“And there ran a man of Benjamin out of the army, and came to Shiloh the same day with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head.” (1 Samuel 5:12)
The iconic race known as the marathon, traditionally 42 kilometers (over 26 miles) long, gets its name from an ancient Greek legend in which one Pheidippides ran that distance from the battlefield of Marathon to the city of Athens to announce a victory in 490 BCE.
However, Pheidippides was not the first to run this distance to report the results of a battle. One of the earliest runners in recorded history was a man from Benjamin some 3,000 years ago. Now, Israel is offering runners a chance to retrace his steps.
In the time of Eli the Priest, the Philistines attacked the Israelite city of Eben-Ezer. Believing God would not abandon His people if His ark were in the field, Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phineas, carried the Ark of the Covenant out to battle, where they were subsequently killed, and the ark, captured.
An unnamed man from the tribe of Benjamin had the unenviable task of reporting the results of the failed battle to Eli. According to 1 Samuel 5, the man ran from the battlefield to Shiloh to deliver the news. Eli, struck with grief for the loss of the ark, fell from his chair and died.
Following the Six Day War in 1967, Yosef Yekutieli, founder of the Maccabiah Games, the Jewish answer to the Olympics, measured the distance of that ancient route. To his surprise, he discovered it, too, was 42 kilometers. In the 1970s, Yekutieli initiated several racing events based upon the route of the “man of Benjamin”.
This year, on April 9th, the Bible Marathon will take place in the footsteps of the ancient “man of Benjamin”. With full and half-marathon, as well as 15 kilometer (over 9 mile) and 5 kilometer (3 mile) options, the Passover event offers something for everyone.
The race is set to begin in the modern-day city of Rosh Haayin, site of the ancient Eben-Ezer and now home to some 38,500 people. It will continue along Israel’s Highway 5 towards the city of Ariel and continue on to the site of Biblical Shiloh. There, among the ruins and mosaics, an expo will take place for participants and visitors alike.
Israel plays host to many annual marathons, but this one carries with it a piece of history.