For more than two decades in the 9th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was ruled by King Ahab and his Phoenician wife Jezebel. According to the Scriptures, the couple encouraged their subjects to worship the pagan god Baal.
The prophet Elijah was the scourge of the royal family. He despised the king and queen, and determined to squash their pagan practices. In 1 Kings 17:1, he declared that there would be a famine in Israel, and so there was.
In its third year, Elijah faced 450 prophets of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel (called the Mukhraka in Arabic) in a contest to determine who controlled the Kingdom of Israel: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — or Baal. After Elijah won, he had all of the other prophets slaughtered.
Over the years a Druze village grew up around the Mukhraka. In Arabic it means “scorching” — like the heavenly fire that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice when he won the contest.
Elijah is one of the most important prophets in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions and the site features an imposing stone statue of Elijah with a raised sword to the heavens. Today there is a church on the site, belonging to the Order of the Discalced (without shoes) Carmelites. Above the church a beautiful lookout offers a stunning view of the Jezreel Valley and Mount Tabor, the Upper Galilee and the Hermon Mountains.
Strange rocks are found on the Mukhraka, called, in Hebrew, Elijah’s Watermelon. It seems that Elijah was walking on the mountain one day, when he happened to see some lovely, ripe watermelons. He asked the farmer who owned the watermelons if he could have one.
But the farmer was a miser and didn’t want to give away even one watermelon, so he told Elijah that they weren’t watermelon but just enormous stones. Elijah got angry and said: “Let God make your words come true!” As soon as he finished speaking, all of the watermelon turned into big round stones.
Sculptures with a biblical theme are found throughout the Holy Land, sometimes realistic, like this one, and other times more abstract. Luckily, my husband Shmuel takes photos everywhere we go, so we had plenty in stock and didn’t have to violate lockdown to photograph them.
Two Judean kings behaved far differently than both their counterparts in Israel and their ancestors. Asa and his son Jehoshaphat “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” while the kings of Israel who ruled at the same time, like Ahab, “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.”
Independence Park in Tel Aviv was inaugurated with great fanfare in 1952 but suffered a terrible decline in later years. To the delight of all, it was restored in 2009 in honor of the city’s 100th birthday.
Two intriguing stone figures were chosen to stand at the highest point of the park. Not surprisingly, considering their merits, one represents King Asa, who ruled Judah from the end of the 10th century BCE to the beginning of the ninth. He was succeeded by the other figure, his son Yehoshafat. Take a guess as to which one is standing and which one is sitting down as they gaze at the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Sculptor Boaz Vaadia, who created the sculptures, passed away in 2017. Born in an Israeli farming community, he spent most of his post-army life working in America. Vaadia utilized all manner of boulders from work sites to sedimentary rock. With his hammer and chisel, working with natural layers, he created wonderful universal figures. Quite often, as in this case, they were named after people from the Bible.
Completed in 1977, the Gate of Faith in Old Jaffa’s Abrasha Park has become a favorite tourist attraction. Four meters tall, it was created by prolific sculptor Daniel Kafri and was his first work of art after the Yom Kippur War and following his return to religion.
The sculpture, made of Galilee stone, has three parts: the fall of Jericho, Jacob’s Ladder and Isaac’s Sacrifice. Perhaps it is shaped like a gateway because over the millennia Jaffa has been considered the gateway to the land of Israel.
Interestingly, during excavations of the park just south of Kafri’s sculpture, archeologists discovered fragments from a gate that dates back to the 13th century BCE. Reconstructed and eerily similar in shape to the Statue of Faith, it led to a palace or fortress whose hieroglyphic inscription gives both the pharaoh’s name — Ramses II — and his title.
Remains of a small fortress dating back to the 9th or 8th century BCE were uncovered in Ashdod on top of the tallest hill on the coastline. Combined with an ancient tomb inscribed with the words “Yunis the Prophet is buried here” and the appropriate time line, it was logical that the height would become known as Jonah’s Hill. And who knows: the “dry land” (Jonah: 2:10) onto which the whale spewed the prophet could very well have been at Ashdod.
A 17-ton work of art all about Jonah was inaugurated in 2015 on Jonah’s Hill. The sculptor was philosopher and artist Dr. Edward Dulcart, and it was dedicated to the late Ukrainian cardiologist Dr. Aharon Arkady Shmist.
Although Mount Scopus has been part of Israel since the establishment of the State, from 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967 the whole area held a dubious special status as a demilitarized zone. Sadly, during those 19 long years Scopus’s ultra-modern Hadassah Hospital, founded in 1939, lay idle because the road to the mountain was surrounded by hostile Arab neighborhoods.
The 1967 Six Day War reunited all of Jerusalem, and Hadassah Hospital was restored in 1975. Outside on the grass stands an enormous statue, the work of renowned sculptor Jacques (Chaim Jacob) Lipshitz. Called the Tree of Life, the six-meter high bronze statue depicts four biblical figures: Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Moses. The easiest to make out is Abraham, near the bottom, holding his slaughtering knife as he prepares to sacrifice of son. Seen against a background of blue sky, Arab villages, and the stark brown sands of the desert, all four seem to be engaged in a struggle to survive.
On January 20, 1920, Arabs murdered two Jewish farmers at the minuscule settlement of Tel Hai in the upper eastern Galilee; six more were killed during a bloody battle there months later on March 1.
When it became obvious that Tel Hai would fall to the enemy, defenders carried their wounded through a riverbed and up the hill to nearby Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. Among the fatally injured was their commander, World War I hero Joseph Trumpeldor — famous for what are believed to have been his dying words: “It is good to die for our country.”
A trail prepared by the Jewish National Fund at the beginning of the 1990’s follows the route they took. Called Path of the Wounded, it is lined with touching monuments telling the story of Tel Hai. Among them, on the road between Tel Hai and Kfar Giladi, stands a huge bronze statue of Moses by Ambroziu Kohn, an enlargement of a 50-centimeter plaster model created by Boris Schatz.
Schatz, known as the founder of Israeli art, established the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in 1909. In 1918 he created his model of Moses, painting it in a color to resemble bronze. Although he dreamed of turning it into an actual statue, that dream was only fulfilled in 1994, when art historian Gideon Ofrat was put in charge of environmental sculpture at Tel Hai. Ofrat borrowed the model, and asked Kohn to produce the enlargement — a perfect copy of Shatz’s Moses, with a tablet in one hand and a mallet in the other.
One last sculpture created by: Mother Nature, or the hand of God. Take a look at Lot’s wife near the Dead Sea, who ignored the Lord’s command not to look not back when she and her family fled from Sodom. Genesis 19:26 “But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”
We could go on and on and on… but we will save more exciting statues for an upcoming article on sculpture gardens in the Holy Land.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.