Mini Documentary: Walking the Jesus Trail in First-Century Costume

Betsy and Philip hike the 60km/40mi Jesus Trail attempting to re-create 1st Century life as authentically as possible as they journey. This includes (among other things): eating only foods available in the Galilee in the first century; cooking over fires; traveling the route on foot; sleeping in tents; and wearing first century dress. Watch this mini documentary following their journey from Nazareth to Capernaum.

Palm Sunday in Nazareth

All morning we heard the bells. Other than their ever joyful clang, the streets of the Old City were quiet on this warm Sunday morning, but as we sauntered down the deserted avenues in our Sunday best, trickles of well-dressed families joined our descent towards the Basilica. Suddenly we came out onto Casa Nova street with a burst of sunlight and a blaze of bagpipes. We joined the hundreds of Nazareth Christians and international tour groups straining to see over heads to the parade of bagpipes, flags and young people playing drums. A procession of children holding large palm fronds reminded us what we were celebrating. Across the narrow street our local Catholic friends waved to us. Needing interpretation for the events around us, we squeezed through the crowd to join them.

Palm Sunday in Nazareth, along with Good Friday, welcomes the largest annual crowds at the Basilica of the Annunciation. We joined the multitudes including little children in white dresses and suits carrying candles and flowers. This festive occasion is a celebration of children and grandparents, we were told. After following the procession, including palms, bagpipes, and priests, we crushed into the largest church in the Middle East for Mass. Built to hold over 800, the Basilica overflowed as local Christians came to celebrate the days before Jesus’ crucifixion.

Two thousand years ago, Christians believe Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, stepping on the palm fronds laid by those who hoped this miracle worker would be their king. In this peaceful way, he began a week long journey towards Easter called Passion week. Today we walked, in our black shoes and high heels, over palm fronds from local trees. We held olive branches blessed for peace. After the celebration, each of us returned home carrying this symbol of peace for another year.

The Jesus Trail and the Gospel Trail

Jesus Trail Points of Interest

Mt. Precipice Nazareth Zippori National Park Cana Ilaniya Kibbutz Lavi Horns of Hattin Nebi Shu'eib Arbel National Park Tabgha St. Peter's Primacy Mt. of Beatitudes Capernaum Tiberias Jordan River Jordan River Mt. Tabor Migdal Sea of Galilee Jesus Boat - Ginosar

The Jesus Trail™ is a 65-kilometer hiking trail in the Galilee region of Israel which connects important sites from the life of Jesus as well as other historical and religious sites. The Jesus Trail™ offers an alternative for travelers and pilgrims to experience the steps of Jesus in a way that is authentic, adventurous and educational by hiking through the rugged and beautiful landscape of the Galilee in Israel.


The Jesus Trail and the Gospel Trail

Israeli Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov on a private visit on the Jesus Trail, wearing a Jesus Trail hat!There have been many articles in the press about the recently launched “Gospel Trail” by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, focusing on its newness, readiness and ease for Christian pilgrims. As the people who’ve developed the Jesus Trail, we feel that the public has been deceived by the Ministry of Tourism and its message to the press. We are sad to see so much time and money put into something that has attempted to recreate a walking experience of the Jesus Trail that has been successful since 2007 for thousands of pilgrims, and in the end produced something of lower quality for the hiker and traveler. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has supported the Jesus Trail until recently, by promoting it on their official website (although some links have been removed), a private visit by the Minister of Tourism himself, and even partially paying for its marking in 2009.

The Jesus Trail has always been and always will be a free, public hiking route that welcomes use from all people and strives to support the local communities of the Galilee (see our vision and philosophy). It was developed by a group of international and local volunteers in coordination with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel. Entrepreneurial efforts were added to the trail as it matured, offering support services to hikers, new guesthouses in towns without prior overnight accommodation, and the first comprehensive hiking guidebook for the Galilee written in English, all with the intention of sustaining the vision of the trail and further its development. The Jesus Trail has no political, religious or nationalistic agenda, and our efforts have been focused in to making the Jesus Trail a bridge to build transformational relationships and understandings between nationalities, cultures and religions in the Middle East.

Independent Travelers and Route Choices

For the independent traveler who is interested in walking where Jesus walked in the Galilee, we are writing to inform you of the major factors in deciding your route. We write this primarily for the safety and comfort of hikers, which has been foremost in our mind in developing the Jesus Trail. The most important factors for a safe and successful hiking experience are navigation, water and emergency access, which have not been taken into account for large sections of the Gospel Trail.

Route Differences

The first 25km of the each route is entirely different. The Jesus Trail begins in the heart of Nazareth, near the Basilica of the Annunciation and public transit lines, and passes through Zippori National Park, and the towns of Mash’had and Cana. The Gospel Trail begins on the southern outskirts of Nazareth at Mt. Precipice, a site not accessible by public transit (2km walk uphill from nearest stop). The Gospel Trail handbook shows this being connected, but the route does not exist in reality at this point.

The routes converge near the village of Ilaniya, which is near where the “Secondary Route” to Cana as listed on the Gospel Trail map. This side trail to Cana does not exist on the ground. From this point, both routes follow the same path until the outskirts of Kibbutz Lavi (last water for 12km). From the Lavi cemetery, the routes diverge and the Gospel Trail passes north and skips the Horns of Hattin and Nebi Shu’eib (important water stop and cultural site), rejoining the Jesus Trail route in the olive groves west of Kfar Zeitim. The Gospel Trail leaves the Jesus Trail at this point by staying in the Arbel Valley to Wadi Hamam (spring for water), and not climbing Mt. Arbel, one of the highlights of hiking in Israel. At Wadi Hamam, the routes join again and follow identical paths until Nakhal Amud, where the Gospel trail turns southeast to cross highway 90, and follows nearby the highway until Tel Kinrot, where the routes become identical until Capernaum.

Markings, water and access, community development and diverse holy sites

1) The Gospel Trail is not as well marked as the Jesus Trail. The Gospel Trail is marked with large, stone basalt cairns (rock towers), which are sometimes placed up to 500m apart, with turns not always being marked. This type of marking is expensive to create, and even more expensive to maintain. Similarly-marked trails in Israel have not often withstood the test of time as these projects run out of money after their initial creation and trail maintenance stops. The official Gospel Trail map has all SPNI trails (see below) in the region labeled except the Jesus Trail, making the map confusing to hikers and inaccurate to the markings on the ground.

The Jesus Trail is part of Israel’s 10,000+km of hiking trail network, which are marked by the Israeli Society for the Protection of Nature (SPNI). SPNI uses three-colored striped paint markings (see illustration below), which is one of the best trail-marking systems we have encountered in the world. In SPNI’s system, trails are marked in both directions, and you should theoretically be able to see the next marker from the previous one. Turns are marked redundantly: one at turn itself, and with a confirmation blaze following the turn. SPNI paint blazes are refreshed every 2-3 years, and the Jesus Trail receives even more attention through a team of volunteers that checks the markings year-round. SPNI also produces excellent topographical maps (although only in Hebrew at this time), and the Jesus trail is featured on SPNI map #3 for the lower Galilee.

The Jesus Trail was marked in the spring of 2009 by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and is included on map #3, 2010 edition, as part of Israel’s national network of marked trails.


We have spent years hiking this area, spending time in local communities, and working hard to produce a very detailed guidebook on the Jesus Trail and the other routes in the Galilee. We strongly recommend that you bring Hiking the Jesus Trail to aid in your navigation and planning success. SPNI is also producing a Hebrew-language guidebook for the Jesus Trail, available soon.

2) Water and food resupply is an issue on the Gospel Trail. The route favors the Beit Keshet forest area for almost the first 30km (half of the route), with water access only off-route in the villages of Iksal and Daburiya, and nothing else that is reliable until Golani junction. The end of stage one near the “Old Oak Tree is only accessible by a dirt road, with no public transport access. The other long stretch without water is from the Lavi cemetery to Wadi Hamam, a distance of more than 12km (Jesus Trail has water at Nebi Shu’eib). Water access is the most important factor when hiking in the Middle East, and hikers die every year in Israel from dehydration. Hiking a long section like this without water access requires carrying an additional 5-9 liters or kilograms (10-20 lbs) of water per person per day, with the amount depending on the season!

3) The Gospel Trail does not pass through the diverse communities of the Galilee, favoring forests and Jewish areas instead of accurately portraying the diversity of people who live there. This has a variety of disadvantages. By leaving the Arab towns of Nazareth, Mashhad and Cana out of the route, not only to hikers lose important access to bus routes, water and food, but they also miss interaction with locals and the warm hospitality that these encounters provide. For most Jesus Trail hikers, diverse experiences of hospitality in Jewish and Arab areas have been the highlight of their experience. The Ministry of Tourism has communicated that these Arab villages are not safe and are dirty, but we have received feedback from many hikers over the years communicating their positive experience in these areas. The Jesus Trail route was designed to pass through these communities because we feel that it is essential to include local communities in the future of the route. These are the people that benefit the most, ensuring the longevity of the route and the most positive experience for hikers. The Gospel Trail has been designed in a way to support large tour companies and guided bus tours, and by its route makes it difficult for hikers to have a personal, unfiltered experience with the local community

4) The Gospel Trail does not include as many Christian sites as the Jesus Trail. As many historic Christian places in the Holy Land are focused around the Arab Christian populations, the Gospel Trail avoids the Muslim and Christian Arab towns of Nazareth, Mash’had and Cana, and bypasses many of the Holy sites present in the Jesus Trail in Nazareth, Zippori and Cana. The first church encountered on the Gospel Trail is at kilometer 59, after completing 90% of the route. If your interest as a hiker and pilgrim is to visit these Christian sites, we recommend following the Jesus Trail route. The Gospel Trail also avoids Nebi Shu’eib, the holiest Druze site in the world, which is directly on the Jesus Trail route.

We hope this information has been helpful to you, and we value your safety and experience above all else. We strongly recommend that you carefully plan your pilgrimage hiking experience in a way that is safe and enjoyable, and uses the best resources on the ground.


The Jesus Trail Team

We encourage you to read what others are writing, and determine the facts on your own. Better yet, come to the Galilee and see for yourself!

Here are a few articles on this topic to get you started:

Gospel Truth – Matthew Teller (

“Cross Roads” Article in Ha’aretz about the Jesus Trail and “Gospel Trail” – Julian Bender ( – Julian’s article includes a full English translation of the Hebrew article in Haaretz (below)

“Following the Path of Jesus in Northern Israel – Moshe Gilad, Haaretz ( – For some reason, the web version of this article has been shortened from the Hebrew print/web edition, and the English print edition, which has removed the most controversial parts

– פרשת דרכים: מה שלא רואים מ”דרך הבשורה”

השבוע הושק שביל המתחקה אחר הדרכים שבהן צעד ישו בגליל התחתון. אלא שהוא דוחק מהמפות מסלול אחר, עוקף כפרים ערביים, וכמעט אין לאורכו כנסיות

משה גלעד


“הדרך השבורה”- גרסת משרד התיירות להשקה מחודשת ומעוותת ל”דרך הבשורה”

בנובמבר 2011 השיק משרד התיירות בקול תרועה רמה דרך תיירותית חדשה.

חדשה? לא בדיוק כי למעשה מדובר בשכפול סטרילי של שביל דומה המתפתל בין כפרים ערביים, כנסיות ודרכים בהם תיאולוגים ואנשי כנסיה משערים שצעדו בו ישוע וצאן מרעיתו, שביל פולארי ומטויל. הסיפור הבא הוא סיפורה של מערכת מעוותת ובזבזנית שמטרותיה אולי טובות אבל תוצאותיה מעוררות תמיהה והרבה סימני שאלה:

  • מדוע מתעקש משרד התיירות גם לבזבז כספי משלם המיסים גם להתכחש למיזם תיירותי שהוא עצמו היה שותף לו?

  • האם ישנה כאן מגמה שמטרתה מניעת פיתוח תיירותי משורת ישובים בגליל?

  • מהן הסיבות בשלן משרד התיירות מתעקש להביא שורה של תירוצים חדשות לבקרים שכל תירוץ ניתן להפריכו בהינף קולמוס?

בין התירוצים שניתנו לנו:

  1. מסוכן ללכת בכפר כנא מסיבות ביטחוניות – הכפר הקרוב ביותר לכפר משהד

  2. סיכונים בטיחותיים, חציית כבישים והליכה לאורך מעקה בטיחות – לדעתנו לא מדובר בסיכון שחורג מהסיכונים הסבירים של הליכה לאורך שביל מסומן ומהליכה לאורך שביל ישראל, כדוגמה.

  3. פסולת אשפה סביב נצרת / משהד וכנא שמשחירה את פניה של ישראל וגורמת לנו להיראות רע – בסקר שביעות רצון התייר שפרסם משרד התיירות בדצמבר 2011 פורסם כי יש אי שביעות רצון רבה ממצב ניקיון האתרים התיירותיים. האם המשרד יפסיק לקדם גם את ירושלים, תל אביב וטבריה? ואנו רוצים לשאול- אולי במקום להשקיע מיליון שקלים באבני בזלת לסימון דרך הבשורה, ניתן היה להשקיע בניקיון, אכיפה וחינוך סביב הכפרים ובכך באמת להשתמש בתיירות כמנוף לצמיחה ולקידום הישובים בפריפריה?

  4. מסיבות תיירותיות הם החליטו כי דרך הבשורה שעוברת ביערות קק”ל מושכת יותר את התייר הנוצרי שמחפש נוף ישועי והוא מעדיף אותה על פני ביקור בכנסיות החשובות ביותר בגליל – כנסית הבשורה בנצרת וכנסית החתונה בכנא – על כך אנחנו אומרים: “נו באמת. הצחקתם אותנו…”

  5. אנחנו מגדילים את השוק ולא מתחרים בשביל ישוע – זה לא מנע ממשרד התיירות למחוק את שביל ישוע מהמפות שהוציא לאור ולפקידי המשרד להודיע כי מעתה יפסיקו להמליץ על שביל ישוע אלא רק על דרך הבשורה.

  6. משרד התיירות עובד על התוכנית כבר 15 שנה – התוכנית ותוואי המסלול השתנו באופן דרמטי והמסלול החדש אינו עובר בנצרת, ציפורי, משהד, כנא,קרני חיטים, ארבל בניגוד למסלול המקורי. תוואי המסלול של שביל ישוע דומה הרבה יותר לדרך הבשורה המקורית מכפי שהיא מתבצעת היום.

  7. השם ג’יזס טרייל אינו “תקין” מבחינה תיאולוגית – ג’יזס טרייל הינו שם המותג הלועזי של שביל ישוע. הבישוף מרקודסו מכנסיית הבשורה בנצרת ומראשי המסדר הפרנסיסקני בארץ, מחלק מפות וספרים של שביל ישוע למשלחות וראשי כנסיות ומדגיש את החשיבות שהמסלול עובר בקהילות נוצריות.

  8. עקב כל הסיבות הללו משרד התיירות אינו יכול “לעמוד” מאחורי שביל ישוע ולהזמין תיירים וצליינים לביקור בישראל. יזם פרטי יכול ועוד איך. מקובלת עלינו הדעה כי מה שיזמים פרטיים עושים קשה עד בלתי אפשרי למשרד ממשלתי, אך לא ברור לנו מדוע המשרד יצא בפרויקט מתחרה בהשקעה תקציבית של מיליוני שקלים מתקציב משלם המיסים במקום להתמודד עם הבעיות של “שביל ישוע”. במקום זאת בחר משרד התיירות להשקיע במוצר תיירותי פגום ולנו אין אלא להצטער על כך ולהמשיך ולקדם את תיירות ההליכה בגליל ולתרום לכלכלת הישובים לאורך ג’יזס טרייל כפי שעשינו עד כה.

על אף מגוון התירוצים המוצגים לעיל, לא מנעו שורת הטיעונים המגוחכת הזו מ מבכירי העיתונאים בעולם כמו ה”וושינגטון פוסט” וה”לונלי פלאנט” ללכת לאורך שביל ישוע. להלן רשימה חלקית של הכתבות שהתפרסמו –

רשימת כתבות

שלוש נקודות למחשבה:

1. בתמונת יחס”צ הרשמית שמשרד התיירות הוציא לרגל השקת “דרך הבשורה” נראית תיירת הולכת בין שדות החיטה שבידה ספר הדרכה – Hiking The Jesus trail – מעניין איזה שביל הלכה אותה תיירת…

2. החברה הממשלתית לתיירות מימנה את סימון “שביל ישוע” בשנת 2009. סימון אשר התבצע ע”י הועדה לסימון שבילים.

3. להלן לינק לכתבה על שביל ישוע מהמגזין הרשמי של משרד התיירות בצפון אמריקה- עמודים 12-13 –


ועוד כמה תהיות שנשמח לקבל עליהן תשובה:

  • איך זה שכל השבילים של החברה להגנת הטבע מופיעים במפת הגוספל טריל, שהפיק משרד התיירות למעט הסימון של ג’יזס טריל אשר נקרא במפת סימון שבילים מספר 3, “דרך הבשורה” ?

  • לאורך הגוספל טריל מוצבות כ-160 אבני בזלת שעלו כ מיליון ₪. כלומר סימון כל 400 מטר – כיצד אמורים התיירים לאורך המסלול למצוא את הדרך?

  • לאורך 30 הק”מ הראשונים של הגוספל טריל אין נקודות למילוי מים – האם אין זה מסוכן לשלוח תיירים במסלול כזה?

  • האם תכנון מסלול צלייני בן 62 ק”מ, כאשר הכנסייה הראשונה בו הינה בק”מ ה-59 הינו תכנון הגיוני? לאיזה קהל יעד?

  • מדוע הגוספל טריל אינו עובר בכפר כנא, האם יש כוונה שיעבור בעתיד ומה יהיו לוחות הזמנים?

  • האם ההתחלה הרשמית של הגוספל טריל הינה מהר הקפיצה או מכנסיית הבשורה? אם מהכנסייה מי יישא בעלויות הפיתוח והתחזוקה ובאילו לוחות זמנים?

  • כיצד מתכונן משרד התיירות לסייע ליזמים לאורך הג’יזס טריל כפי שהוא מבטיח בהודעותיו לעיתונות?

  • למי מיועד הגוספל טריל: בודדים / קבוצות / צליינים / ישראלים ?

  • מה תקציב השיווק והתחזוקה השוטפת של הגוספל טריל?

  • מה התוכניות לשילוב הקהילה המקומית בפרויקט, אם בכלל?

מילון מונחים:

ג’יזס טרייל / שביל ישוע / דרך הבשורה – מסלול אשר סומן ע”י הועדה לסימון שבילים והחברה הממשלתית לתיירות. נקרא במפת סימון שבילים מספר 3 בשם “דרך הבשורה”.

גוספל טרייל / דרך הבשורה– שת”פ של קק”ל ומשרד התיירות. מוערך בעלות של 3 מיליון שקלים.

להלן סריקה מתוך מפה מספר 3 של החברה להגנת הטבע:


Read about the Jesus Trail in the international press:

Jesus Trail Press Releases:

If you a journalist interested in writing about the Jesus Trail, please visit our page for the press.

Meet Merrill, Jesus Trail's Oldest Hiker at 91

Merrill Ohlson of San Diego, CA becomes the oldest Jesus Trail hiker at 91

Climbing from the Old City of Nazareth, out over muddy paths, onto Zippori, a group of Jesus Trail hikers straddled rushing water in the path, knocked mud off shoes, stopped for lunch under rain clouds, and kept hiking. But this was no ordinary group of hikers. Among the hikers, Merrill Ohlson walked along at a steady clip. Ninety one years old and hailing from California, USA, Merrill came to walk where Jesus once traveled. Although Jesus was about a third of Merrill’s age when he traveled these dirt paths between villages, Merrill did not keep this fact from deterring him. When encouraged by surprise and admiration from his fellow hikers, Merrill just said, “Praise the Lord!”

As he paced along (in the lead many times when on level ground), I asked Merrill why he came to hike the trail. He simply said that he was interested in Israel; he had good vibes about this place that he believes Jesus had lived in and will return to. Extensive reading on the area led him to the Jesus Trail blog. Because he had come to travel the land in a traditional tour several years ago, he wanted to try something different this time. So, he began hiking around his university town weekly in preparation. While tramping over stones and mud outside of Cana, Merrill explained his weekly regiment: 3-5 miles every Saturday. Of course, he said, this walk took him on paved sidewalks around campus and town, but he didn’t let this training keep him from hitting the backcountry paths of the Galilee, or from completing the 60+ kilometer Jesus Trail from Nazareth to the Sea!

All those who shared the path with Merrill were encouraged by his steady pace, his positive attitude, his fortitude and imagination to live life as it comes. On one occasion, another hiker was wondering about the day to come. Merrill said, “One day at a time.” With a hiking pole in one hand and a water bottle in the other this 91-year-old hiker mentioned that his four-day hike on the Jesus Trail might be the last time he does this, but his positive attitude left even that up for debate.

Merrill’s Post-trip Interview at Capernaum

Philip's Flower Collection

This past week, I had the privilege of walking the Jesus Trail with a group for two days. The land has become incredibly alive with vibrant colors, so I snapped a lot of photos of things I thought beautiful along the way.

Any favorites? I’ve numbered them in case you’d like to vote. 🙂 And, as always, if you like to see more detail click directly on the pictures and they should enlarge for you.























Hospitali-Tea and Coffee

I don’t like hot drinks. If I want to drink something, I do not want to sip it cautiously – knowing that any sudden move could spell ruin for my previously capable taste buds. It is true that I could let the drink cool, but by the time it is drinkable, I could have already lost interest. Why make life more complicated?

Last year as I traveled throughout the Middle East, I was frequently offered hot tea or coffee. Even though I was dreading the actual beverage, the smile on the face of my host begged for my acceptance and I didn’t want to be culturally insensitive. And while I never grew to appreciate the flavor (especially of coffee), I did grow to appreciate the hospitality.

This year, as I transfer luggage from guesthouse to guesthouse on the Jesus Trail, my own constructs of hospitality have been eternally challenged. Specifically, the family that owns the guesthouse in Cana has unknowingly showed me deeper meaning behind scalding hot, flavored water. Almost without fail, I am offered tea or coffee (from a small cup that reads “Happy Serving You”) and some sort of cake whenever I stop in to pick up or drop off luggage. At first, I assumed this was merely a cultural banality bordering on compulsory. However, as I spend more and more time accepting their hospitality, I find it more and more genuine. Saud may be busy preparing a meal for 10 people or more that evening, but it never seems that she is too busy to not sit with me as I try to hide how scared I am of burning myself on the drink. And as we talk, her with limited English, and me with even more limited Arabic, all of our cultural differences, perceptions and misconceptions seem to disappear. All that remains is people.

I also experience similar hospitality at all the guesthouses on the Jesus Trail. Hospitality is a medium by which we deconstruct whatever preconceived notions our own culture, media, theology, or ideology projects on us. It is at this point that we are no longer Arab, Jew, American, Swiss, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, poor, rich, conservative, liberal, etc.; we are only and commonly human.

So, now when I am offered a hot drink, I like to think of it as an extended invitation to share stories – to realize that we are more similar than different. And, because I am terrified of burning my tongue, I also like to pretend that my host finds me particularly interesting because it takes me twice as long to finish my tea.