Tomb of Samuel
The Tomb of Samuel (Hebrew: קבר שמואל הנביא, translit. Kever Shmuel ha-Nevi; Arabic: النبي صموئيل, translit. an-Nabi Samu'il or Nebi Samwil), commonly known as Nebi Samuel or Nebi Samwil, is the traditional burial site of the biblical Hebrew and Islamic prophet Samuel, atop a steep hill at an elevation of 908 meters above sea level.
The site is of both religious and archaeological interest, as it mainly consists of a former Crusader church and associated buildings, rebuilt in the 18th century into a mosque, with the tomb itself in an underground chamber which serves as a small synagogue.
It is situated in the West Bank in a "national park" established by Israel on lands of the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwil. It is currently located in the Seam Zone, effectively annexed in an enclave by the Israeli West Bank barrier together with the Israeli settlement of Giv'at Ze'ev, and separated from the surrounding Palestinian towns of Al Jib, Beit Hanina and Beit Iksa.
History and archaeology
Iron Age and biblical identification
Yitzhak Magen conducted archaeological excavations from 1992 to 2003. On the southeastern slope is a 4-acre (16,000 m2) urban settlement dating back to the 8th-7th centuries BCE, and remnants that Magen believed to be the Mizpah in Benjamin of the Book of Samuel. By contrast, Jeffrey Zorn concluded that there are no remains at the site, from the period in which the Samuel narratives are set, and it could therefore not be Mizpah. Magen's own conclusions have been criticised for stretching the evidence beyond the obvious implications, which he himself hints at:
We did not find any remains from the time of the Judges ... not a single structure or even a standing wall from this period. On this basis, it might be tempting to conclude that the site was unoccupied at this time ...
However, if Mizpah in Benjamin was Tell en-Nasbeh on the Nablus Road, Ishmael who had assassinated Gedaliah would not have fled to Ammon via Gibeon which is located to the west near Nabi Samwil which overlooks Jerusalem. Furthermore, Judas Machabeus, preparing for war with the Syrians, gathered his men "to Maspha, over against Jerusalem: for in Maspha was a place of prayer heretofore in Israel".
Byzantine church and Samuel tradition
A large monastery was built by the Byzantines, of which little remains. There is no clear evidence that the place was considered the tomb of Samuel, or indeed a place of religious significance, before Byzantine times. Magen argues that the builders of the monastery did not believe they were building over the tomb of Samuel, instead regarding their construction only as a memorial. The fifth century writer Jerome, for example, argues that Samuel's remains were moved to Chalcedon, on the orders of Emperor Arcadius; this would be a century before the Byzantine monastery was built.
A sixth-century Christian author identified the site as Samuel's burial place. According to the Bible, however, the prophet is buried at his hometown, Ramah (1Samuel 25:1, 28:3), to the east of the hill which is located near Geba.
Crusader period: church and fortress
Raymond of Aguilers, who wrote a chronicle of the First Crusade (1096–1099), relates that on the morning of June 7, 1099, the Crusaders reached the summit of Nebi Samuel, and when they saw the city of Jerusalem, which they had not yet seen, they fell to the ground and wept in joy; the Crusaders named the place "Mount of Joy" (Latin Mons Gaudi, French Mont de Joie or Montjoie), for this reason. The Crusaders built a fortress on the spot, which was later razed by the Mamluks.
The 12th-century Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela visited the site when he travelled the land in 1173, writing that the Crusaders had found the bones of Samuel "close to a Jewish synagogue" in Ramla on the coastal plain (which he misidentified as biblical Ramah), and reburied them here, at this site (which he mistook for biblical Shiloh). He wrote that a large church dedicated to St. Samuel of Shiloh had been built over the reburied remains. This may refer to the abbey church of St. Samuel of Montjoie built by Premonstratensian canons and inhabited from 1141 or 1142 to 1244. In 1187 seven of its canons were martyred during Saladin's reconquest of the Holy Land.
Nearby Jewish village
Jews had begun efforts to found a village at the site in 1890, originally called Ramah after the biblical home of Samuel, and then referred to by the name of the group which had purchased the lands, Nahalat Yisrael. Over the next five years various attempts to actualise the plan had failed due to bureaucratic obstacles, but in 1895, 13 Yemenite Jewish families joined the group and succeeded in the endeavour, even engaging in agriculture there.
Nachalat Yisrael - Rama was an association founded in 1886 for the purpose of establishing a Jewish settlement close to the traditional tomb of Samuel. The association counted among its sixty founding members, most of which came from Jerusalem's Old Yishuv, the rabbis Yaakov Mendelbaum, Yitzchak Rubinstein and Yitzchak Zvi Rivlin. Rabbi Yitzchak Zvi Rivlin (1857-1934), a first cousin of Yosef Rivlin, was known as the Living Talmud due to his genius, and later, in the 1920s, acted as the chairman of the association. The project was held back by numerous difficulties. The association successfully sold the land to Russian Jews, but these didn't manage to establish the envisaged moshava. Only at the beginning of the 20th century were the houses finally legalised, and fifteen association members moved in. Moshava Nachalat Yisrael Rama was the resulting experimental settlement. The residents, Yemenite and Ashkenazi Jews, received arms for self-protection, and large plots of additional land were bought by the association in the area. The outbreak of World War I created new legal problems. The village had to be abandoned during the 1929 riots, when the Arab neighbours destroyed the houses and removed the border stones. Today's Ramot neighbourhood stands in the same area.
World War I
Nebi Samuel's strategic location made it the site of battles during the British conquest of Ottoman Palestine in 1917, and the village was badly damaged from artillery fire and abandoned. It was resettled in 1921, but various difficulties lead it to again disband after a number of years. The mosque built in 1730 was damaged in the battle between the British and the Turks in 1917. It was restored after the war.
1948 and 1967 wars
The location was again significant in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and the 1967 Six-Day War, and was used by artillery of the Jordanian Arab Legion to bombard Jerusalem, in addition to being a base for attacks on Jewish traffic during the 1948 siege of Jerusalem.
The tomb, which is in Area C, is located on the Israeli side of the Israeli West Bank barrier with the nearby Giv'at Ze'ev. Nebi Samuel and the surrounding archeological excavations are now part of a national park. The original village located on the hilltop is still inhabited by 20 Palestinian families.
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- Reiter, Yitzhak, "Contest or cohabitation in shared holy places? The Cave of the Patriarchs and Samuel's Tomb" in Breger, Reiter and Hammer, "Holy Places in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict", Routledge (2009)
- The Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation (IHJR), "Sacred Sites in the Holy Land: Historical and Religious Perspectives", The Hague, 2011. www.historyandreconciliation.org/publications/includes/sacred_sites-english.pdf
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