Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exploring Israel - Good Samaritan Inn

I had an incredible day of touring Israel today from Jerusalem, east to the area around the Dead Sea. My fabulous tour guide on the trip, organized by the One Israel Fund, was fellow Efratian Eve Harow, a former Local Councilwoman and a current Arutz 7 radio personality. The first step on the trip was the Inn of the Shomroni Hatov (Good Samaritan), the only mosaic museum in Israel. The site is located on the main road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The 26 kilometer road linking Jerusalem with the Jordan Valley dates back to the First Temple period, and was known as the Aravah route.
The inn got its name from a negative parable of the Good Samaritan, who helped save a traveler who had supposedly been ignored by a Kohen and a Levi, after he was attacked by a band of robbers. Eve noted that this was a difficult road to climb eight to ten months out of the year, and most likely, travelers wouldn't choose willingly to come through these hills.
But she added that in reality the Samaritans weren't good at all. She said, they killed people who came through their area. "A man who traveled through an area in Samaria had to give his wife a get (divorce) [because it was so dangerous, he might be killed]."
The Samaritan roadside inn was a Chan, built on the walls of a former Crusader fortress.
Eve Harow said that the Shomroni Hatov museum was one of only three mosaic museums in the world. The museum holds mosaics from synagogues, churches and Samaritan synagogues – all from Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The visit to the museum begins with a mosaic from a synagogue in Gaza (it is undated). There are pictures of animals, and curiously, a picture of a giraffe.
As we examined the different mosaics, we learned that the symbols that designated the world's religions changed through the centuries. Originally the symbol for Judaism was a menorah, not a magen david. The symbol of Christianity was a fish before it was a cross.
All the mosaics in the museum were originals, except for three: the replica of the floor of the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho, a mosaic inscription from Shiloh (pictured at left) and a mosaic of King David from Gaza. The first is still in the synagogue in Jericho, the next is in the Israel Museum, and unfortunately Gaza's King David mosaic is most probably no longer existing.
We saw Jewish mosaics with images of the Holy Temple, menorahs, and horns. Eve said, "When you see Jewish symbols on mosaics, you see the yearning for the Temple."
The museum's collection included mosaics from all faiths and all areas of Israel. It was worth the trip just to see the replica of the David mosaic from Gaza. I had learned about it many years ago.
The mosaic of King David (left) playing the harp was located at one time in Gaza City. Its fate is unknown today, although it was still existing in 1967. Given the Arab record of destroying evidence of Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael, I don't have high hopes for the King David mosaic. I had seen it only in photos. Even though it is a replica, it is still striking. It is very infuriating to know that beautiful ancient synagogues existed in Gaza and had been destroyed. I guess that was only a foreshadowing of the 2005 destruction of Gush Katif's synagogues.
The other spectacular replica was that of the floor of the Shalom Al Yisrael Synagogue in the ancient shul in Jericho. The 10 by 13 meter mosaic floor bore an image of an Aron HaKodesh (holy ark), a menorah, a shofar and lulav. It is inscribed, "Shalom Al Yisrael", "Peace Upon Israel". Eve told us that the floor was rediscovered during the Six Day War when an exhausted soldier that fought the battle of Jericho rested in the empty building and spilled some of his water. Up through the floor popped the words, "Shalom Al Yisrael" from the cleaned mosaic.
Supposedly Jews are allowed in to Jericho at certain times. Perhaps I'll get to see the mosaic in real life.
Meanwhile, the Shomroni Hatov Museum is a good stop if you're on your way to the Dead Sea. There are mosaics from several shuls, and there's also an interesting look into the Samaritan "synagogues". I would have liked to see more Jewish mosaics. There definitely was plenty of room to stretch them out there. Unfortunately, so many mosaics have been found in excavations here, they are probably in store rooms in museums all over Israel. I know I would be fascinated to see them. Wouldn't you?
For the non-Jewish visitor, there are many Christian mosaics to view. So, I guess you can say...Shomroni HaTov Museum...something for everyone.

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