Triumph and tradition at the ancient-modern Bible Marathon

Shortly after the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they fought a battle against the Philistines and were defeated.

A participant completes the Bible Marathon in the Binyamin region of the West Bank (photo credit: BIBLE MARATHON)
A participant completes the Bible Marathon in the Binyamin region of the West Bank
(photo credit: BIBLE MARATHON)
Last spring, my son and I ran the Jerusalem Marathon 10K race. I remember the moment when we huffed up the Hativat Yerushalayim Street hill that turns into the Old City and felt an aura of light, love and holiness all at once.
There I was, in 2017, running freely through the streets of our Holy City in our Holy Land. What on the surface was just an ordinary day was at once imbued with meaning. Politics and religion in all their Rights, Lefts and Centers aside, I realized that prophecy, the Zionist dream and the safety and security of the Jewish people are being achieved. I did not believe this experience could be beaten.
Then, last Friday, at the Bible Marathon, I watched thousands of runners take off before sunrise through the winding hills of Rosh Ha’ayin to Shiloh, following in the path of the first marathoner, “a man of Benjamin,” as described in I Samuel 4:12.
The course – equally as mountainous as the Jerusalem Marathon, with twists and turns, through vineyards and olive groves and archeological ruins engulfed by blossoming greens – is a site unmatched. The runners start to the sound of shofars, trumpeted loudly by men in white, with turbans and togas and ancient tarabuka drums. Traditional music by costumed staff and enthusiastic modern onlookers in head wraps and Nikes accompany the runners to the finish.
I ran the 5K race, scoring a second-place medal (first in my age group). The run was tough and hot, but each time I started to get detoured I thought about the significance of what I was trying to do: playing a little part in showing the world that life in Israel is not just about security challenges, political corruption or religious coercion. It is about living history, and we’re doing it the best we can.
Before each race took off, the announcer would tell the story of the course, as found in the book of the Prophet Samuel.
Shortly after the Jews entered the Land of Israel, they fought a battle against the Philistines and were defeated. Some 30,000 Jewish soldiers were killed, including the two sons of the high priest, Eli. The Ark of the Covenant was taken.
A man from the tribe of Benjamin ran from the battlefield to Shiloh to spread word of the terrible defeat. This man, who according to Jewish tradition was a young King Saul, ran 42 kilometers, which is also the official length of the Olympic marathon, decided upon in 1908 at the London Olympic Games.
Though the ark was stolen, Shiloh maintained its status as the capital of the Jewish people for 369 years, beginning after the conquest of Canaan until King David established Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish nation. Shiloh is mentioned 34 times in the Bible.
As one runs on the rock-strewn dirt paths, one cannot help but envision what the area must have looked like thousands of years ago, when Jewish foot soldiers and pedestrians ran those same paths. They didn’t have fluorescent yellow, blue and pink tennis shoes. Rather they likely hiked the land in their brown or black sandals with simple soles and two leather straps that pass across the foot, and one around the heel.
In an interview before the marathon, Israel Marathon Association head Ofer Padan, a secular Jew, insisted the Bible Marathon is not a political or religious statement, but a historical statement: “I am a Jew, so I have a connection to this land.”
He also said the Bible Marathon has the opportunity to “bring people from all religions and levels of religiosity together to come and run in a place that is not necessarily familiar to them but is in the Bible.... It is part of our shared history. It helps people understand each other.”
Padan’s statement proved true on race day.
The winner was a Christian Zionist from Poland, who is visiting Israel as part of a 100- man mission to “share our love of the people and the Land of Israel.”
Lukasz Wilk, who won with a time of 3:23:25, said he knew his country was responsible for committing terrible atrocities against the Jewish people. “I hope now that we can be on a better path,” he said. “I am very in love with Israel and the Jewish people.”
There was even a group of a few dozen Chinese participants in the Bible 5K. One of them, Li Weiyi, said she took part in the race because she “wanted to walk in the path of the Bible.”
The Bible Marathon is certainly a run of biblical proportions.
The author is a freelance writer. This article was written in cooperation with the Bible Marathon.