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Walking the Jesus Trail

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.
Nevertheless, Teach All Nations annual ‘Israel/Jordan 2011 Tour’ decided to add an optional four day extension for those interested in walking on the ‘Jesus Trail.’ Twelve pilgrims decided to take the challenge. Of interest, the youngest was 43 and the oldest 82!
 Basilica of Annunciation Nazareth
Day One (Nazareth-Sepphoris-Cana): We began the journey by driving from Jerusalem to Nazareth, where we spent the night at the ‘Rosary Sisters.’ Our local travel company, Sar-El, said the nuns were friendly and indeed they were! At 8 AM on Monday 5 December, we left the ‘Rosary Sisters,’ descended into Nazareth and visited the Church of the Annunciation, traditional site of Mary’s visit by the angel and the largest church building in the Middle East:
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).
Marked Rock on Jesus Trail
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.
Horns of Hattin in background
Day Two (Cana to Lavi): We set out from Cana and headed NE towards Capernaum. This would be the ‘easiest’ day. While there were no famous Biblical sites, it clearly was a road Jesus would use, especially testified by the presence of a well-preserved Roman Road. We were told that both Jesus and Paul used this road, the latter when he went to Damascus to arrest believers in Messiah (and experienced repentance).
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
The ascent up the Horns of Hattin were steep and rocky. One pilgrim had some breathing trouble and had to return to Kibbutz Lavi. The descent was equally steep and more than one pilgrim was plagued with a ‘fear of heights.’ Nevertheless, we prevailed. From the top of the mountain, we descended into the valley bottom. Specifically, Wadi (riverbed) Arbel. By 3 PM, the shadows were high on the walls of the valley. We had to cross creeks at least 7 times and in one case, we had to find stones to enable the pilgirms to cross without getting their shoes wet (we were only partially successfu).
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). 
Day Four (Arbel to Capernaum): This was the final day and only 5 of the 12 original pilgrims would be making the journey, along with our guide. It was the 2nd most rigorous day, not far behind the first; but the challenges were different. We started the steep ascent up Mount Arbel. The view of the Sea of Galilee made it worth it! Positively stunning. But then there was the descent. Our two ladies had a fear of heights and we also had our 82 year old as well! We would descend 400 meters and it took 2 hours Sometimes the descent was 90 degrees. There were metal handholds to help us lower ourselves to the next level. It was the closest thing to ‘rock climbing’ that I have ever done in my life. The handbook said the descent was ‘steep but manageable.’ They weren’t wrong. At one point, a flock of rock hyrexs came out and squealed at us. Colourful wild flowers randomly appeared on certain isolated rocks. The Plain of Genessaret, home of Magdala, and the Sea of Galilee, were always there far below. While I was initially apprehensive, I knew early on that we would all make it easily. The chief worry was rain ... it was forecast and should it come, would have made the descent slippery and even more time consuming. Fortunately, it held off for awhile.
Marked Rock on Jesus Trai
While still on the steep upper part of Arbel, something unexpected happened -- an air raid siren started blaring. It was loud, piercing and ominous. With the ‘Arab Spring’ raging so close by, any kind of scenario was possible. So there we were, scaling down the face of a steep mountain with no easy place to hide, though later we would discover some large caves, as described by the Jewish historian Josephus. Our guide calmly announced, ‘It is only a practice siren.’ Thank God it was. 
Arbel Climbers 
Once we were at the bottom, we found ourselves in Wadi Hamman (Riverbed of the Dove), a beduoin village. At the petrol station, the attendant found out I was from Australia and asked me to sponsor him for immigration. I told him Australia had a very high cost of living. His response? “What do you mean ... it’s expensive to live here in Israel!’
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
While on the Plain of Genessaret, the rain finally began to descend. It was not a little shower, either. We all put on our flourescent coloured ponchos and looked the walking tents! The rain would continue until the rest of the journey. We had to ascend the mountain near the National Water Carrier and the mud became thick. We grew by 5 cm simply because of the mud clinging to the bottom of our shoes. The ponchos guarded our chests and backs but not our arms or legs. But we had travelled so far and we were not about to give up now.
Don 82 Descending Arbel
While still dripping, we entered Tabgha, the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, famous for an ancient 4th Century mosaic of a basket of 5 loaves and 2 fishes alongside the basket. The sign clearly said to do the explanation of the site outside the church; but the sign did not deter a small group of Russian pilgrims who listen to their guide explain away inside the church. I did a Scripture reading Mark 6:31-44 and explained why I believe that the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle mentioned in all four gospels, apart from the resurrection of Jesus.
Arbel descent
Now the very last leg of the journey began; two more kilometers on a very nice stone footpath between Tabgha and Capernaum. The problem was that the rain was pouring! Our guide continued to refuse a poncho or umbrella. He and I walked swiftly but the others could not be rushed. Finally, the end was in site: the entrance to Capernaum. We had done it -- we had walked the entire length of the Jesus Trail. Exhilarated, exhausted and wet, we were driven in a van from Capernaum to the Restal Hotel in Tiberias. Mission accomplished.
Climbers after Descent, Arbel in Background
For those who would like to walk the Jesus Trail, please remember that fitness is helpful and a willingness to deal with some tough inclines and terrain, from time to time. Be prepared to walk around 16 kilometres a day. If you are willing to brave these things, and are well prepared, you are in for a great adventure.
For further information, contact 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).


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