've been there.

I finally had a relatively clear day and stiched this panorama. Click on the photo, or here, for a larger view.

It is important to note that God buried Moses at an unknown location, in a valley (wadi) below Mt. Nebo. (Based on the "valley opposite Beth Peor", it is likely the valley still known as Wadi Ayun Musa, or the Valley of Moses' Spring. This valley has nothing to do with the Moses' Spring located in the Sinai). The Israelites had spent many generations in Egypt, the country that elevated worship of rulers and colossal monuments to an art form and way of life (i.e. consider Giza, Saqqara and Memphis). With out a doubt, God knew that this people, who had quickly fallen into Egyptian style idolatry at Mount Sinai, would likely do the same regarding Moses following his death. Imagine, for a moment, the burial shrine or monument the people would have erected and the veneration and pilgrimages that would have ensued had the location been known.

Artwork at top of Nebo

Modern structure covering ruins of ancient churches

Another closer view of the new over the old

In 2009 the new structure over the ancient ruins was completely removed (and closed to the public)

Closer view of the uncovered ruins (2009)

By the fourth century, hermits and monks were perpetuating a fraud, claiming (regardless of Scriptures) that they knew the location of Moses' burial - the site of the church atop Nebo.

In Byzantine times, however, the tomb was pointed out to pilgrims. Noteworthy among those pilgrims was Etheria (or Egeria), an abbess, and Peter the Iberian, a bishop. Egeria visited this region toward the end of the 4th cent. A.D. The hermits of 'Ayun Musa conducted her to a small church on the top of Mt. Nebo. Near the pulpit of the church a monument, which was a little higher than the pulpit, attracted her attention. When she asked what that monument was, she was told that it was the tomb of Moses. When she protested that according to the Bible no one knew where that tomb was, she was told that the hermits had this information from their forebears. Outside the church the hermits pointed out all the places that were visible from there. Peter the Iberian visited Mt. Nebo twice in the 5th cent. A.D. He and his companions were informed that the large church that they saw stood over the cave in which Moses was buried. This fact had been revealed to a shepherd from the nearby town of Nebo. He reported his vision to his fellow citizens, who believed the story and on that account erected the church there. Around the church the pilgrims saw extensive monastic buildings. These remained in use until about the 8th cent., when they were abandoned and fell into ruins. (Article on Mount Nebo, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, Copyright © 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. All rights reserved.) [This Encyclopedia also has a good write up of the many archaeological finds, including Mosaics, uncovered at this site.]

Mount Nebo, from the time of the Exodus, was also associated with a town called Nebo.

Numbers 32:1-5 The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. 2 So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, 3 "Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon - 4 the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel - are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. 5 If we have found favor in your eyes," they said, "let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan." (NIV) [Also Numbers 32:34-38, 33:47; 1 Chronicles 5:8]

Ataroth is identified with Khirbet 'Attarus, eight miles northwest of Dibon and eight miles east of the Dead Sea. It is also mentioned in the Mesha stele inscription (c. 830 BC) as a site built by the Israelites and inhabited by the tribe of Gad. Dibon (=Diban), the Moabite capital, is approximately four miles north of the Arnon River and twelve miles east of the Dead Sea. Nimrah, near modern Tell Nimrin, is in the northern sector of Transjordan along with Jazer. Heshbon (=Hesban), on the northwest corner of the Madaba plain (three miles northeast of Mount Nebo), is said to be the capital of the Amorite king Sihon... Elealeh (= el-'Al) is located northeast of Heshbon (see Isa 15:4; 16:9; Jer 48:34). Sebam is an unknown site. Nebo has also not been located, but it is mentioned in the Mesha stele. Beon (=Ma'in, Baal Meon in Num 32:38) is ten miles southwest of Heshbon. In his victory stele Mesha (ninth-century king of Moab) claims to have built it. (Article on Numbers 32:3, IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Copyright © 2000 by John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas. Published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.)

Later prophecies against Moab, who controlled this territory through much of Old Testament history, continue to closely associate Nebo and Medeba, and more generally the area of Dibon. For reference, Mout Nebo is located approximately 6 miles (10 km) northwest of Medeba (alt. Madeba).

Isaiah 15:1-2 An oracle concerning Moab: Ar in Moab is ruined, destroyed in a night! Kir in Moab is ruined, destroyed in a night! 2 Dibon goes up to its temple, to its high places to weep; Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba. Every head is shaved and every beard cut off. (NIV)

Jeremiah 48:1 Concerning Moab: This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "Woe to Nebo , for it will be ruined. Kiriathaim will be disgraced and captured; the stronghold will be disgraced and shattered. (NIV) [See also Jeremiah 48:21-23. Kiriathaim is likely modern el-Qereiyât, 8 km (5 miles) northwest of Dibon]

Mesha, king of Moab (during the reign of Jehoshaphat in Judah, see 2 Kings 3:4-7), claimed to have captured Nebo from Israel - killing its residents and dedicating it to one of the Moabite false gods. This account was recorded on the Moabite Stone which was found in 1868 at Dhiban, Jordan (which was ancient Dibon). It provides Mesha's view of the rebellion mentioned in 2 Kings 3...

And Kemosh said to me, "Go, take Nebo from Israel." And I went in the night and fought against it from the daybreak until midday, and I took it and I killed the whole population: seven thousand male subjects and aliens, and female subjects, aliens, and servant girls. For I had put it to the ban for Ashtar Kemosh. (lines 14-17, Mesha Inscription)


Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele
Discovered in 1868 and written in Moabite (similar to ancient Hebrew)


The final word on Mount Nebo goes to the first century historian, Josephus, who, referring to the mountain by the name of its range (see Deuteronomy 32:49), aptly describes it...

Now as soon as they were come to the mountain called Abarim, (which is a very high mountain, situate over against Jericho, and one that affords, to such as are upon it, a prospect of the greatest part of the excellent land of Canaan,) (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 4.8.48)

The altar area of the ancient church

Another view of the altar area from a few years later

Pottery Fragments on display at Mt. Nebo

Interior of the combined structure (new over the ancient ruins)


Foundations from the oldest ruins under the floor of a later church

Model of the church (new and old structure) and related ruins

The exquisite tile floors date from the fourth to seventh centuries

A baptistery decorated in the early sixth century was uncovered

Another view of the baptistery and the area where it was located