Today, I went to Sebastia National Park for my continuing education credits to renew my Tour Guide License. Unlike other national parks in Israel, Sebastia is only accessible to Israelis with coordination with the army. We drove to Shavei Shomron (the end of the line) in our regular bus and switched to a bullet-proof bus with army escort for the 10 minute ride to Sebastia, through parts of Area B where the Palestinian Authority and Israel have joint control.
Sebastia started in the 9th century B.C.E. as Shomron, the capital city of the northern kingdom, Israel. Shomron is mentioned many times in the bible and was built by Omri, founder of the first somewhat stable dynasty in Israel, and his son Ahab.
The first point our guide (yes, even guides use guides) made had to do with the geography of the Northern Kingdom. In short, the North had EVERYTHING – water, access to wide valleys for farming, people and access to major roads. When Israel broke away from Judah, they even built alternative sites for worshiping God so people wouldn’t have to go to Jerusalem.
Why, then, does the Bible go out of its way to vilify the Northern Kingdom? The people do not seem that different: there are good kings and bad ones in both countries, there are prophets in both. The people are not steadfast in their putting aside Idolatry in either Israel or Judah. So, why does the Bible use every opportunity to put down Israel, and specifically Israel’s most successful kings, Omri and Ahab? By the way, these two kings are mentioned extensively for their military prowess and their impressive buildings in extra-biblical sources.
History is written by the winners. The author of the history builds up the winners in comparison to the losers. Reasons must be given for the survival of one over the other. Israel and Judah were the first two monotheistic countries and that religious component is a large part of their national identities. It stands to reason, then, that the biblical text would attribute Judah’s survival after Israel was decimated by Sargon II of Assyria, to a more strict adherence to religious practice or purer religious motivations.
On our trip today, we were able to see some structures remaining from 9th century B.C.E. Shomron. Just goes to show, that history may be written by the winners, but archaeology is written by the builders.
Sites in the area:
- Joshua’s altar on Mt. Eval
- Samaritan town on Mt. Grizim
- Overlook in Nofim
- Har Bracha winery