This article was first published in the Spring 2003 issue of Bible and Spade.
Our archaeological diggers who work at Khirbet el-Maqatir stay at the beautiful Messianic Jewish settlement called Yad Hashmona, 8½ mi west of Jerusalem. Just 1 mi east of Yad Hashmona is the Arab city of Abu Ghosh, “famous” for robbing 19th century pilgrims going to and coming from Jerusalem by charging them heavy tolls to pass. At Abu Ghosh there is a high hill that is the location of the famous Bible town of Kiriath Jearim. Kiriath Jearim served as a boundary marker between the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin.
During the time of the Judges, Kiriath Jearim became a camp of killers. Six hundred families of the tribe of Dan migrated from their tribe’s original allotment. The Danites were moving to a town far north in upper Galilee, planning to kill the people and occupy the site. On their trip, the Danites camped at Kiriath Jearim, specifically at a spot west of Kiriath Jearim (Jgs 18:11–12). It is very likely that the Danites camped on the very hill where Yad Hashmona is located. The spot became famous, and was called Mahaneh-Dan, meaning “camp of Dan.”
The Ark of the Covenant was brought to Kiriath Jearim early in the ministry of Samuel (about 1070 BC). It had been taken from the town of Shiloh into battle against the Philistines, and was captured. The Philistines found the Ark to be “hot merchandise” and returned it to Israel on a cart pulled by cows. (1 Sm 4–6).
The Ark remained at Kiriath Jearim for 20 years (1 Sm 7:2). However, there is some debate as to whether the Ark remained located in Kiriath Jearim for the entire time. In 1 Samuel 14:18, according to the Masoritic Text (MT), during the battle near Michmash, King Saul commanded Ahijah to “Bring the Ark of God.” We are told the Ark of God was with the Israelites at that time. However, in the Septuagint (LXX), the word “Ephod” is used instead of “Ark.” In his commentary on 1 Samuel, Ronald Youngblood mentions both sources, but cites Jobling in settling the matter (663):
the near unanimous preference for older critics for “ephod” of the LXX over “ark” has now been reversed, and most recent authorities retain “ark.”
Youngblood gives as support for his preference the fact that the MT uses the phrase “Ark of God” twice, making a special point that it was “with the Israelites” at that time, presumably having been brought to Gibeah from Kiriath Jearim.
However, Youngblood says nothing about verse 19 when, upon hearing the commotion in the Philistine camp, Saul tells Ahijah to “Withdraw your hand.” This action seems more appropriate in regard to the Ephod than the Ark. Likewise, there are eight instances in 1 Samuel where the Ephod was carried (not worn) in which the Israelites sought Divine guidance (Klein 1983:135). Thus it seems that there is sufficient cause to believe that it was the Ephod and not the Ark that was with Saul at Gibeah.
Hill of Kiriath Jearim, on the west side of Abu Ghosh, where the Ark of the Covenant stayed in the house of Abinadab from the time of Samuel until David brought it to Jerusalem.
The Ark of the Covenant was kept at the house of Abinadab until King David transported it to Jerusalem (2 Sm 6). Early in his reign King David wanted to bring the Ark up from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem—it is an uphill road. David failed to get the Ark moved in his first attempt, because he did not transport it as God had commanded, upon the shoulders of the Levites. Instead, David used a cart pulled by oxen to transport the Ark, led by Uzzah and Ahio, Abinidab’s two sons (2 Sm 6).
David and Israel worshiped as they brought the Ark up (1 Chr 15:25–28). However, as the Ark began to tip out of the cart, Uzzah reached up to steady it and paid for his act with his life. Instead of risking God’s further displeasure, David took the Ark to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite, where it remained for three months. There is now on the hilltop at Kiriath Jearim a Catholic convent called “Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant,” built in 1924.
Still later, about 600 BC, in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, Kiriath Jearim became a place of martyrs. A prophet named Uriah lived there. He, like Jeremiah, spoke against the disobedience and idolatry of king Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim sent officers tocapture Uriah, and Uriah fled to Egypt. Jehoiakim sent a burly bounty hunter named Elnathan with a posse after Uriah. They brought him back to Jerusalem and killed him with a sword (Jer 26:20–23). After the Babylonian captivity, some Jews came back to Judah and resettled at Kiriath Jearim (Ezr 2:25).
Crusader church at Abu Ghosh, built on the site the Crusaders believed to be Emmaus, the place where Jesus appeared to two disciples after His resurrection (Lk 24:13–35).
Based on the distance from Jerusalem given in Luke 24:13, the Crusaders located Emmaus, where the risen Christ appeared to two disciples (Lk 24:13–35), at Abu Ghosh. Sometime after AD 1141 they built a church to commemorate the event. It is one of the best preserved in the land and still functions today. Earlier traditions, however, place Emmaus elsewhere.
The name Kiriath Jearim means “Town of the Forests” and the Israelis have taken great effort to restore the forests around it. Yad Hashmona and Kiriath Jearim are in an area of high wooded hills. It is safe to say that Kiriath Jearim has witnessed great changes in the past 3000 years.
Church of Our Lady of the Covenant on the site of Biblical Kiriath Jearim. Excavations on the grounds of the church revealed remains from the Iron Age.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
1983 1 Samuel. Word Biblical Commentary 10, eds. D.A. Hubbard and G.W. Barker. Waco: Word Books.
1992 1 Samuel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary 3, ed. F.E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.