Kiriath Jearim is a noteworthy biblical site that is often missed. It is located on a small hilltop about 10 miles (15 km.) west of Jerusalem. The hilltop is surrounded by the Israeli Arab village of Abu-Gosh, and has a large Jewish Orthodox village just to its south. Kiriath Jearim means “city of the forest,” and is also known as Kiryat Yearim and Deir el-Azar. It sits just off of Israel’s main highway that connects Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.
Kiriath Jearim in the Bible
In the Bible, Kiriath Jearim is also known as Kiriath Baal, Baale of Judah, and Baalah. It was originally a Gibeonite city that likely practiced Baal worship—hence its former names. In Israelite times, it marked the boarder between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Joshua 15:9; 18:14). Uriah the prophet, a contemporary of Jeremiah, was from Kiriath Jearim (Jer. 26:20-23), and men from Kiriath Jearim returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile (Nehemiah 7:29).
However, Kiriath Jearim is best known as the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept from the time of Samuel to the reign David (40-120 years). The Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines at Shiloh, but returned to Kiriath Jearim after wreaking death and sickness on the Philistine cities. It stayed at the house of Abinadab, whose son, Eleazar, was consecrated to protect it (1 Samuel 6:21-7:2); the Arab name for Kiriath Jearim, Deir el-Azar, may preserve Eleazar’s name. Today, the church at Kiriath Jearim displays a tall statue of Mary standing on the Ark of the Covenant; the statue is a landmark that can be seen throughout the area and from the passing highway.
Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church stands on top of the Kiriath Jearim hill. It was built over the ruins of a 5th-century Byzantine church that was discovered accidentally by a farmer plowing. The ruins include a semicircular wall, columns, and mosaics; their location is believed to be where the house of Abinadab was located and the Ark of the Covenant was kept.