On Monday we drove out of Jerusalem on highway 437 past Pisgat Zeev to get to the starting point of our hike in the northern Judean desert. On the way, about 5km north of Jerusalem on the left along the watershed ridge at 839m above sea level is Gibeah (of Saul) or Givat Shaul usually pointed out as the location, Tel el-Ful, where King Hussein of Jordan began construction of his Royal Palace in the 1960s.
The site has a number of important Biblical/historical references:
• The Concubine of Gibeah, and the ensuing Battle of Gibeah between the Israelite tribes against Benjamin (Judges 19-21)
• Israel’s first king, Saul, reigned from Gibeah for 38 years (1 Samuel 8-31)
• Prophetic mention during the period of the Divided Kingdom (Hosea 5:8, 9:9, 10:9; Isaiah 10:29)
• The encampment of the 10th Roman Legion in their assault on Jerusalem in 70CE (Josephus, War of the Jews)
Just before we arrived at our destination on the right we passed another site, Qubur Bani Israel (Tombs of Children of Israel), 4 large narrow rectangular walled structures measuring 15 by 3 meters which rise from a rocky plateau overlooking Wadi Qelt. The megaliths still have two or three rows of gigantic, rough-hewn stones carefully in place. The name refers to the site being an ancient Jewish burial ground in the territory of Benjamin; archaeologists estimate the date as 2000BCE. A theory proposed by Noga Reuveni (who also established the biblical gardens of Neot Kedumim) is that in fact this site marks the tomb of Rachel who was buried “on the road to Efrat, now Bet Lehem (Bereishit 35:19)”. There is a city Farah settled near the spring Ein Farah that is mentioned among the cities of Binyamin (Joshua 18:23) and it is not unreasonable to posit that it was alternatively called Efrat (same Hebrew root). Since the city was in an area of wheat and barley, it was later renamed (like other cities) Bet Lehem. This also matches the description to Saul before his return home to Gibeah.
When you leave me today, you will meet two men near the tomb of Rachel in the territory of Benjamin (1 Sam. 10:2)
This should have been a clue that this was not going to be just a nature hike.
We started hiking from Geva Binyamin, also called Adam. Because the area is in Judea and Shomron/the West Bank we had to arrange clearance with the army and get the security officer to open the gate from the settlement. Geva Binyamin was founded in 1984 and in 2007 had a population of 3500 people. It sits between the Arab towns of Jabah and Mikhmus that recall the towns of Geva and Mikhmas mentioned in the Bible.
Open a TaNaKh and read 1 Samuel, chapters 13 and 14 for the account of the battle between King Saul and his son Jonathan against the Philistines. The Israelite forces are camped at Geva and the Philistines are on Mikhmas with the wadi separating them. Jonathan sneaks out of the camp at night and hidden by the deep walls of the canyon makes his way to the Philistine garrison… We were standing on the ridge reading the account of the battle, overlooking the area where it took place.
The black trail follows the ridge above Nahal Mikhmas. Hidden among a pile of rocks is the spring of Ein Suweinit. Many caves can be seen and we stopped at two of them, El-Jai is one of the largest in the Shomron.
From there we descended the steep cliff to the nahal, actually quite challenging because of the slippery rocks and mud.
Because of the rains we saw two flowers, the tiny purple Grape Hyacinth, in Hebrew, Kadan and bunches of white Desert Bulbs, Bezalziya.
Dark Grape Hyacinth (Muscari commutatum), also bulb, cluster of tiny flowers like jugs that hang upside down to protect the pollen from rain.
A rosette of grey-green leaves emerges before the flowers, 6 petals with a stamen on each, blooms for 5-6 weeks which is long for bulbs, grows among rocks to protect the bulbs from being dug up by porcupines and other animals.
Where Nahal Mikhmas joins Wadi Qelt the trail changes to red and we followed it to the left/east to Ein Mabu’a/Ein Fawwar. This spring is an artesian or karstic fountain, which flows from a cave into a round concrete pool built by the British in the 1920s. Until the Six Day War, the water was pumped to East Jerusalem, but today it is no longer used. In the Second Temple period an aqueduct brought water to the fortress at Cypros and there is a mosaic floor from a Byzantine church. If mosaics interest you then visit the nearby museum at Inn of the Good Samaritan.