Standing 700 feet above the Sea of Galilee, the Cliffs of Arbel provide a panoramic view stretching from the Golan Heights to the Jordan River valley. The snow-capped Mount Herman can be seen in the distance on clear days.
The Jesus Trail follows the Israel Trail blazes on a steep but beautiful route down the cliffs. Be careful as you descend. There are metal staples in the rock to assist you on the steepest section but they van be quite slippery when damp. Descending the cliff side you can see 17th century cliff dwellings built by the Druze as well as possible earlier Jewish dwellings, as well as the modern town of Wadi Hamam at the base of the cliffs.
The historian Josephus documented the Roman conquest of Hasmonean rebels living in the cliffs in the 1st century. The story goes that Herod the Great sent soldiers over the edge of the cliff by lowering huge baskets. The soldiers then reached into the cliff dwellings and hurled the Hasmoneans to their death, and set fire to the dwellings to finish the job.
Josephus’ account, as recorded in The Jewish War:
Now these caves were in the precipices of craggy mountains, and could not be come at from any side, since they had only some winding pathways, very narrow, by which they got up to them; but the rock that lay on their front had beneath it valleys of a vast depth, and of an almost perpendicular declivity; insomuch that the king was doubtful for a long time what to do, by reason of a kind of impossibility there was of attacking the place.
Yet did he at length make use of a contrivance that was subject to the utmost hazard; for he let down the most hardy of his men in chests, and set them at the mouths of the dens. Now these men slew the robbers and their families, and when they made resistance, they sent in fire upon them [and burnt them]; and as Herod was desirous of saving some of them, he had proclamation made, that they should come and deliver themselves up to him; but not one of them came willingly to him; and of those that were compelled to come, many preferred death to captivity. And here a certain old man, the father of seven children, whose children, together with their mother, desired him to give them leave to go out, upon the assurance and right hand that was offered them, slew them after the following manner: He ordered every one of them to go out, while he stood himself at the cave’s mouth, and slew that son of his perpetually who went out. Herod was near enough to see this sight, and his bowels of compassion were moved at it, and he stretched out his right hand to the old man, and besought him to spare his children; yet did not he relent at all upon what he said, but over and above reproached Herod on the lowness of his descent, and slew his wife as well as his children; and when he had thrown their dead bodies down the precipice, he at last threw himself down after them.
By this means Herod subdued these caves, and the robbers that were in them.