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.

Visit www.gospeltrail.com

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.

Sincerely,

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 (http://quitealone.com/2011/12/03/gospel-truth/)

“Cross Roads” Article in Ha’aretz about the Jesus Trail and “Gospel Trail” – Julian Bender (http://julianbender.blogspot.com/2011/12/cross-roads-article-in-haaretz-about.html) – 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 (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/features/following-the-path-of-jesus-in-northern-israel-1.399540) – 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 – http://lishar.heavenly-u.co.il/magazines/USA/H2010/

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.

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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.

Backpacker Magazine on the Jesus Trail

The Jesus Trail crew was excited to welcome Backpacker Magazine senior editor Dennis Lewon and acclaimed photographer Jason Florio to the trail this March.  The two came to walk the trail for a story for Backpacker Magazine scheduled to come out in 2012.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the six days of exploring, walking and photographing the Jesus Trail.

Dennis is an experienced and seasoned journalist, editor and adventure traveler who has worked with North America’s outdoor industry-leading magazines Backpacker and Outside.  Jason (www.floriophoto.com) captures amazing images from all around the world, including taking portraits of local leaders on his 900-km trek around the perimeter of the Gambia, and documenting Somalian pirates and Burmese freedom fighters.  We really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from these experienced adventurers, and also to share the sites and friendships along the trail that we value so much.

Each day we were met with friendly faces from across the diverse ethnic and religious spectrum that makes up the Galilee.  At one point, Jason mentioned that walking the Jesus Trail feels like being inside of a “cultural washing machine,” with new diverse experiences each day.  From the beginning we’ve believed that the Jesus Trail is a world-class hiking route, and continued experiences such as the ones we shared with Dennis and Jason only confirm this to us.

We’re looking forward to seeing the story in print in the coming year.

Highlights of the journey:

  • Two days in Nazareth, visiting the local sites including Nazareth Village, the Basilica of the Annunciation and the White Mosque and hearing the story of the Fauzi Azar Inn and other local businesses.
  • Walking to Cana via Zippori, enjoying the ancient Byzantine mosaics and the hospitality of Arab Christians Sami and Suad Bellan in Cana.  Several couples from various continents were renewing their wedding vows at the Catholic Wedding Church at Cana.
  • In Ilaniya, the privilege of meeting with local historian Estie Yankelevitch, who took us to ruins of the Arab village Shejera, and showed us an ancient synagogue, wine presses, and tombs including an ancient tomb with a menorah on the wall from the Jewish town during the Roman era.  We shared a Shabbat meal with Avie and Estie’s family at Yarok Az Ecolodge.
  • Walking over the Horns of Hattin with a marvelous clear view and explosion of wildflowers in every direction.
  • At the Nebi Shu’eib shrine we met with Shafiq Tarif, a Druze leader, who told us more about his little-known religion.  Nearby at the ruins of the village of Hattin, a Christian family from Bar’am was having a barbecue.  They invited us to eat a pork sandwich with them– the first pork those of us who live here have eaten in a long time!
  • At Shavit’s Arbel Guesthouse, owner Sara Shavit told the story of her parents’ miraculous escape from the Holocaust and shared her pride and happiness in now having a large family of her own and a family made up of the guests she hosts daily at their B&B.  Her husband, Israel, prepared a sumptuous feast of lamb casserole and many fresh and tasty salads and spreads.
  • The final walking day took us down Arbel cliffs where we met a friendly group from Sakhnin also hiking, who invited us to visit their village.
  • We finished the walk at the Sea of Galilee, with a visit to several churches and the ruins of Capernaum.

View photos from Backpacker Magazine’s visit on Facebook

 

Nazareth's Old City Souq

No visit to Nazareth is complete without a visit to the Old City Souq (market). Six days a week (Sunday the market becomes still and at rest) the winding streets just below the Fauzi Azar Inn and surrounding the White Mosque are crowded with sellers and buyers, locals and visitors. A visit may reward you with a 6 shekel pita pizza (dripping with tomato sauce, cheese, olives and a sprinkle of za’atar) or a bag of apples, peppers, or avocados from the roadside vendors.

If you stay for long in the Old City, you may begin to talk about “my” baker, produce vender, or shop owner. Sellers offer the visitor and the local resident a quaint, bustling community where one can find slippers, shampoo, onions, potatoes, cabbage, crackers, sweets, and fresh bread. If you wander early enough, you are likely to enjoy the early morning bustle of farm grown produce. You might step around village women selling all kinds of greens, farm fresh eggs, even farm cheeses in plastic tubs. Zigzagging past mats of greens on the cobblestones, the early morning shopper will also find the secret to local school childrens’ active brains: the shop selling pita pizzas to students on their way to school.

Traveling past the White Mosque the curious visitor will find winding streets with a variety of scarves, shoes, olives, books, umbrellas, suitcases, kitchenware and more. No need for a Mega shopping center here. Each owner proudly sets his wares out early each morning and by three in the afternoon is closing up and going home.

If you wander even farther afield, a cobbled street will bring you to the paved road that slips between a cemetery and a small door off the street. The door looks very unimposing. Many have walked by without curiosity, but one glance into the little door and you will be hooked. El Babour, an old mill, continues to offer baskets of teas, herbs, nuts, spices, dried fruit, lentils and grains of many kinds. You will want to find and enter the little door if only to soak in the delicious smells and cavernous, old world atmosphere available so close to the Old City Souq!

As you wind around the cobbled streets, you will find local restaurants also opening their cozy interiors and fabulous food for the hungry. During the bustle of the daily market, the curious may find walnut and cheese pancakes for sale right in the heart of vegetable stands, but after the vendors have locked away their produce and the baker has gone home for the evening, you can still find unique restaurants in several converted Arab mansions around the Old City. Old City food and charm welcome the visitor back again and again.

Changing Lenses in Cana

One never knows what an adventure will include.  Perhaps that is why we go looking for them.  Often, however, they find us before we are prepared to fully process them.  I find that my imagination and expectations are often too narrow for the fabulous adventures of daily life.  The Jesus Trail provides a framework for adventures, especially cultural, spiritual and physical ones, but the route varies from person to person, from day to day, from season to season.  I have found that the trail becomes an adventure in daily living; the trail becomes not so much an extraordinary out-of-life adventure, but a way to experience my real life by walking through the unexpected with curiosity and expectation.  All along the way I am being handed lenses with which to view my world differently.  However many times I walk the trail, the lenses reveal something unique each time.  Take Cana as an example.

Cana is the first night’s stop on the Jesus Trail.  A delightful guesthouse stands right on the path.  Only a few hops up the courtyard steps and one finds a house full of beds and delicious food.  From the balcony guests look right over onto the roof of the Catholic Wedding Church.  Some Christians believe the modern day town of Cana may be the site for Jesus’ first miracle, water to wine.  The Catholic Church and the nearby Orthodox Church each celebrate this miracle.  On a recent visit to Cana I followed a small group interested in seeing these sights.

As we walked across the cobbled courtyard, we followed tour groups from various countries, all excited to get their pictures taken where a miracle took place.  Following them into the church and down some stairs, we entered a room carved in the rock and housing a large but simple stone urn.  Money, prayers, and photos floated over the walls of the glass case and lodged in the stones of the cellar walls.  For many the thought of miracles brought mystery, renewed faith, and excitement.  Ascending once more into the church above, my husband and I were greeted by a lady speaking Italian.  We do not understand Italian, but gradually we realized she was fervently inviting us to come renew our wedding vows with about ten other couples gathered before the priest.  We declined, but watched with interest as the couples shared space with one of the most famous weddings in biblical history.

Our cultural experience was just beginning, however.  We stepped outside as the chimes rang along with the singing of “Ave Maria” by excited worshipers.  Rounding the corner of the church we found another group interested in marriage.  Not only were Catholics renewing their vows, but a group of Protestants were being challenged by their own marriage seminar in the courtyard.  Couples laughed and gazed into each other’s eyes while sharing a rose.  We debated whether or not to stay for the reception to follow (baklava, wine, and roses) but felt that we were outsiders at this wedding bash.  No water into wine that we know of, but our time at the Wedding Church provided us with new lenses with which to view cultures, faith, and the ever-continuing trail.

Day 3: Racing the Rain to the Sea of Galilee

Moshav Arbel to the Sea of Galilee in First-Century Costume

Hiking down to the Arbel Spring in the early morning

The final day of our journey begins early—at 5:30am, with the breaking of the unseen sun. It’s hiding behind clouds, which is the reason we’ve chosen this hour of the morning. We’ve heard the rain’s a-comin’ and it’s a-comin’ hard! We don our dress and man-dress and break down our tent one last time before leaving out from Moshav Arbel above the cliffs.

Betsy’s knee is hurting bad, so we plan to take it slow. The first part of the day is going to give her a challenge for sure, as we’re heading back down the cliff-side we came up last night. The trail leads us down at a different spot which is great because we come across some awesome ruins including a cave that’s obviously been dug into the hillside for some reason. It reminds us Tolkien fans of a hobbit hole. This leads me to something I’ve been thinking about as we’ve walked these past couple of days: role play. It was a natural thing that came up in conversation along the way. The main intention when we planned the trip was not necessarily to impersonate Jesus (how presumptuous!), but rather to understand his life and teachings better by sensing the world in some ways as he would have. Yet it became a natural consequence of dressing like him that whenever we hiked through populated areas along the trail I would be called Jesus/Issa/Yeshua, so I definitely thought of what it means to portray him (big sandals!).

We thought of others as well. At one point, a peaceful little dog joined our band and I thought of myself as Francis of Assisi, who is known to have cared for animals and thus attracted them to himself.  Betsy briefly thought of herself as Sarah or Mary Magdalene along the way too. So here we are hiking down a cliff-side in a beautiful heavy mist thinking of the The Lord of the Rings and in my mind I become Gandalf or Aragorn in my hooded outfit while Betsy and our other travel partners became hobbits. A little further on I’m back to being Jesus as a man picking up children in his school bus leans over to watch us walk past and yells, “Good morning! Good morning Jesus!” We smile, call “Good morning!,” and wave back.

I enjoy this morning’s slow walk through Wadi Hamam (Valley of the Doves)—a perfect time and place for reflection. Everything is so beautiful and green, with complements of bright reds, purples, whites, yellows, and oranges dotting the sides of the path in flowers. We plod through the light rain and I think of Jesus walking with his disciples through similar valleys in similar weather. What was he thinking about?

As we leave the Arbel Cliffs behind us, we begin to worry as light rain changes to heavier rain accompanied by flashes and crashes of lightning and thunder. We contemplate stopping but it passes quickly overhead and away. The sun slides up through some clouds and then shines brilliantly on us though we’re still walking through pockets of rain. I keep looking back to see if there’s a rainbow somewhere, and I feel a sense of connection with God’s people ever since Noah who have been doing the same thing—remembering and looking for God’s promises in the signs he gives.

Mud! Lots of it as we walk through orchards and olive groves toward our destination at the Sea of Galilee. I like Anna’s comment: “Why didn’t Jesus tell more parables involving mud?” We find ourselves asking questions similar to this one—why not more parables about caves, about valleys, about lentils, about olive trees, etc…. But as the footpaths-of-Jesus follower, John, wrote at the end of his gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). I really love that verse! It’s probably true about what Jesus “said” as well as “did.”

The mud clinging to our sandals makes every step pounds and kilos heavier, and Betsy’s knee gets worse under the constant strain. The pain becomes so bad that we decide to accept a ride from our awesome support posse (Anna and Dave Landis, Taylor Stutzman—thank you for everything!) and cover the last four kilometers in a 21st Century chariot. This fits neatly under our ever-widening category, “hospitality,” which—as everyone knows—is timeless.

Arriving at the Sea of Galilee after a three day journey

After 40ish miles of walking and a very brief chariot ride, we have finally reached our pilgrimage destination—Capernaum at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ base of ministry. My time here at the seaside, with my bare feet in the cool water is one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. I love the wind blowing toward us from the south and west, the sound of waves crashing on the shore, the sun warming my face. Closing my eyes,

Dipping our feet in the Sea of Galilee

I imagine what Jesus thought as he stood here. I think of him calling his disciples at this place; of getting into boats and crossing to the other side with friends. And then I begin to think more about those first disciples. I imagine them returning to this sea every once in a while to center themselves and to remember how it all began…when they were all just about their normal day-to-day and Jesus came and called them away to a very different life. They, too, stand here with their feet in the water listening to waves. They come here to refresh after intense ministry in Jerusalem or after traveling to other parts of the world to share the gospel with others. They think, “If only everyone could have seen Jesus the way he was here!  What an incredible time it was to be alive! What an awesome thing that we got to follow and befriend Jesus, the only divine human to walk on this earth!”

I’ll bet it was as hard for them to pull themselves away from their watery reveries as it now is for me to walk back up the hill to where I will return by car to my “day-to-day” in Nazareth. By car, we will cover in less than an hour the ground we covered in 3 days of walking. I know it will take some time for my soul to catch up to my body when we get there.

Watching the modern world fill in around us as we contemplate finishing our journey

Day 2: Roman Roads and Spring Valleys

Ilaniya to Moshav Arbel in First-Century Costume

Crossing the Jesus Trail at Golani Junction

Day two of the hike began with a light rain before dawn but as the sun rose we knew it was going to be a beautiful day.  We ate boiled eggs, bread and cheese, and dried dates for breakfast, then hit the trail.  In a few minutes we came to a major highway junction where we encountered many inquisitive looks and photos out car windows.  A busload of children waved to us as they passed.  We waved back.

Shortly after crossing the busy Golani Junction, we passed by ruins of an ancient Roman road.  The road had been walked on by so many feet.  Thousands of years of rain and sun had smoothed the stones.  Was this what Jesus was talking about when he told his followers to carry something two miles if someone asks you to carry it one?  Did he envision a Roman soldier demanding help on this prominent highway stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to Damascus?

Walking the Roman Road on the Jesus Trail

As the simple trail wound away from impressive highways, we wandered through heaps of flowers, muddy tracks through olive orchards and bright green farm fields.  The way sloped up to the high point known as the Horns of Hattin.  From the green and sunny heights we could look out on hills, valleys and farm land for miles around.  The Sea of Galilee glimmered through the Arbel cliffs in the distance and we could even make out snow on Mount Hermon to the north.  As we rested there, we enjoyed simple snacks of boiled eggs, dried apricots and almonds.

Hiking around the rim of the Horns of Hattin on the Jesus Trail (Arbel Cliffs and Sea of Galilee in the background)

Down we climbed through rocks and flowered pastures to the base of the Horns.  Sitting at the foot of the hills is a Druze holy site, Nebi Shu’eib.  We washed our muddy feet in the natural spring there and caught curious glances from the Druze woman making a barbecue.

Washing muddy feet at the spring at Nebi Shu'eib

On we went into a perfect late spring afternoon.  Down through the ruins of the Arab town of Hittin, past fields and more olive orchards in the rocky valley and into my favorite section of the trail.  A long valley winds through steep, rocky mountains inhabited only by wildlife and cattle.  A sweet breeze blew along the valley as we wound on dirt paths between mother cows and their new calves, a wandering creek, spring flowers and late sunshine.

Nearly at the end of the valley, our path took us up a steep,  black path, past an ancient synagogue ruins and into the town of Moshav Arbel where we found our second campsite.  All six members of the Jesus Trail team worked at building a fire, and we heated up lentil stew to accompany the delicious St. Peter’s fish Dave and Anna brought and cooked over hot coals.  Sweet local wine and goat cheese, bread and cucumbers satisfied us after a long day in the fresh air.  We slept again in our tent and without a shower.

Supper also included fire-grilled onions which I mistakenly ate. Having decided not to brush my teeth during the pilgrimage because of the lack of toothpaste and toothbrush technology in the 1st Century, this would have the effect of utterly destroying my breath for this night and the following day. Oops. (Philip)

Photo highlights for Day 2

Stopping for a photo at the McDonalds at Golani Junction, the first in Israel

Spring flowers in full bloom near Kibbutz Lavi

Agricultural fields near Kibbutz Lavi

Philip approaching the Horns of Hattin

Spring rain brings spring mud, stop at Nebi Shu'eb to rinse off in the spring

Philip & Julian enjoying the view on the Horns of Hattin

Descending the Horns of Hattin to Nebi Shu'eib

Taylor eats a non-first-century lunch of peanut butter & jelly pita sandwich at Nebi Shu'eib

Almond blossoms near the Horns of Hattin

Day 1: Valentine's Day, Jesus Style

Nazareth to Ilaniya in First-Century Costume

Valentine’s Day 2011 was a good day. Because they did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in the first century, we did things they might have done on a typical day, like walking, dressing in a head scarf and robe, talking with friends, making a fire, cooking lentils, picking red anemones for one’s hiking partner.

We began the first day of our costumed walk with the mist and sun of a pleasant February morning shining down on our turbaned heads. After a saunter around Nazareth Village, we headed out of town. Because it is springtime, we encountered mud every day, but as we walked along, knocking mud off of our sandals, we occupied ourselves by asking what various objects were which we would not recognize in the first century. What is a pepper? What is a potato? What is plastic? Someone else in the party would try to explain characteristics of the object.

Our first day on the trail was a beautiful day for hiking. All day we enjoyed cool breezes, sunshine, new flowers springing up all along the trail, and splashes of green as far as the eye could see. Towards the end of the day, we were walking through hidden fields of tall green grass and hillsides covered with fir trees and flowers. The last half of the trail, in particular, set the stage for Jesus’ stories. I could imagine Jesus walking through green fields on muddy paths, pointing out the flowers to his followers. If we were kicking mud off of our feet behind him, he might tell us not to worry about what we wear or eat because the beauty all around us in nature shows that God cares for us. Walking and worrying do not seem to be very good partners in general.

As we walked through muddy fields, quiet back orchards, and modern villages, we constantly thought about the people around us. Jesus most likely was almost constantly surrounded by people who listened, people who judged, and people who wondered who in the world he was. I also felt that we met all types on our travels. As we walked the valley between Mash’had and Cana we came upon a Jewish man and his car. He was taking pictures and asked for a picture with us. He asked us if we had heard about the story of Jesus turning water to wine. It happened right here, he said. Although we had just walked through a village, this man was the first to talk to us. Most people either stared, chuckled, or tried to avoid us.

Delightful stop at the Cana Wedding Guesthouse! The hot tea hit the spot, right when we were thinking about the weather getting cooler and the chance of rain increasing before our eyes. It was a welcome break, and her genuine curiosity was refreshing.

Along our hike, we often talked about hospitality. Today, as in the time of Jesus, hospitality is important to give and receive. We were most aware of this as we began the second half of our day. As we passed through Cana, Souad, the owner of the Cana Wedding Guesthouse saw us from her porch and called us in for tea. Her excitement over our journey and the hot tea and sugar she provided were enough to keep us smiling for miles down the road. We were also blessed by a man and his sons who saw us from their house just on the edge of Cana. The offered us water and fruit. The man explained our ancient looking waterskin to his young son. Exiting Cana, we felt filled and ready for the path ahead. Walking along we discussed Jesus’ command to take nothing but a staff on the journey. Perhaps he wanted his followers to interact with those along the way. Asking for food, water, and shelter would certainly have provided many opportunities for Jesus’ disciples to receive hospitality. Barely asking, we also received.

I enjoyed the little playful baby goats at Yarok Az. So fun. Every time I watched them running, jumping, butting heads, exploring I smiled. Similar feeling I get from watching young children doing the same things. Makes me want to recover my own childhood sense of wonder, adventure, care-less joy! Well, maybe those who know me well would say I still have at least a little bit of that hanging on yet. 🙂

With the sun’s setting rays we made our way to Yarok Az, an organic goat farm at Ilaniya. Guesthouse owners along the trail, the Jewish owners welcomed us happily into their cool green garden. After a long day of hiking, the soft piles of fresh grass in their yard felt wonderful to our hot feet. Baby goats jumped around us as we sipped hot cups of sage tea provided by our fellow hiker, Anna. I better understood King David’s delight as he remembers how his shepherd, God, makes him lie down in green pastures and restores his soul (Psalm 23).

As Valentine’s Day evening settled around us, we set up a tent for the night and fiddled with damp wood to start the fire that would cook our red lentil stew. Finally, we watched the stew bubble and steam. Local wine, goat cheese, and bread rounded out our Valentine meal shared with our hiking partners Dave and Anna.

Photo highlights from Day 1, Nazareth to Ilaniya

Reflections and captions by Philip

I enjoyed experimenting with different ways of carrying my food bag and water skin on the first day. It was a fun (and important) learning process. I tried them on either side, then I tried attaching them to my staff on each end and carrying them on my shoulders; this caused some back-and-forth swaying which affected my balance a little. I also found that if I put my staff under my bag and water skin and lifted slightly, taking the pressure off of my shoulders, this gave my body wonderful relief. I would rotate between doing this and letting them hang freely from my shoulders across my chest, against each side of my body. I was very happy that our friends at Nazareth Village gave us an extra wool wrap, because it gave me much-needed extra padding on my shoulders, especially for the abrasive rope holding the water skin. - Philip

Melchizidek, the cute little dog from Mashhad, was a welcome addition to our band mid-way through the first day, with his inquisitiveness and general cuteness. His oversize paws and squarish face were incredibly cute, even prompting me to say something you will rarely hear me say: “If I had a dog....” The ending to this particular sentence: “...it would probably be one like this one”. Every once in a while Melchiz would stop right in front of me so that I would almost step on him. I enjoyed even that slight annoyance because it made me laugh at his simple trust in me, a funny-looking stranger. I also did love very much his persistence in staying with us past some big, menacing barking dogs. I was impressed, really not thinking he would continue. - Philip

Passing the elementary school in Cana, we were greeted by dozens of school children. Another group of guys in Cana who drove by us then stopped and, when we caught back up to them, offered us a whole bag of bread . What an awesome gesture! Dave accepted one loaf from them instead. I waved at the driver as he smiled at me in his side-view mirror and drove slowly on. He waved back. As we left town, then, we also received water from a kind father and three sons (they also offered us fruit, which we declined). Water and bread given to pilgrims on hajj. - Philip

We also found some kindred spirits at Yarok Az, a young Christian couple having similar passions as we have—for Simple Way-type Christian community life and real down-to-earth worship of Jesus. They asked if we were familiar with—who else?—the Psalters! They had seen them on a European tour. (I'm listening to the Psalters right now in honor of our new Yarok Az friends from South Africa and the UK.) - Philip