|Elevation||525.4 m (1,724 ft)|
|Length||39 km (24 mi)|
|Width||8 km (5.0 mi)|
|Etymology||Literally, in Hebrew: God's vineyard and Mount St Elijah in Arabic|
|Type of rock||Limestone and flint|
Mount Carmel (Hebrew: הַר הַכַּרְמֶל, Har HaKarmel ISO 259-3 Har ha Karmell (lit. God's vineyard); Arabic: الكرمل, Kurmul or جبل مار إلياس Jabal Mar Elyas 'Mount Saint Elias') is a coastal mountain range in northern Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea towards the southeast. The range is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a number of towns are located there, most notably the city of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, located on the northern slope.
Geography and geology
The phrase "Mount Carmel" has been used in three distinct ways:
- 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. The mountain formation is an admixture of limestone and flint, containing many caves, and covered in several volcanic rocks. The sloped side of the mountain is covered with luxuriant vegetation, including oak, pine, olive, and laurel trees.
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.
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 passage 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 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".
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, and according to Strabo it had continued to be a place of refuge until at least the first century.
According to Epiphanius, and Josephus, Mount Carmel had been the stronghold of the Essenes that came from a place in Galilee named Nazareth; though this Essene group are sometimes consequently referred to as Nazareans, they are not to be confused with the "Nazarenes", which followed the teachings of Yeshua, but associated with the Pharisees. Members of the modern American groups claiming to be Essenes, but viewed by scholars as having no ties to the historical group, treat Mount Carmel as having great religious significance on account of the protection it afforded to the historic Essene group.
During World War I, Mount Carmel played a significant strategic role. The (20th century) 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 the 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, but it was only in the 20th century battle that the Carmel Ridge itself played a significant part, due to the developments in 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; 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 BC. According to the Books of Kings, there was an altar to God on the mountain, which had fallen into ruin by the time of Ahab, but Elijah built a new one. 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.
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 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; since 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 the Bible in 1 Kings 18, the challenge was to see which deity could light a sacrifice by fire. After the prophets of Baal had failed to achieve this, Elijah had water poured on his sacrifice to saturate the altar and then he 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 announced the end to a long drought; clouds gathered, the sky turned black, and it rained heavily.
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, meaning the burning.
Two places have been appointed as 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 del-Karmil, where there is a monastery built in 1868 called El-Muhraqa ("the Sacrifice").
Although archeological clues are absent, it has a point in its favor because it has a spring, from which water could have been drawn to wet Elijah's offering, and secondly there is a sea view, where Elijah looked out to see the cloud announcing rain. On the other hand, in the Bible text it says that Elijah had to climb up to see the sea. There is an altar in the monastery which is claimed to be the one that Elijah built up in God's honor, but that is unlikely as it's not made of the local limestone.
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. 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. Although Louis IX of France is sometimes named as the founder, he was not, and had merely visited it in 1252. 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; under Islamic control the location came to be known as "El-Maharrakah", meaning "place of burning", in reference to the account of Elijah's challenge to the priests of Hadad. 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.
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 Simon Stock, an English Carmelite, by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Carmelites refer to her under the title "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" in honour of the legend, 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.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has its largest Israeli mosque on Mount Carmel known as the Mahmood Mosque in Kababir. It is a unique structure composed of two minarets. The mosque was once visited by the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, for an iftar dinner.
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- Jewish encyclopedia
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- Christopher Stringer, custodian of Tabun I, Natural History Museum, quoted in an exhibition in honour of Garrod; Callander and Smith, 1998
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- Amos 9:3
- 2 Kings 2:25
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- Jewish Encyclopedia, Book of Amos
- Strabo, Geographica
- Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 1:18
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