Reading the Landscape: Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel

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A lively group of children are grinding wheat kernels between two stones, in preparation for baking their own pita-bread. In a nearby grainfield, visitors are searching for tares among the wheat. Another group are tasting ripe sycamore figs and learning why it was a sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed in Jericho. This is Neot Kedumim, 625 acres of reconstructed biblical landscapes in Israel’s Modi’in region (2,000 years ago home to the Maccabees, today ten minutes from Ben-Gurion Airport).

A lively group of children are grinding wheat kernels between two stones, in preparation for baking their own pita-bread. In a nearby grainfield, visitors are searching for tares among the wheat. Another group are tasting ripe sycamore figs and learning why it was a sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed in Jericho. Under a grape arbor in “Isaiah’s Vineyard,” yet another group of visitors are munching ripe, sun-warmed fruit as their guide explains the vine-to-wine process and the symbolism of the grape.

This is Neot Kedumim, 625 acres of reconstructed biblical landscapes in Israel’s Modi’in region (2,000 years ago home to the Maccabees, today ten minutes from Ben-Gurion Airport).[1]

Hyssop (growing out of the rock, cf. 1 Kgs. 4:33) and a cedar of Lebanon in the "Garden of Wisdom Literature" at Neot Kedumim.

Hyssop (growing out of the rock, cf. 1 Kgs. 4:33) and a cedar of Lebanon in the “Garden of Wisdom Literature” at Neot Kedumim.

Neot Kedumim was built, quite literally, with a spade in one hand and the Bible in the other. Stone by stone and tree by tree, the staff has transformed once-barren hills and valleys into a network of pastoral landscapes representing regions of ancient Israel or themes of the Bible. Centuries-old transplanted olive trees thrive on the “Hill of the Menorah,” almond trees bloom in the “Garden of Choice Products,” and cedars native to Lebanon are being persuaded to grow in the “Garden of Wisdom Literature.”

The world’s only biblical landscape reserve, Neot Kedumim brings together the worlds of nature and the Bible. The text is placed in its original context—the land—in order to show how the biblical tradition has incorporated Israel’s nature and agriculture and used them to convey important ideas.

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  • [1] Neot Kedumim is dedicated to exploring and demonstrating the ties between the biblical tradition and the nature and agriculture of the land of Israel, as expressed in Jewish and Christian prayers, holidays and symbols. The reserve’s reconstructed biblical landscapes are open to guided and self-guided tours by groups and individuals.

    Along with hundreds of varieties of plants are ancient and reconstructed olive and wine presses, threshing floors, cisterns and ritual baths. A camel, sheep, goats, and cows of the native, lean variety graze in the fields. “Sukkah” shelters protect visitors from the rain or sun, according to season. “Woodland stages” surrounded by wooden benches seating up to 1,500 offer a pastoral setting for special events.

    What becomes clear at Neot Kedumim is that while the universal messages of the Bible echo around the world, the text, in all its hundreds of translations, always speaks in a particular idiom—that of Israel’s nature and agriculture.

    Walking through the reconstructed olive groves, vineyards and grainfields at Neot Kedumim, sitting in the shade of its transplanted date palms, enjoying the fragrance of the myrtle and hyssop that now flourish in its rolling hills, this “ancient Esperanto”—the language of Israel’s ecology—lives for us as it did for our agrarian forebears, the people of the Bible.

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