Hiking from Mount Shaul on the Gilboa Mountain Range
This is a circular hike from Mount Sha’ul, a hill on the Gilboa Mountain Range dedicated to the final battle of King Saul, the first king of the Jewish kingdom. The Israelites under the leadership of King Saul fought the Philistines in the Jezreel Valley, and he and his three sons died somewhere along this 18 Km-mountain range. From the observation area are spectacular views over the Harod Valley, which is the eastern part of the Jezreel Valley. Many of the communities living Mount Gilboa are also named after members of Saul’s family.
Time: 2½ hours.
Distance: Just over 5½ Km.
Type of hike: Circular
Difficulty: Much of this hike is on easy jeep roads. However, the first part of the hike is on a rocky descent which involves slightly difficult footwork but no climbing and which is not at all dangerous. The return involves some inclines.
Directions: Enter “הר שאול“ into Waze and click on “הר שאול מצפור הר שאול.“ This will bring you to the parking lot at the end of the access road from route 667.
There are two observation points at either end of the parking lot that overlook the Harod Valley. The one on your right as you face the valley faces towards Bet She’an. The western observation area on your left faces west towards Givat HaMoreh (Hill of Moreh) on the far side of the valley. Two paths connect these two observation points – a paved upper path and an unpaved footpath a bit lower down. Take either.
At the base of Givat HaMoreh is the Arab village of Sulam. In Biblical times this was the village of Shunem. In the battle between King Saul and his Israelites army and the Philistines, this was where the Philistine army was camped, while the Israelite army was encamped somewhere along Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4). The modern settlements of Kfar Yehezkel, Gever and Ein Harod are beneath you. The rounded dome of Mount Tavor can be seen in the distance.
From the western observation area, cross the main access road and go down the hill on a well-marked, black-marked footpath. You will soon come to a shaded observation structure. Continue on the black-marked path. This will eventually cross a gravel jeep trail. Soon, you will again meet this green-marked jeep trail. Cross it to the continuation of the black-marked trail.
When the black-marked footpath comes to an end, turn right on the green-marked gravel jeep trail. You will soon come to a T-junction. Follow the green-marked path to the Memorial to the Seven (אנדרטת השבעה), which is on the hill Givat Yehonatan. This is a memorial to seven fighters from Kibbutz Ein Harod killed during the 1948 War of Independence.
In March 1948 an Arab gang laid an ambush for workers who had come to check the nearby quarry. Forces working in Ein Harod came to their assistance and held the heights of Yehonatan, but they were also fired upon. The battle was eventually stopped by the British, but seven fighters from the kibbutzim lost their lives.
Retrace your steps to where the black footpath ended by the green-marked jeep trail. You now have a choice. You can either return the way you came up the steep hill or continue on a circular hike for a total of about 2½ hours. This is also on an uphill incline, but more gradual and less steep.
If you decide on the circular hike, continue on the green-marked trail following the signs indicatingיציאה (exit).
When you eventually come to a 4-way junction, turn left onto the red-marked trail. This will lead you to the parking lot and your car.
Overlooking the Harod Valley from Mount Saul.
Memorial to the Seven who fell during the War of Independence on Givat Yonatan.
The tragic and noble death of King Saul
King Saul was the first king of Israel, and he reigned at the end of the 11th century BCE. The Bible’s description of his personality and kingship are quite critical, particularly with respect to his failure to complete his assignment of eradicating the tribe of Amalek. According to the Book of Chronicles, this was why he lost his dynasty and was killed in battle (I Chronicles 10:13)). Yet, it is very easy to feel sympathy for Saul. He was a valiant and God-fearing warrior and leader. Compared to many of the later kings of Judah and Israel, he was a paragon of virtue.
Saul was appointed by the prophet Samuel following the urging of the tribes (and against Samuel’s advice) because they felt the need for a strong military leader to protect them against the advances of the Philistines. The Philistines lived along the coastal plain. There is no evidence that the Philistines were engaged in empire building, but they certainly wished to prevent the Jewish kingdom from doing so, and their attacks were probably for marauding and to weaken the Israelite tribes. By all indications, Saul was successful in the defense of the Israelite kingdom, other than at his final battle: “There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul, and when Saul saw a strong man, or any valued man, he attached him to himself” (Samuel 1 14:52). He also made war against the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, the king of Zobah and Amalekites - which is quite a list (1 Samuel 14:47-8). He is described as being a humble person, adoring of the prophet Samuel, and completely monotheistic. He brought aspects of Torah law to the land, such as the forbidding of necromancy and divination.
Nevertheless, his humility and self-effacing were not always appropriate, and when asked by Samuel to launch an attack and destroy Amalek, thereby fulfilling a Torah command, he acceded to the wishes of his soldiers and kept alive the Amalekite king and the best of the Amalekite flocks. This was enough for Samuel to publicly reject Saul’s dynasty and to appoint a new leader in secret in his stead. The young man appointed was David the son of Jesse, and he would soon display his courage by defeating Goliath. His military prowess was recognized to the extent that the women sang “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands” (I Samuel 18:8). This was hardly the type of song that Saul would want to hear.
After an upbeat beginning, much of the Biblical story about Saul is devoted to his mood swings and possible depression, his jealousy and paranoia about David attempting to take over his throne, and his pursuit of David and efforts to kill him. In actuality, Saul’s paranoia about David was to an extent justified, in that unbeknown to him David had already been anointed the future king of Israel by the prophet Samuel. However, it is clear from the Bible that David had no intention of ever murdering an appointed king of Israel, and together with the band of discontents that had attached themselves to him he did his best to stay as far away from Saul as possible.
The story of Saul’s death is both tragic and noble. The Philistines had advanced through the Jezreel Valley in an attempt to split the northern from the southern tribes. Saul as the leader of the Israelite army felt the need for assurance from God about this impending battle, either through a prophet, the Urim and Thummim, or via a dream. But all were silent. Beside his mind with anxiety, he went in disguise to a medium in nearby Ein Dor to bring up the spirit of Samuel. Not only was this against Torah law, but Saul himself had made it a capital offense. Assured that she would come to no harm, the medium brought up the image of Samuel from the dead. Samuel laid it on the line – Saul would die, so would his sons, and his army would be defeated. Saul fell in shock to the ground. Despite this, he had no thought of his deserting his army and not leading them into battle.
Putting three Biblical accounts of this battle together - the Israelite army fled from the Philistines. Many were killed on Mount Gilboa, including Saul’s sons. Seeing the Philistine archers closing in on him and aware that he would receive no mercy from the Philistines, Saul asked his armer bearer to kill him, but the armer bearer refused. Saul therefore fell on his own sword, as did the armer bearer. A young Amalekite found Saul on the battlefield and Saul asked him to finish the job, which he did (Samuel 2 1:9).
The Philistines find the dead bodies of Saul and his sons, decapitate Saul and impale his body on the wall of Beit She'an. Soldiers from the Gilead, who themselves were once rescued by Saul, remove the body and bury him in their city.
It was time for new leadership of the Jewish people. After a prolonged civil war, David became the king of a united kingdom. Through his future efforts, the Philistines ceased to be a threat to the Jewish kingdom.