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What is it to be a pilgrim, according to the Bible?

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” These are the words that, according to Genesis 12, 1, God said to Abraham –the father of the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

For Abraham, leaving his homeland soon becomes the key to his whole existence. Indeed, after leaving his country, his kindred, and his father’s house (the fundamental structures that make a predictable, peaceful, and comfortable life possible) he became a thoroughly different person. The search for the promised land also became an existential search for the unknown, the transcendent, the radically other.  

Over the centuries, the summit of Mount Moriah (the place where the biblical text claims the binding of Isaac took place) became one of the most famous pilgrimage destinations of antiquity. So much so, that the Temple of Jerusalem itself was erected there.

The experience of pilgrimaging is repeatedly found in the Hebrew Bible. Once a year, people would embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. This historical pilgrimage still echoes today during the Pesach Seder: “Next year, in Jerusalem!”

Even today, Jerusalem remains one the most important pilgrimage destinations in the world. Not only Jews consider it holy. Right After Mecca, it is the second holiest place for Muslims, as it houses the stone from which tradition claims Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jerusalem is also the place where Christians go to visit the places associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, Christian pilgrimages usually follow the routes Jesus went through –and those that don’t, end or at least point at Jerusalem. The noted Camino de Santiago, for example, follows the road that tradition claims James the Apostle went through as he got to Spain, from Jerusalem, to preach the gospel.

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