Courtesy Israel Ministry of Tourism
Published March 17, 2017
Where in the bible?
Both the city and the region of Samaria are mentioned in many places in the Bible under many names, but one of the best known is in John 4 when Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Shechem and the Land of the Patriarchs
When Israel conquered the Promised Land, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh claimed the mountainous region of Samaria for themselves. After the kingdom divided upon the death of King Solomon, Samaria became part of the northern kingdom of Israel, and the Samarians believed that they, rather than population of the kingdom of Judah to the south, preserved the true practices of Judaism.
Modern Samaritans, a minority culture that still lives in the central part of the West Bank, still hold this belief today. Groups can see how this culture lives on in the Jezreel Valley and at Mount Gerizim, and can learn about the Samaritan way of life at the Samaritan Museum.
The West Bank was formerly an area many thought they’d never want to visit; in recent years, however, travel bans have been lifted and tourism in the region is picking up, but it has not reached the crowded levels of bigger tourism destinations like Jerusalem. The biblical country of Samaria, which hosts numerous sites connected to some of the most well-known biblical figures — Christ, Abraham, Jacob and Joshua — covers much of the West Bank.
Historically, Samaria reached from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Jezreel Valley in the north to the Jerusalem Mountains in the south. The area features the mild Mediterranean climate that lends itself to agriculture and supports the region’s many vineyards and orchards. This also means any time of year is pleasant for a visit.
The largest city in the region today is Nablus, known in biblical times as Shechem. Groups will want to check out the bustling market at the city center and the soap factories that produce the region’s popular olive oil and goat’s milk soaps. Visitors can relax after a hard day of traveling at one of the two Ottoman hammams, or Turkish baths, where guests sit in a sauna, enjoy a massage and listen to poetry and music.
Top Attractions for Church Groups
• Good Samaritan Museum — Named for Jesus’ parable in Luke 10, this ancient Ottoman Inn is located along the highway that connects Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. The ancient building has been restored and now includes beautiful Byzantine mosaics and a wide range of archaeological relics from across Israel selected to keep with the spirit of the parable and the nearby monastic community. There is also a section of the museum dedicated to the history and customs of the Samaritan community.
• Mount Gerizim — When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Joshua and the 12 tribes stood on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal to bless and curse. Mount Gerizim has since been known as the Mount of Blessings. Later, the mountain became the site of worship for the Samaritans. Today, there is an archaeological site that contains Samaritan city and the temple district. According to Samaritan tradition, Mount Gerizim is also Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
• Archaeological Park of Ancient Shiloh — This archaeological park sits west of the modern-day city of Shiloh. Work at the site resumed in 2010 and has unearthed artifacts such as ceramics, stone walls, stone presses and cisterns from many periods of history. Also at the site are Byzantine and Canaanite ruins.
• Sebastia — A short distance northwest of Nablus, Sebastia was one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the region. The site is home to Nabi Yahya Mosque, a former crusader temple that many believe is built on the historic site of the tombs of the prophets Elisha, Obadiah and John the Baptist. The hilltop above the city is home to the remains of Sebaste, the remodeled fortress of Herod the Great.
• Beit El Trail — Beit El, or Bethel, is the biblical site where Jacob dreamed of the ladder with angels ascending to and descending from heaven. On the modern Beit El Trail, groups can walk along a scenic path that features two ancient stone wine presses; an olive press; and a large rock, believed to be the spot where Jacob had his dream. Sitting atop the summit is a water tower; from this point, you can see as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on a clear day.
Must Have Experiences in Samaria
Must-Do: Olive oil soaps are a common product in the region. Groups can take a factory tour at the Albader Soap Factory in the Old City and see how they use the same traditional methods to make the soap that they have been using for more than 800 years.
Must-Taste: Travelers can try kanafeh, a beloved Palestinian dessert made of honeyed cheese and semolina flour soaked in sweet rosewater syrup. Nablus is considered the best place to eat kanafeh; the Al-Aqsa pastry shop is a favorite stop in the city for the dish. The region around Nablus is also famous for Nabulsi cheese, a white-brined cheese used to make this dessert. Other popular dishes include hummus, falafel, musakhan and lamb.
Bring it Home: Samaria is known for its lush landscapes and many wineries and vineyards. Bring a sampling of the region home to share with friends and family with some locally grown olive oil products, such as herb-flavored olive oil or olive oil soap. Olive woodcarvings are also an unusual souvenir.
Photo Op: The En Prat Nature Reserve is a perfect spot for photography lovers. The nature preserve surrounds the spring of En Prat that emerges into a rock pool at the center of a picturesque oasis. Along the stream are many historic sites, including monasteries and a second-century-BC aqueduct. This area is perfect for leisurely photography walks among colorful flowers, rare plants and exotic animals, including a herd of gazelles.
For more information go to www.goisrael.com