In summer, fig trees bear their succulent fruit; in autumn, boughs of olives suggest the impending harvest; by winter, citrons hang heavy with scent.
This is Neot Kedumim, Israel's biblical landscape reserve.
Here, relevant biblical passages and other ancient texts are paired with each living exhibit to create a new spin on the idea of a "biblical theme park."
These 625 acres of majestic trees, grapevines, shrubs and flowers were once barren territory that was used as an army training ground.
Thirty-five years ago, a visionary sabra Jerusalemite named Nogah Hareuveni, now in his 80s, conceived of reclaiming this land and returning it to its lost glory – a simple but profound idea to look at biblical and other ancient "texts in context," says Beth Uval, Neot Kedumim's native English-speaking guide and writer, a former American who moved to Israel in 1970.
"If we look at the text in relation to the climate, the nature and the harvest, we find the nuance, depth and power of Jewish sources," Uval said.
Neot Kedumim features a series of natural and agricultural landscapes bearing names from textual sources, including The Forest of Milk and Honey, The Dale of the Song of Songs, Isaiah's Vineyard, the Fields of the Seven Species and many more. And corresponding texts quoting Jewish sources are posted throughout the park. For example, next to a massive trunk, a quote from Isaiah reads, "A staff shall grow out of the trunk of Jesse and an offshoot shall flourish from its roots."
The land for this park was first acquired in 1965. At the time, the property lay barren and neglected. Development started in 1970s. But it took a long time to find water, and prepare the soil and landscaping, and Neot Kedumim didn't officially open until 1984. Workers trucked in thousands of tons of soil to spread on the eroded hillsides. They dug reservoirs to catch runoff rainwater and restored ancient terraces. They planted cedars evoking the snow-covered mountains of Lebanon and date palms from Sinai desert oases.
The job wasn't complete until hundreds more biblical and Talmudic plants were brought in, along with wild and domesticated animals, ancient and reconstructed olive and wine presses, threshing floors, cisterns and ritual baths, all designed bring to life the literal roots of the biblical tradition in the soil of the Land of Israel.
As a result of Hareuveni's vision, Neot Kedumim's appeal is now widespread.
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