So that you are aware the West Bank is on the east side of the modern country of Israel and refers to what used to be the “West Bank” of Jordan. Today it has been incorporated into Israel but is governed and controlled in part by the Palestinian Authority. See its location on the map.
Our trip began by meeting Sam Salem, a local Arab Christian, who spent the day taking us to sites that are very difficult to get to without the help of a local. If you come here I highly recommend employing him to take you to various sites in the Palestinian regions as he knows them and their people and speaks English, Arabic and Hebrew very well. If interested contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first stop was the Samaritan community atop Mount Gerizim. Here we were guided through the new Samaritan Museum by one of the Samaritan priests, Husney Cohen. My brother, Michael, and I are in the picture to the left with Husney and one of the Samaritans’ two Torah scrolls. Check out their website: www.samaritans-mu.com. If you don’t speak Arabic be sure to translate it using Google Translate. Just paste the site’s web address into the text box on the Google Translate page and click “Translate”.
As it has been on my other visits to this unique place, this was a fun and extremely interesting stop. After visiting the museum we made our way to the top of Mount Gerizim to the site where the Samaritan Temple stood prior to 128BCE when it was destroyed by John Hyrcanus. Practically all that remains in situ (i.e., in its original context or placement) from the Samaritan Temple is the bedrock in the center of the image to the right.
This is the modern Arabic name of the Palestinian town next to the ancient ruins of Samaria. It was here that Omri, a king of Israel and the father of Ahab, moved the capital of Israel to around 884BCE. Following the exile of the Israelites by the Assyrians the city of Samaria was inhabited by the Samaritans, a people who were the result of the intermarrying of Israelites who were not exiled and people from other nations who were brought in to replace those who were exiled.
Eventually this city fell into the hands of Alexander the Great, then the Maccabees and finally the Romans. The Roman emperor Augustus gave the city of Samaria to Herod the Great in 30BCE. Herod renamed the city Sebaste in honor of Augustus whose Greek name was Sebastos. Here Herod built a temple to Augustus. Some of the foundations of this large temple may still be seen. You can see a Herodion stone in the foundations in the image to the left. Herodion stones may be identified by a raised surface covering the center of the stone with a beveled frame around the edge of the stone. The temple steps which may be seen today are actually from a reconstruction of the temple done in the late 2nd century CE under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus. The image to the right shows a few of these steps as well as the Palestinian lady who used to own the land which this temple sits on.
It was her family’s property until archaeological excavations began in on the site in the 1900s. I do not know exactly when her family lost the land or if they were compensated in any way for it. This lady is the one on the left in the picture.
A big reason Omri moved the capital of Israel to Samaria was ‘location, location, location’. Samaria provided him with much easier access to the trade routes of the Land Between than either of the earlier capitals at Shechem or Tirzah had done. It was also a much more defensible region with the height of Samaria’s acropolis rising far above the surrounding areas. Check this out in the images below.
The horizon line looking north from the acropolis of Samaria/Sebaste
The horizon line looking south from the acropolis of Samaria/Sebaste
Jacob’s Well and the Tabernacle at Shiloh
Our day of traveling in the West Bank with Sam wrapped up with a stop at the Greek Orthodox church in Nablus to see Jacob’s well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42). We then headed south to Shiloh, the site where God’s Tabernacle was permanently set up once the Israelites entered this land and before Solomon built the Temple. A likely location for the Tabernacle is outlined by the rock rectangle near the center of the image to the right.
This was a great day, primarily because I finally got to see Samaria/Sebaste, which is one of the sites in this region which can be difficult to reach without a local guide. I can take that one off of my checklist now. The next up on my “sites I want to see but probably cannot without a local guide” list are Hebron with the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the inside of the Dome of the Rock, and the inside of the Hulda Gates above the Southern Steps of Herod’s Temple. The last two seem like they might never happen. But, we will see. Whenever I get to any of these places you will know about it.
Grace and peace.