In the center of the country, separating the Galilee from Judea, lie the rolling hills of Samaria. Two thousand years ago the region was thickly forested – oaks, carobs and pistachio trees growing out of lush bushes of myrtle, broom and acanthus. Today most of the hills are terraced with olive groves and vines, or stripped down to low undergrowth and bare rock.
Though Jesus often passed through the region of Samaria on his way to and from Jerusalem, it is hardly mentioned in the Gospels, and nothing is said of its hilltop city, also called Samaria. This was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel established in 876 BC by the Biblical King, Omri.
Destroyed in the 3rd century by Alexander the Great, Samaria was later occupied by the Romans who gave the city to Herod the Great. Herod rebuilt the town, calling it Sebaste, Greek for Augustus, in honor of the first Roman Emperor of the same name. It was a magnificent place, the upper town with an Acropolis and Royal Palace where archaeologists unearthed one of the finest collections of ivory carvings. The lower section was dominated by the huge Forum with high columns and carved capitals. In his typical paranoia, Herod surrounded the whole town with a double wall, 52 feet thick (15m).
The traditional site of the Tomb of John the Baptist is also found in Samaria, which made it a place of pilgrimage from early in the Christian ere. As elsewhere, the tomb is built over an ancient cave where the prophets Elisha and Obadiah supposedly lie. Some traditions and Zachariah, John’s parents, are also buried there. In the 1150’s the Crusaders built a church on the spot that was said to be the loveliest in the land.
This page is part of the book The Holy Land of JesusShare this page with your friends
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