On the Tracks of Women of the Bible

From Hulda's tomb to the church where Mary uttered the Magnificat, the Holy Land abounds with sites celebrating revered women.

Famous women are sometimes back-seated in traditional tourism itineraries, but here are some places to put women back in the picture, with an ecumenical angle.

Tomb of Hulda the Prophetess

The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem is more than just a gorgeous view when it comes to putting women into your tour. The Tomb of Hulda is one such place.

The burial place of this First Temple-era prophetess and, by legend, great scholar, is on the main road to the Old City observation plaza, south of the Christian holy site known as the Dome of the Ascension.

To Christians the remains are of Pelagia, a fifth-century actress turned saint. To Muslims, of the righteous Sit’ (Lady) Raba’a, known for her wisdom. (The site is open by appointment; ask the attendants at the Dome of the Ascension.)

Around Jerusalem: Rachel, Mary and Hannah

South of Jerusalem, on the Israeli side of the separation barrier with Bethlehem, is the Tomb of Rachel, symbol of biblical motherhood, who died giving birth to Benjamin. To this day, women pray at Rachel’s tomb for fertility and safe childbirth.

Two other mothers are venerated in Jerusalem: in Ein Karem, the Church of the Visitation is where Mary uttered the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) in the presence of her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. It also powerfully evokes the paean Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet, recited when she offered her son to God’s service (1 Sam. 2).

Biblical women of the Negev

Down in the Negev is Be'er Sheva, the city Abraham founded. This is where the conflict between his wife Sarah and his concubine Hagar reached its climax (Gen. 21:9-14). A well outside the ancient gate is a good backdrop for the many biblical stories about women at the well, including Rebecca (Gen. 24:13-26) Rachel (Gen. 29:9-12) and the Samaritan woman (John 4:7-29).

Then, at the Bedouin Women’s Craft Center in the Negev city of Rahat you can learn how crafts going back to Bible days can improve the lives of contemporary women.

The four virgin daughters

Heading north, you’re sure to visit Caesarea – the showcase Roman port built by Herod the Great. Although Peter and Paul are traditionally the star historical figures here among the famous ruins, this was also the home of the “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9) of Philip the Evangelist, making it an excellent place to think about women in public life in the early church.

You can also visit the Hannah Szenes Museum at adjacent Kibbutz Sdot Yam to hear the moving story of the modern-day heroine who parachuted behind enemy lines in Europe to try to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Widows in ancient society

In the Galilee, consider adding the off-the-beaten-track village of Nain – and a charming little church in a setting that seems to have changed little since Jesus raised a widow’s son from the dead here (Luke 7:11-15), where you can explore the issue of how widows and other lone women fared in ancient society.

Nain is in the shadow of magnificent Mount Tabor - the place to highlight the dramatic story of Bible’s only woman judge, Deborah (Judges 4:4-16) and the traditional Mount of Transfiguration.

Most of the monuments in nearby Nazareth, as the site of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38) are devoted to Mary. Highlights include the Church of St. Gabriel, built over the spring where Mary no doubt drew water – a basic women’s task in antiquity – and the magnificent Basilica of the Annunciation.

Even a boat ride on storied Lake Kinneret has a women’s slant if you book a trip on one that takes the faithful to the point where “Miriam’s Spring” – which by tradition was created by Moses’ sister after she died and ended up following the Israelites through the desert to quench their thirst – can still be seen bubbling up.

An exciting new visitors site on the Sea of Galilee are excavations of the hometown of perhaps the second-most famous woman of the New Testament – Mary Magdalene, where you can see a synagogue dating right back to her day.

For another modern slant there’s the Kinneret Cemetery, and the tomb of another Rachel – Israel’s early 20th century pioneer poet. This is the perfect spot for ground for exploring women’s experiences as pioneers.

Top off your trip in the far north, at the beautiful nature reserve of Banias. Just above the Roman ruins and an ancient cave is a Druze Holy Place – the tomb of a righteous woman known as Sit’ Sara, where the faithful come to pray for healing and success.

Yaron Kaminsky