The Good Samaritan Museum
The Historical Sites
Good Samaritan Museum - Showcase for Jewish/Christian/Samaritan Co-existence
The Good Samaritan Desert Inn and Museum
If you just want to see the pictures, feel free to skip all my musings and historical accounts and scroll right down to the galleries. However, if you find interest to know more about this amazing site and the historical and cultural background, you are invited to read this and the sequel post about the Samaritans and the famous story.
So familiar, yet so remote
I had driven Road #1 from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and the south dozens of times. The ruins marking the “Good Samaritan Inn” have always been there, beckoning me, but I had never taken the turnoff to check out what’s behind them. For one, it didn’t seem like much, and secondly, it felt like one of those “Christian exclusive” tourist places, and I did not feel a call or a need….
Thousands, if not millions of travelers, pilgrims, sojourners, tourists, have taken this road over the course of history – by horse, camel, donkey, car or even by foot. The inn, church, police station, garrison, whatever it was at the time, has always been there, mostly for protecting travellers from pirates and robbers and providing respite in an excruciating journey through this stark desert.
My original intention for this post was to publish a few pictures, add two or three sentences, and be done. After all, this was only a ONE-HOUR visit on-location, as prescribed by the corona contingencies.
But I got carried away, big time!
By the time I got home and started to organize and research the material, I found myself swept into other worlds, delving into historical and religious depths. There were so many ramifications and points of interest, so much context. I learned about Samaritans, Jews, Christians, and about those very interesting first centuries of the first millenium. Clearly, that was just scratching the surface, but I even made time to re-read the second book of Kings and parts of the New Testament…
I have to thank the corona crisis for my change of heart. Once they opened the national parks and nature reserves after two months of a soul-stifling lockdown, I took the decision to visit as many of the newly-opened heritage sites as I could. The Good Samaritan Museum was on the first list to open. Realizing that it was an actual national park, I decided to give it a try. Something felt right about this decision, as it does when something ripens in your life, leading to a new juncture.
Easy did it – only half an hour drive from my home, and even less from my friend’s home on French Hill… So – voila, and on we went. I registered for the latest time slot available that day to avoid the heat.
Frustratingly, we found out that the ancient caves (Second Temple period) were off limits for corona “reasons”. The minute we approached the entrance to the caves, an over-zealous Arab worker emerged out of nowhere with a huge lock and announced: “Corona, corona”.
Nonetheless, there was much to see otherwise, and it was still a rewarding visit considering the one-hour limitation.
It’s a museum
Surprisingly, and unexpectedly, we discovered that by now the place has been re-arranged as a museum, with an explicit goal of inter-religious reconciliation, mutual understanding and education. The mosaics and other exhibits displayed were brought from around the West bank and Gaza, which were part and parcel of the Jewish settlement pattern at Byzantian times. Mosaics were the dominant art form of the time and featured in churches, Jewish synagogues and Samaritan synagogues with some slight differences. This was indeed a very unique exhibition, especially as seen in situ here in mid desert.
Unlike the caves, the indoors and outdoor museums were open. The caves restriction, therefore, was just another example of those virus regulation mysteries.
I am thankful for the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority for hosting this beautiful, instructive exhibition on this historical site.
That Stark Land
This is one of the starkest places on Earth. It is strange, since the Judean hills (mountains, if you will) don’t exceed 800 m in height, but still somehow “manage” to almost entirely block the clouds coming from the Meditteranean Sea. Good for Jerusalem, bad for everything east of it.
Almost nothing here…
As could be expected, there wasn’t much here in terms of flora.
These wild carrots, which now bloom all over the country, not just in the desert, caught my attention in their beauty and the way they posed for the camera:
The Desert Inn
From Jerusalem to Jericho
Ma’ale Adummim provided a much needed rest stop along the ancient road from Jericho to Jerusalem. The place served as some kind of hostel and inn even in times of the Second Temple. King Herod built a palace nearby, to serve him on the way to his winter palace in Jericho. The Romans kept a garrison there to fight robbers. Byzantian people built an inn on location, which kept being used and renovated over the ages.
This has always been a hotspot for robbers and pirates, which is why rulers used to station troops and guards on the site.
Eusebius (4th century) described the place as a deserted village called Maleadmim. Jerome (end of 4th century CE) mentioned a military fortress on location at his time. The name Ma’ale Adummim is ascribed to blood spilled here by robbers, or to the red color of rocks, depending on who is talking. Now the name Ma’ale Adumim refers to a thriving Jewish town nearby, with about 40,000 inhabitants. Jerome was the first to associate the place with the Good Samaritan story, apparently based on an ancient Christian tradition from Second Temple times.
The inn has served pilgrims during the sixth century CE as well as the Early Islamic Period. It featured a courtyard surrounded by rooms with a cistern in the middle, and a court for the animals. The metal hooks for tying the animals are still in place. A church was erected in Byzantian times with a beautiful mosaic. That mosaic was re-discovered and has by now been fully reconstructed on location.
A Crusader boom
During the Crusader period, tens of thousands of pilgrims used this route yearly to reach Jericho and the baptismal sites on the Jordan river. A fortress was erected on the northern hill in order to protect the road and defend Jerusalem from the east. The ruins of this “red fortress’ (Castrum Rough) built by the Templars can be seen above the site today. The Crusaders also dug a large cistern on the site.
In 1873, the surveyors of the Palestine Exploration Foundation visited the ruined site and reported on the ruins of the hostel:
“Khan Hathrurah, a Saracen hostel, standing on high ground, and just north of the present Jericho road. A few piers and some of the walls are still standing. On the opposite side of the road are two or three small caves, in one of which is a stone with an Arabic inscription. Cisterns, well-built and supported on arches, exist beneath the Khan, and contain water.”
The Ottomans built a new structure on the southern side of the Crusaders fortress/Mamluk inn, and the British further renovated it, mostly for police use. During WWII, the British hired the Jewish company Solel Bone to fortify the place in case of a German invasion from the east!
The museum is now located in this structure.
The Good Samaritan
It is plausible that this location was indeed where the story of the Good Samaritan took place:
“…Only a Samaritan helped him, and brought him into the inn. Since few inns were located along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the inn of Ma’ale Adummim indeed is a probable fit.” (Biblewalk.com)
The Good Samaritan Museum - The Outdoors
Click on any picture to see the mosaics in gallery view.
Mosaic art – Christian, Jewish, Samaritan
Mosaic art was introduced to The Land by the Romans, and reached its apex during Byzantian times. It became the main mode for paving public buildings and even private homes.
When visiting Jordan in 2007 with my daughter, we were lucky to observe contemporary mosaic artists continuing the ancient tradition.
Mosaic artists in the Kingdom of Jordan, from a visit in 2007
During Byzantian times, Jews did not adhere to the rules prohibiting the usage of images in their art. Many synagogue floors from that period show the Zodiac, animals, mythological creatures, even women… Distinct Jewish symbols were often added, like the tabernacle, shofar, etrog, lulav and rituatlistic objects from the Temple. The Samaritans were more scrupulous regarding imagery in their mosaics. The Muslims outdid both religions in that respect…
Mosaics were brought to the museum by the Israel Civil Administration and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Many were dismantled and reassembled from endangered locations in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism helped to finance the project. In 2010, the museum was transferred to Israel’s Nature and Park Authority.
The Gaza Synagogue
The synagogue, dated for 508 CE, was constructed during Byzantian times in the period’s style.
Motives like medallions made of vine branches repeat in all prayer houses. A bird in a cage symbolizes the soul wishing for its freedom by letting go of the material and uniting with God.
The Good Samaritan Museum - The Indoors
An exquisite mosaic showing David playing on his harp, from the Gaza Synagogue. Good Samaritan Museum
Click on any picture to see the mosaics in gallery view.
The indoor museum has six rooms: the entrance is dedicated to Jewish findings, especially from the Gaza and West Bank synagogues, like Susiya, Jericho and Na’aran; the three western rooms are for Christian findings and the two eastern rooms are dedicated to Samaritan artifacts.
The highly interesting Samaritan mosaic with the holy arc, the menorah, shofars and other temple artifacts is from the Samaritan synagogue, Al Hirbe.