Running in King Saul’s biblical footsteps

The Bible Marathon is more than just a race; it’s a perfect window into the dichotomy of what was and is the Land, people and State of Israel.

Bible Marathon (photo credit: BIBLE MARATHON)
Bible Marathon
(photo credit: BIBLE MARATHON)
“A man of [the tribe] Benjamin ran from the battle line and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes torn and dust on his head,” reads 1 Samuel 4:12.
According to tradition, the Benjamin man was a young King Saul (c. 1050 – 1012 BCE).
He ran 42 km. from what is today Rosh Ha’ayin (Eben Ezra in the Bible) to Shiloh, to inform the high priest that 30,000 Jewish soldiers had been killed, including the two sons of the High Priest, and that the Ark of the Covenant was taken.
Forty-two kilometers is the official length of the Olympic marathon, decided upon in 1908 at the London Olympic Games.
Many believe that the first marathon was when Pheidippides ran to Athens with the news of the great victory his people had over the Persians at Marathon in 490 BCE.
Rather, the first marathon was the “Bible marathon” described in the Tanakh. Last Friday, I was like the Benjamin man, running through the hills of the Binyamin region in the West Bank.
I did not run a full 42 kilometers, but 21 – a half-marathon.
The accomplishment of completing the course – considered the hardest marathon in Israel – in two hours and four minutes, coming in fifth in my age group and 11th overall, is one in which I will be able to relish.
But the Bible Marathon is more than just a race; it’s a perfect window into the dichotomy of what was and is the Land, people and State of Israel.
Runners take off to the sound of the shofar. They are accompanied by musicians, dressed in white – “biblical clothing” – togas, sandals and cloth headdresses.
As you enter the finish line, which looks like an ancient city gate, a cheering squad greets you with the beat of goblet drums, more shofar blasts, flutes and even harps.
Race medals are made of clay and the top three winners in each race get an inscribed clay pitcher for a trophy.
I won one of these two years ago, when I placed third in the women’s 5k race. The finish link is in ancient Shiloh Hakeduma, the site where archaeologists are searching for the Ark of the Covenant.
Shiloh was the religious capital of Israel for 369 years, beginning after the conquest of Canaan until King David established Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish nation, making it the longest standing Jewish capital other than Jerusalem.
Yes, if you are standing on the spot where it is believed the Ark once stood, it is a flashback to ancient history – hence the tagline “running through history.”
However, most of the race is just normal. Admittedly, there were a few times during the run that I caught myself looking out at the top of whatever hill I was on – almost the entire course is a hill.
I saw the round, orange sun beaming down and the runners in front of me on the horizon, like silhouettes, and it was simply stunning.
Then, I would take a minute to look to the right or left at rocky hilltops covered in dust yet blooming with greenery, olive trees and vineyards and smile.
“I am fulfilling biblical prophecy,” I would say to myself, “running through the streets of the Jewish homeland.” It would keep me going for at least another kilometer.
At the same time, there were moments when I would see the signs for Arab towns, nearly shut off and silent, for need to protect the runners.
Unlike at the intersections in front of the Jewish settlement of Eli or Ma'ale Levona, where families stood to clap for the racers, the entrances to Sinjil and Qaryut were eerily quiet.
I saw one Palestinian child during the race, he was maybe five years old, kicking a stick alone along the side of the road.
A couple of years ago, the Bible Marathon had its membership revoked by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races after BDS activists claimed its route violates international law by going beyond the boundaries of the State of Israel.
The Israel Marathon Association, which manages the race for the Benjamin Regional Council, protested the decision, but the Bible Marathon is still not listed in the AIM’s race directory alongside the Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Eilat, Tel Aviv and Sea of Galilee races.
The founder of the Maccabiah games, Yosef Yekutieli, tried to launch a first version of the Bible Marathon shortly after Israel won the 1967 Six Day War, but back then it was too dangerous and after a very short run, the plan was nixed. The current Bible Marathon is in its fourth year.
The truth is that, in all its glory, the Bible Marathon and the Benjamin Regional Council still have a lot of maturing to do.
I nearly missed the race because of transportation challenges and lack of communication, and multiple runners complained about being late to the starting line after being given misinformation about where to collect their numbers needed to run.
The 10k racers merged with the half marathoners sometime around kilometer 15, which led to a lot of confusion among those of us trying to pace ourselves to the finish line. But I made it to the end, passing the finish line with a smile, knowing that even though, unlike Saul, I will never be a king, I ran in his biblical footsteps.