Gospel Trail, Christian tourists, tourism
One of the marker stones along the new Gospel Trail, which the Tourism Ministry launched in 2011. Photo by Nitzan Shorer
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De Agostini/Getty Images
The two Jesus Trails both end at the Capernaum Orthodox church on the western bank of Lake Kinneret. Photo by De Agostini/Getty Images

The Ministry of Tourism last week launched a new trail that follows Jesus' wanderings in the Lower Galilee, from Mount Precipice near Nazareth to the Capernaum area on the northern bank of Lake Kinneret. It consists of 62 kilometers of dirt paths, mostly in open areas, some in Jewish National Fund forests and in fruit orchards. The route is designed for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders.

At the dedication ceremony for the Gospel Trail, held in Wadi Hamad near Migdal, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov explained that the trail is designed to expand touring possibilities for Christians, who represent over two-thirds of all incoming tourists - and to offer Israelis a new and unique attraction.

The Tourism Ministry developed and repaired the path in cooperation with the JNF, at an overall investment of NIS 3 million (NIS 2 million of which came from the ministry budget ), in light of the increase in Christian tourism to Israel in recent years, and the expectation of an additional 200,000 Christians arriving in the next two years. According to Misezhnikov, his ministry believes that promoting and marketing the new route to the relevant clientele will help bring economic prosperity to the Galilee and allow it to realize its tourist potential.

Specifically, the Tourism Ministry believes that development of the Gospel Trail will lead to a significant increase in the number of both Israelis and tourists in the area, will attract businessmen and tourism entrepreneurs, and will encourage new business ventures in the vicinity.

"The various types of Christian tourism constitute the main anchor of incoming tourism in Israel," explained Misezhnikov. "The Gospel Trail, which reinforces the spiritual experience of the visit for every tourist and traveler who comes to Israel, and particularly the Christians among them, represents a major, positive means for exploiting the tourist potential of the Kinneret region. It will encourage economic momentum in the north thanks to creation of new jobs and an increase in income from the visitors."

All well and good, but a brief perusal of the map of Israel reveals that another route was dedicated three years ago and goes by a few names, among them the "Jesus Trail." It follows a slightly different route, 65 kilometers in length, with orange trail markings, from Nazareth to Lake Kinneret, and caters - until recently, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the Tourism Ministry - to exactly the same clientele.

The creation of the older route began as an initiative of Maoz Yinon, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who owns the Fauzi Azar hostel in Nazareth, plus another hostel in Jerusalem. At the time Yinon won the support of many groups for his plan, among them the Tourism Ministry, the Israel Trails Committee (part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel ) and several local authorities. Together with an American Christian named David Landis, he developed a route based on three principles: It would have a connection to Christian tradition, it would feature hiking in beautiful landscapes and it would encourage the involvement of local communities.