If you're a pilgrim in Israel interested in Christian history, consider devoting a chunk of your visit to the Jesus Trail, an approximately 60-kilometer trail that begins in the northern city of Nazareth and ends at the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The trail allows hikers to follow the landmark sites of the Galilee Ministry of Jesus as the ancients did – on foot.
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Traversing the classic Jesus Trail takes four days, although that can be extended to five for walkers with less stamina. Additional sites can also be added farther afield, such as Mount Tabor, the site of the transfiguration of Jesus.
“As they walked,” is a very common expression in ancient Jewish as well as Christian sources. People walked everywhere, and it wasn't just the destination that mattered; so too did the journey. There was plenty of time on the way to talk about what mattered. The Jesus Trail was born out of a desire to get people to walk the Galilee just as in biblical times, taking in first and foremost all the highlights of the region’s New Testament sites and also enjoying Israel at eye level, at its multi-cultural best, where it overflows with history and natural beauty.
The first day of the trail usually begins in Jesus's hometown of Nazareth and continues down to Sepphoris National Park, the main Roman city when Jesus was growing up. At the time, Sepphoris was the hub of Roman life. From here, trekkers continue on through the town of Meshed to Cana, where a beautiful church marks the traditional site where Jesus turned water into wine.
For your overnight stay in this area, local families are known to put up pilgrims, often in conjunction with tour operators in the area. The next day the trail continues through the Beit Rimon Valley, with fascinating views of traditional agriculture. One segment of this valley is where Byzantine tradition says Jesus and the disciples picked grain on the Sabbath day (Mark 2:23). A highlight of day two is a stretch of authentic, rock-cut Roman road. Because this road was here at the time of Jesus, and the New Testament says that Jesus went from Nazareth to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee when he began his public ministry, he may very well have walked right along here. You can’t miss the road because modern life has given you a landmark – it’s right behind the Golani Junction McDonald’s. Just look for the golden arches, and you're there.
A good bet for your second night is at the hotel at Kibbutz Lavi, whose members are Orthodox Jews. On the morning of the third day, you’ll continue to the Horns of Hattin, a volcanic crater with an incredible view as well as its fair share of dramatic history. Long after Gospel times, it stood as the site of a famous 1187 battle the Crusaders lost to Saladin.
From here, it’s down the hill to a Druze holy site – the tomb of Nebi Shueib, who was perhaps better known as Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. A long, rather challenging climb will lead you to Moshav Arbel, where you have a choice of bed-and-breakfast accommodations to spend the night.
Day four begins with a visit to the ancient synagogue of Arbel. This is a good place to recall the New Testament account of Jesus teaching in the synagogues of Galilee (Matthew 4:23, Mark 1:39) – of which this may even have been one.
Then comes the climb down the Arbel Cliff – probably the most challenging segment of the trail. This 50-something writer, basically fit and healthy but not a career hiker, found that strategically placed handholds made the more exciting bits of this climb eminently manageable. And for pilgrims, the reward is a sense of literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus, accompanied by stunning views of the entire Sea of Galilee, the Golan, and all the best-known New Testament sites including Magdala, Genessaret (Kibbutz Ginossar), Capernaum, and many more. Your day continues with visits to the stellar pilgrimage sites north of the lake, Tabgha, the site of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes and Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ Galilee ministry.
The Jesus Trail, blazed by the Society for the Protection of Nature, was the brainchild of Maoz Yinon, a Jewish Israeli who owns guesthouse-type inns in historical buildings in Nazareth; as well as David Landis, an American Christian.