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Mosaic museum opens in the West Bank


Israel has inaugurated its first-ever museum of mosaics at a West Bank site identified with Christianity.

The Museum of the Good Samaritan, which is located on the Jerusalem-Jericho Road near Ma'aleh Adumim, was officially opened on 4 June 2009, after a nine-year archeological excavation at the site.

The official dedication of the NIS 10 million museum, which displays mosaics from the West Bank and Gaza, coincided with US President Barack Obama's long-touted Middle East speech in Cairo in which he reached out to the Muslim world.

Israeli officials at the event said that the timing of the museum's inauguration, which was attended by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin of the ruling Likud Party and Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov of Israel Beitenu, as well as Christian religious leaders, was coincidental, but also served as a timely reminder of Israel's historical connection to the area.

"The opening of this site as a museum is a refreshing building project during days in which there is a grave threat to the settlements, and political winds that question the essence legitimacy of our presence here," Rivlin said. "Any opening of an important site such as this is a clear and significant statement that we have not abandoned these regions and will not cease in underscoring our national and historic roots in these areas," he added.

9th century Byzantine mosaic - photo 2008 by Y. Tommer

The tourism minister voiced the hope that the site, which is open free of charge to the public daily, except Saturday, will become a major tourist attraction for Christian visitors to the Holy Land.

"I believe that this site will become a center of pilgrimage for millions of Christians from around the world," Misezhnikov said.

The site, known as the Inn of the Good Samaritan, received its name in the Byzantine period when it was identified with the inn mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the New Testament.

The site lies on the upper end of the ascent on the main road from Jericho to Jerusalem, which pilgrims followed when traveling from the Galilee and Transjordan to the Holy City.

Over the last decade, archeologists have uncovered remains dating back to the Second Temple period at the site.

During the Byzantine period, the site was revived as a way station for Christian pilgrims, and an inn was constructed that included a large church, a cistern, residential quarters, and a fortress to protect pilgrims from brigands.

In the Crusader period, with the expansion of pilgrimage to Jericho and especially to baptismal sites on the Jordan River, the inn was renovated and a fortress erected above it to guard the road to Jerusalem.

The structure housing the museum was built in the Ottoman period as a guard post, which remained in use until recently.

The mosaics on display at the museum were discovered in the West Bank and Gaza and belong to Jewish and Samaritan synagogues - including a mosaic from a Gaza synagogue - as well as churches.

The melange of mosaics at the museum - which are divided into an indoor and outdoor display - was inspired by the Parable of the Good Samaritan which features members of three faiths: Jews, Jesus and a Samaritan who performs a merciful deed.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

Photograph from OhmyNews International



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