Unique Sites of Israel: Biblical Shunammite House | The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com | Nosson Shulman | 24 Av 5782 – 21 Aug 2022


Photo credit: public image

The city of Sulam, nestled in the Jezreel Valley, in northern Israel.

Elisha went all the way to Shunem, and there was a prominent woman who convinced him to eat a meal…every time he passed by, he stopped there to eat a meal. She said to her husband, “Here is… a holy man of God who regularly passes by us. Let us make a little walled upper room, and place there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp; and it will be that when it comes to us it will turn into there (2 Kings 4:8-10)”

Today we are going to visit a holy place where miracles still happen regularly today! This site is so off the beaten path that most Israeli tour guides and geo-experts are unaware of it and there is very little information found online. That being said, let’s explore this wonderful place together!

The “House of the Shunammite Woman” is located in the Arab-Israeli village of today’s North Sulam.

The city of Sulam, nestled in the Jezreel Valley, in northern Israel.

The city (historically called Shunem) has a long history, dating back to Canaanite times. It is mentioned in ancient Egyptian documents as one of the cities overtaken by Pharaoh Thutmose III (c. 1450 BCE) when he conquered Canaan. He succeeded in taking control of Israel and the Egyptians ruled the land for several centuries (he allowed the 31 kings of the Canaanite city-states to retain their rule, as long as they pledged loyalty to their Egyptian overlords).

The city is mentioned several times in the Bible. When the Philistines waged war against King Saul at Mount Gilboa, they encamped at Shunem (see 1 Samuel 28:4). The Philistines were victorious in this battle and King Saul was killed (for more on this fateful battle at Mount Gilboa, click here. For the aftermath, click here).

A Philistine soldier. In King Saul’s final battle, he was killed by the Philistines who were encamped at Shunem.

In King David’s last years, he had a beautiful companion named Abishag who came from Shunem (see 1 Kings 1:3). The predominant story here, of course, occurred during the time of Elisha the prophet, a student of Elijah (see 2 Kings 4). He traveled across the country teaching people and encouraging them to repent. On these trips, he often passed through Shunem, which was close to a major crossroads (the nearby town of Afula is still a major crossroads). In the city lived a rich and pious woman who had been married but childless for many years. Every time Elisha passed through the city, they invited him to a meal. One day she told her husband that since he was a man of Gd, they should make a place for him in the house where he could sleep in the area (according to Jewish sources, her husband actually built a very solid stone structure so that it would have maximum privacy).

Pottery vessels found in the excavations of ancient Shunem.

The next time he was in town, he accepted her offer to stay (according to Jewish sources, it was Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year). As he lay down to sleep, he told his attendant Gehazi (who usually traveled with him) to ask the woman if there was anything he could do for her to show his gratitude for her kind hospitality. Being a godly woman, she asked for nothing, which meant she was content with whatever G‑d had already given her (she was not hosting Elisha for ulterior motives or to receive a reward). Elisha still wanted to reward her and asked Gehazi if he had any ideas of what he thought she could use. As the couple were an older, childless couple (according to Jewish sources, she was past childbearing age), Gehazi suggested a blessing to them for having a child. The prophet then summoned the woman and told the delighted future mother that she would have a child in a year (according to Jewish sources, this child was none other than the future prophet Habakkuk whose prophecies were recorded in the Bible) .

The tomb of the prophet Habakkuk in Galilee. According to Jewish sources, Habakkuk was the baby born to the Shunammite woman.

The child grew up and one day he was helping his father in the fields when he complained of headaches. He was brought home and died on his mother’s lap.

The fields surrounding Sulam, the biblical site of Shunem. In the fields, the woman’s son fell ill and later died at his mother’s home.
Photo credit: Ori~

She took her son to the room she had built for the prophet and laid his lifeless body on the bed. She then saddled her donkey to head up Mount Carmel in search of Elijah the Prophet (read more about this biblical mountain here).

Route taken by the Shunammite Woman to see Elisha who was at Mount Carmel at that time

When she arrived at Mount Carmel and saw Elisha, she ran to him and grabbed his legs and told him about her son, saying she would not leave unless Elisha accompanied him. When they returned to her home in Shunem, the Prophet went to her room and saw the body. He closed the door behind him, prayed to Gd and climbed on top of the boy, “Putting his mouth to his mouth, his eyes to his eyes, and his palms to his palms (2 Kings 4:33)”. He then got up and paced, immersed in deep prayer. He then lay back on top of him and suddenly the boy sneezed 7 times and opened his eyes! The prophet then summoned the Shunammite, who was delighted to see that her son was miraculously alive again!

In 2 Kings 8 the Bible tells another story involving the Shunammite. Elisha (who was staying at her house) warned that a 7-year famine was coming to Israel. As a result, she went to the land of the Philistines. When she returned, she found that she had been stripped of her property and her house was occupied by strangers. She went to the king to ask for the restitution of her property. When she arrived at the palace, the king was in conversation with Gehazi (Elisha’s attendant) about the miracle that Elisha had performed for her (according to Jewish sources, it was divine providence that this discussion took place when she arrived). The king then asked him to verify the story, after which he ordered that everything be returned to him (including payment for the crops the squatters had grown illegally on his property for seven years).

A view of the fields surrounding Shunem from Jezreel (where the King of Israel lived)

Today, all that remains of the house is a wall marking where the entrance once stood. Although little information exists about this site online and few have even heard of it, it is well known to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, one of the leading Torah sages of our generation. His father, the Steipler Gaon (a great Torah sage of the previous generation), had told him that because of the miracles that had taken place there, the site was still very much steeped in holiness and was an opportune place to pray. for kids. Subsequently, Rabbi Kanievsky led a delegation of childless couples (all of whom had been declared by doctors to have no hope of having children) to the site for intense prayers. In a short time, almost all the women who were there became pregnant. Since then, he has encouraged all childless couples to make the effort to pray on this amazing site. Additionally, a Yeshiva (academy for higher Torah and Talmud studies) was established nearby.

If you’re looking for something off the beaten path on your next trip to Israel, I highly recommend visiting here!

Please visit the author’s site about tourist guides in Israel: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com

(All images are free or licensed for commercial use by the author)


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