Known locally as Siyagha, Mount Nebo is the highest point in this part of the ancient kingdom of Moab. On a clear day, there is a magnificent panoramic view over the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley to the hills on the other side of the rift, with the towers of Jerusalem visible on the skyline.
The hilltop is identified as the place from which Moses looked out over the promised land of Canaan which God had forbidden him to enter; and here, it is said, he died and was buried (Deut. 32:49; 34:1-6). Rather more dubiously, a reference in the apocryphal book of Maccabees suggests that Mount Nebo was the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Macc. 2:2-8).
Around AD 384 Egeria, an intrepid lady from an unnamed part of Western Europe visited Mount Nebo in the course of an extensive Christian pilgrimage and wrote an account of it in her journal. Travelling from Jerusalem on a donkey, she crossed the Jordan River and then climbed this hill, mostly riding though she had to scramble up the steeper parts on foot. At the summit, she found a church, ‘not a very big one’, cared for by some ‘holy men’ who assured her that ‘Holy Moses was buried here’ and that ‘this tradition came from their predecessors’.