Sights and Insights: A noteworthy hill nobody notices

The physical symbol of God’s presence in Israel rested for about a century on a hill that thousands drive by every day.

Kiriath Ye'arim 311 (photo credit:
Kiriath Ye'arim 311
(photo credit:
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at
It’s a place in between important places. Few individuals, if any, journey there directly. Most would miss it, in fact, if they didn’t know to look.
Modern commuters along Route 1 motor by the site every day, their minds on their routines. Even tour buses rarely point to the place, much less stop there. The tourists who do pull over often do so to snap pictures at the Elvis American Diner (also known as the “Elvis Inn”). A 16-foot-tall bronze likeness of Elvis Presley greets every visitor. Inside the diner, Elvis music was all I heard as I ate my Elvis burger.
But Elvis isn’t what makes this hill noteworthy. Around the corner from the offbeat diner, near the modern Israeli Arab village of Abu Gosh, sits the site so few see and even fewer visit—the biblical site of Kiriath Ye'arim.
During the time of the Judges, the tribe of Dan camped west of Kiriath Ye'arim at Mahaneh-dan (Judges 18:12), after they had abandoned their inheritance along the coast for the greener pastures below Mount Hermon.
Kiriath Ye'arim’s primary significance in biblical history stems from the Ark of the Covenant staying there in “the house of Abinadab on the hill” (1 Samuel 7:1). The modern name of the site in Arabic is Deir el-Azar, perhaps indicative of Abinadab’s son’s name, Eleazar, whose watched over the ark. I find it amazing that the physical representation of God’s presence in Israel rested for about a century at Kiriath Ye'arim—and today, thousands pass the place unaware.
Most people who drive by may recall the more recent history of the area. The highway bears the scars of the War of Independence and carries the name called in Hebrew, Shaar HaGai, and in Arabic, Bab El Wad (“The Gate of the Valley”). During the war, Arab snipers’ control of the highway gave them a strong advantage in cutting off the Jewish supply line to Jerusalem and procuring a bona fide siege much like the city endured in ancient times. The skeletons of convoy vehicles still strewn along the highway give silent testimony to the arduous—if not, almost impenetrable—ascent this road represented.
As it turns out, Elvis isn’t the only “king,” to grace Kiriath Ye'arim. King David descended from Jerusalem in order to bring the ark up into the tent he had pitched for it (1 Chronicles 13 and 15; 2 Chronicles 1:4).
Today, a beautiful church dominates the hill of Kiriath Ye'arim and provides a convenient landmark from the passing highway. The church sits over the ruins of a fifth-century Byzantine church, the remains of which a farmer discovered by accident a little more than a century ago as he cultivated the summit of “the hill”—the place where the house of Abinadab probably resided (1 Samuel 7:1).  Atop the modern church, a statue features Mary standing on the Ark of the Covenant. The name of the church makes sense after seeing the statue: Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church.
I really enjoyed my overnight stopover at the Moshav Yad HaShmona, located on an adjacent hill. The moshav allows tourists the opportunity to stay in beautiful guesthouses not far from Jerusalem. The community offers an educational experience for guests, including features of
biblical culture and horticulture, like a wheat field, a threshing floor, grapevines, a watchtower, olive trees, an olive press, and winepresses. Visitors can experience biblical customs of ancient Israel and can see reproductions of Bedouin tents, a Galilean synagogue, and even a burial cave. A marvelous experience—not to be missed.
No one can tell just by driving by today, but believe me, there’s much more to experience at Kiriath Ye'arim than Elvis burgers.
What to Do There:
Visit the church at Kiriath Ye'arim and see the remnants of the Byzantine church. Read the account of King David coming here to take the ark up to Jerusalem—more than once (1 Chronicles 13 and 15). Visit Yad HaShmona and its gardens and cultural illustrations of ancient Israel.
 How to Get There:
From Jerusalem, take Route 1 west to the Kiryat Ye’arim Junction and turn right on Route 425. To visit the church, follow 425 around. To visit Yad HaShmona, turn left on 4115. The moshav is on the right.
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at