Many Christians want to visit the Holy Land. The main motivation is to ‘walk where Jesus walked.’ Pilgrim number are growing: in 2010, Israel had a record number of tourist arrivals: 3.5 million. Two-thirds of these were ‘Christian.’ A minimum of one million tourists came for the express purpose of pilgrimage.
But unlike ancient or pre-modern pilgrimage, most Christian pilgrims don’t walk where Jesus walked ... they take a large tourist bus. While this is understandable and necessary, a new innovation to an ancient practice has emerged ... walking the ‘Jesus Trail.’
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of American David Landis and Israeli Maoz Inon in 2007, a 65 kilometre (40 mile) trail has been launched between Nazareth to Capernaum to retrace the steps of Jesus. Why these two cities? Because Jesus grew up in Nazareth, was rejected by the locals, and then made His headquarters in Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim -- Matthew 4:13 (KJV)
Landis spent many hours researching walking trails and maps to see what would be the most likely way of retracing the steps of Jesus. He made his findings available in GPS format so that people could be guided by their device without getting lost. Thanks to a fortuitous amount of media attention, Landis and Inon were able to get the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) to paint symbols on rocks and walls along the trail, similar to the markings for the 900 kilometre (562 mile) ‘Israel Trail,’ thus allowing hikers to walk the without a GPS.
While more and more people have been embarking on the ‘Jesus Trail,’ it appears that this move is more among free-lance trekkers than actual tour or pilgrim groups. Sar-El tours, which has 1500 tours a year, said that it has only had 4 tours offer a Jesus Trail option. The main reason is time, fitness, and a willingness to endure hardship. It take 4 days for the average hiker to make the journey. That is an amount of time few can afford after touring the land for 10-14 days. In addition, it is not just a pathway ... it is an obstacle course, including ascending and descending steep mountains and also crossing creeks.
|Basilica of Annunciation Nazareth|
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women -- Luke 1:26-28 (KJV)
From there, we ascended 406 steps in order to leave Nazareth. Though the city is in the hills of Lower Galilee, it is in a deep ‘bowl.’ The ascent was steep but we completed it in 20 minutes. It would be the first of several steep ascents to come.
From Nazareth we walked to Tzipori, known in English as Sepphoris. While not mentioned in the Bible, it was the capital of the Galilee in the Herodian period until the centre of power moved to the newly-built lakeside city of Tiberias. Being a major city and only 1.5 hours away by donkey from Nazareth, it was highly probable the Joseph the carpenter and his teenage son Jesus went to Sepphoris for work. The well-preserved Crusader building attests to this belief.
The country side was mildly hilly and recent rains granted a touch of green. The valleys were long and narrow, going from the Rift Valley in the east to the Mediterranean in the west (also known as transversal valleys).
From Sepphoris we journeyed to Cana of Galilee via the city of Mash’had. It is the former Gathhepher, city of the prophet Jonah
He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher -- II Kings 14:25 (KJV).
A simple mosque marks the dubious burial site of the prophet. Once we entered Cana, we finished the first day of the hike. We were warmly welcomed by Suad and Sami Bellan, Israeli Arab owners of the Cana Guest House, which especially caters to ‘Jesus Trail’ hikers. www.canaguesthouse.com
|Horns of Hattin in background|
We passed through the Golani Junction, famous for the Golani Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. There is a McDonald’s at the junction, where we partook of an Israeli chicken breast salad, made with diced tomatoes and cucumbers with a delightfully seasoned lemon and olive oil vinegarette dressing.
The first two nights we spent in Arab accommodation. Tonight, we stayed at a religious kibbutz called Lavi. Their hotel was very attractive and the food excellent. We needed it after a long day’s walk.
Day Three (Lavi-Horns of Hattin-Arbel): This would be the most rigorous of the entire trip. We left Lavi and headed straight for the Horns of Hattin, a double-peaked tabele-top volcanic mountain that served as a battle field between the Crusader under Frankish King Guy and the Muslims under Saladin of the Ayyubid dynasty. The date was July 1187. Saladin’s winning strategy denied the Crusaders access to water, though they were only 6 kilometers away from the Sea of Galilee. Their defeat led to the fall of Jerusalem later that year and its restoration to Muslim rule until 1917, when the British took the holy city.
|KM on Horns of Hattin|
To end the day’s journey meant making one final steep ascent from Wadi Arbel to Moshav Arbel. Our hosts were Sara and Israel Shavit of Arbel Bed and Breakfast (Israel was born the day before the declaration of the State of Israel, 14 May 1948). The meals were home cooked and there was even a jacuzzi in my bedroom, which I happily used. Sara kindly helped take our ailing pilgrim to Poriyya Hospital (she is already on the mend ... thank God).
|Marked Rock on Jesus Trai|
We walked through the citrus groves in the Plain of Gennesaret, where the great Afro-Eurasian Highway carried trading caravans and conquering armies. Our guide told us we were allowed to pick one piece of fruit off the tree ... we were not to collect or hoard it ... but it was for our benefit, a Biblical law. So we helped ourselves to piece of red grapefruit, which was exceptionally sweet.
|Arbel Cliff from Sea of Galilee|
|Don 82 Descending Arbel|
|Climbers after Descent, Arbel in Background|
For further information, contact www.jesustrail.com for free planning information, maps, GPS tracks, and FAQ.
Or purchase the book ‘Hiking the Jesus Trail And Other Biblical Walks in the Galilee’ by David Landis and Anna Dintaman (now married to David).