On our recent personal study tour in Israel I decided to see if we could travel south from Nazareth through the West Bank along the central mountain ridge of the country. There is always something worthwhile to see whether taking the central mountain route, the Jordan Valley, or the coastal plain (a longer route). The security guy at the border saw our passports and waved us through.
Everything went well except for the condition of the road in the vicinity of Jenin. I have been through here many times during a bus tour, but the main highway is not clearly marked and is in bad repair in many places. Many speed humps have been added all the way to Samaria.
We were able to get some nice photos of Tel Dotan (Dothan) on the way to Sebastia (Biblical Samaria).
My last visit to Samaria was in September, 2013. For several years the road leading from the main road (= Hwy. 60) to the site has been in bad repair. Our bus driver took his bus through the crooked, narrow streets of Sebastia to get to the site of ancient Samaria. That left everyone leaning in toward the aisle.
This photo shows the condition of the road in 2012. In some places it was much worse.
The owners of the Samaria Restaurant said the condition of the road changed regularly. He and I drove from the Restaurant (and the Roman Forum) along the road and then called the driver to say that he would be able to make it. Once when I was there rocks were piled in the road, and a portion of it was broken up.
Our driver was able to negotiate the road with finesse. I was waiting at the Hellenistic Towers to see if he could make it.
When we reached the entrance to Samaria this year we were surprised to see a newly paved road. What an improvement. Is this a sign of things to come?
Even though Samaria is in the West Bank it is one of Israel’s National Parks.
The site is not in good condition, but could become a wonderful destination with some cleaning up and a financial investment in the site. Our photo below shows the 3rd century Roman theater which, according to Murphy-O’Connor, “may rest on an older Herodian one” (The Holy Land). Above the theater there are ruins of an Israelite wall and a Hellenistic wall. On the far left of the theater’s top row of seats you may notice three courses of a late 4th century Hellenistic tower.
What becomes of Samaria is not as much a practical question as it is a political one. Tours could easily make a full day tour from Jerusalem, or on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, visiting Samaria, Mount Gerizim, Jacob’s Well, Shechem, Shiloh, and a few other stops.
There are only a few tourist shops at Samaria because few tourist come. Over the years I have made friends with Mahmud Ghazal and his family at the Samaria Restaurant. They have a nice shop and an excellent restaurant. We have eaten lunch there several times and always enjoyed it. If you have an opportunity to visit Samaria you should plan to be there at noon so you can enjoy a great lunch. (And, important to tour groups, the toilets are clean.) Mahmud is a graduate of UAB. Yes, Alabama readers, that UAB. If he had known I was coming I am sure he would have worn his Roll Tide crimson shirt.
The restaurant is located at the foot of the ancient tel beside the ruins of the Roman Forum.
The hill of Samaria was bought by Omri, king of Israel (885/84–880 B.C.), to serve as the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 16:23-24). The city was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.
By New Testament times Samaria had been rebuilt by Herod the Great who had also erected one of his temples to the Emperor Augustus. Philip, one of the seven servants appointed by the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6:5), later went to Samaria to preach Christ.
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. (Acts 8:5 ESV)
As a result of the work initiated by Philip, Samaria was visited by the apostles Peter and John (Acts 8:14).
Samaria (Sebastia) has a long post-biblical tradition associated with the burial of John the Baptist.
If you try to make arrangements with a travel agency, driver or guide in Jerusalem to take you to Samaria, most of them will think you want to go to Nablus to see Jacob’s Well. You must specify that you want to include Sebastia. This is not an area where the traveler with little experience should try alone.