Aphram, Ephrem, Ephrom, three names with slight morphological alterations to indicate the same town, the present day Taybeh, one of the most mystical Canaanite cities Ariha (Jericho), Ur Salem (Jerusalem), Ram Own (Ramoon), Bet Il (Bethel), whose history dated back to eight thousand years before Christ, when it had been founded and named so by the peninsular Arab clan of Canaan, who emigrated towards that country at such a remote time. This name Aphram had suffered some phonetic deformation during the Joshue tribe invasion (about 1 BC). The name of the city became Ophra (Bible: Jos. 18,23); nevertheless, some decades afterward, the original name Aphram was recovered by its native people until the arrival of the great Saladin who gave it the name of Taybeh (1187 AD).
Jesus, after Lazarus’ clamorous resurrection, retired with his disciples to this town. John says, “Since that day on, they (the Pharisees) made the decision to kill him. Jesus did not walk in public among the Jews anymore. He went away to a region near the desert, to a city called Aphram, and it was there that he and his disciples dwelt” (H, 53-56).
This happened during the first days of Nissan in the year 30. It was at that time, the retirement of Jesus in a rocky desertic hill situated 8 km from Taybeh towards the Jordan, so as to fortify his spirit, pray and fast, and expose himself to temptation. That is why this rocky hill is known as the name (Qruntul), from the Latin root “Quarenta” (forty), allusively at the forty days of Jesus fasting. Certainly we know, according to the Evangelist relates that Taybeh-Aphram is the isolated place where Jesus found the diaphanous quietness to prepare himself and his disciples for the great sacrifice.
During his battles against Crusaders, Salahuddin camped in Tall Al Assur, a high point that dominated the region. Many delegations travelled to greet him, including some Aphram inhabitants. When the leader asked about the village from where this delegation came, one of his soldiers apparently said, “They are from afra”, a word badly pronounced which, in Arabic, implies “full of dust.” Saladin was really affected by the goodness of these Aphram men as well as by the beauty of their faces. He ordered, then, to change their hometown name, instead of Afra to Taybeh-al-ism which means “Beautiful of name.”
Charles de Foucauld, an explorer and French hermit, born in Straesburg (1853-1916) had a hectic life that features a prolonged chapter, rich in spirituality, in the country of Jesus. Having arrived in 1888 as a simple pilgrim, Charles passed Taybeh in January of 1889. But it was only in 1897 that he came back to the Holy Land to relive the mysteries of our redemption. He walked to all the evangelical places like a poor pilgrim. He lived in the Franciscan Clarisses’ Monastery, in Nazareth, to practice “Nazareth’s life,” hidden and humble.
In 1898, he accepted Jerusalem Clarisses’ hospitality, and during this period of his life he decided to visit Taybeh-Aphram again. A result of his staying in the evangelical place is the “Eight Days in Aphram, retreat of 1898, from Monday after IV Lent Sunday, (March 14th) through Monday, after IV Lent Sunday (March 21st).” There were 45 pages taken from his “Spiritual Writings”, suggested by the evangelical place.
Charles de Foucauld’s retreat in Taybeh-Aphram has induced his disciples and followers to come to this place to become immerse, during some days, within a climate of evangelical spirituality.