Over the last few years, I have taken a bit more to the outdoors, and this last year – finally, must I add – I’ve taken to get some more regular exercise into my schedule: particularly walking and cycling (mostly on an exercise bike, sometime outdoors). Combine this with a long stint in Jerusalem, and this got me to go further and discover some scenic spots, just at the edge of the city.

Emek Refaim or Rephaim Valley has become one of my favourite escapes. No, not the road next to the First Station, but lower down the valley itself, beyond Malha train station, with the old Jaffa-Jerusalem rail line still passing through, and the occasional train. So, instead of one, I offer you three photos.

  • The first is Ein Hanya or Ein el Haniya, also known as St Philip’s spring, because of a tradition linking it to the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, narrated in Acts 8,26-40 [here for a video clip from the Terre Sainte Magazine]. Incidentally, I stumbled across an old photo of Jesuit fathers visiting the place in the early 1940s. So, I see I’m keeping up with tradition.
  • The second is one of the pools of En Lavan, now a very popular recreation spot in this part of the Jerusalem Park. Always a pleasant place for a quick (cold) dip in the water, too. The Arabic name of the spring is ‘Ein el ‘Ulleiq, as documented on old survey maps.
  • Finally, a short section of the road reading to En Lavan from the Jerusalem Aquarium. More interesting for me, of course, were the entrances to the rock-cut tombs that you see in the rock face above the road.

The parking lot at En Lavan is also the start for many possible trails, though a mountain bike will be necessary if you plan to venture by bike, since the road is unpaved. Further down the valley, you will also meet Ein el Balad, with ‘Ein ed Dilba and ‘Ein Seif further uphill in a side valley. I mentioned the old survey maps before: if you’re curious about the area, here’s sheet 16/12 of 1944 topocadastral map [online here at the National Library of Israel]. You’ll find ‘Ein el ‘Ulleiq at MR 1652 1286, just north of the railway line, and Ein el-Haniya at MR 1648 1278.

Oh, something about the name. Rephaim is perhaps best left untranslated, as in the Septuagint (the old Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and, following it, the Vulgate. The place is mentioned in defining the tribal territories (Josh 15,8), and in David’s battles against the Philistines (2 Samuel 5,17-25). The King James Version translates it as Giants, following Jewish tradition – referring to one of the Canaanite peoples (so Deut 2,20, Josh 15,8). Biblical poetry, however, uses the term for spirits/ghosts of the dead (so, e.g., Psalm 88,10, Proverbs 2,18. 9,18; Isaiah 14,9). Hence, the two translations at the Valley of the Giants, or Valley of the Ghosts.