This tomb, located in a synagogue below a mosque built atop the ruins of a church, is considered a holy site by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. It’s believed to be the final resting place of the great prophet Samuel, an important figure in the Old Testament and the Quran.
Located on a hilltop in the West Bank village of Nabi Samwil, just north of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot, the site is a place where Jews and Muslims both come to worship, and do so peacefully. The hilltop offers stunning views of the surrounding area, including the city of Jerusalem off in the distance.
The tomb is also a popular place for Jewish families to bring their three-year-old sons, often on the 28th day of Iyar on the Jewish calendar, for upsheren, the traditional first haircut for males at the age when they start to wear payots (sidelocks). (The prophet Samuel was a nazir, someone who had taken a vow never to cut his hair.)
The mosque on the hill was built in 1730 out of what had been a Crusader-era fortress and church from 1099. It is believed that it was from that mountaintop that the Crusaders first saw Jerusalem. It is also believed that the Crusaders may have been the ones who brought Samuel’s remains to the hill from another location.
The fortress was destroyed by the Mamelukes in the 12th century. At the end of the 19th century, a Jewish village was established on the hillside, though it was later abandoned as it became a dangerous place to live. In 1917, it was the site of fighting between Ottoman Turks and the British, which resulted in the destruction of the mosque’s original minaret (it was rebuilt after World War I). After 1948, it became an Arab stronghold until 1967, used by the Jordanian Arab Legion to attack Jerusalem during that time.
The prophet Samuel, according to the Bible, unified the tribes of the Israelites under a centralized kingdom after their victory over the Philistines during the Battle of Mizpah, which was said to have been on this site. He anointed Saul and later David as the first kings of Israel, following years of rule by judges—of which Samuel, a student of Eli, High Priest of Shiloh, was the last.
The hilltop of Nabi Samwil may or may not be the true final resting place of the biblical prophet. He was said to have never ventured far from his hometown of Ramah, but since Ramah is known to have been in the vicinity of this hill and is a Hebrew word for “heights,” many firmly believe the prophet was buried on this site. Others consider it to be a memorial shrine rather than literal tomb.
Today a national park surrounds the site of the tomb, as does rubble from the Six-Day War of 1967. The Jewish National Initiative has started working on restoring the site, feeling it has fallen into a state of neglect.