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Wadi Nar: a story

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 26.08.2006:

Wadi Nar, “the valley of fire,” connects the Kidron valley in Jerusalem with the Jordan river. Foreigners enjoy the sneaky road because of the stupendous desert views, but locals fear it because of its steep rifts and abysses. Those who cannot travel to the north through Jerusalem are obliged to take it. During Byzantine times, the monk Theodosios established a monastery near the road at the point thought to be the location where the three wise men avoided Jerusalem so as not to betray the birthplace of Jesus. The monastery, with one monk, is still there. Somewhat deeper in the valley to the east, at the dead end of a road, you find the spectacular monastery Mar Saba [Saint Saba], where more monks live. The monastery reminds of the time that the monks trailed deep in the desert to test themselves like Jesus. The Scottish bestseller author William Dalrymple writes that one Greek monk at Mar Saba told him, not without satisfaction, that on the Day of Judgment the corpses of the sinners would flow from the Kidron valley down along the monastery to the Dead Sea.

Last year we went to Mar Saba with some hundred students and teachers for a school excursion. Since women are not allowed to enter the monastery, Suzy, who is an experienced storyteller, told the girls standing outside the building a legend about Wadi Nar. There are lots of stories about the caves in Wadi Nar, which have reportedly been used to hide treasures. There is one fascinating story, an adaptation from the brothers Grimm, about the Angel of Death who took his premise in one of the caves along the road. When a visitor found the cave by chance, he saw the very large cave full of burning candles, some long, some short, and some barely burning. “What are these?” the visitor asked the Angel. He said, “These are the candles of all the people on earth. When the candle goes out, the person dies.” Trembling, the visitor asked, “And where is my candle?” “Here,” the Angel said with a careless wave of his hand, and the visitor saw his little candle burning on a low flame. He went to the candle but in his consternation knocked it to the ground. He died on the spot. “That is what happens when you think you can change your life’s destination,” the Angel said.

Toine van Teeffelen


Dec 5-12, 2001

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