Hike from Mount Saul on the Gilboa Mountain Range
The Gilboa Mountain Range can be reached from the Jordan Valley or the Jezreel Valley and this 18 Km mountain ridge provides spectacular views over a part of the Jezreel Valley known as the Harod Valley. The Israelites under the leadership of King Saul, the first king of the Jewish kingdom, fought the Philistines in the Jezreel Valley, and he and his 3 sons died somewhere on Mount Gilboa (which is the same as the Gilboa Mountain Range). Mount Saul is an observation area on this mountain range dedicated to this final battle of King Saul, and 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 it 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 facing the valley faces towards Bet She’an. The observation area on your left faces west towards Givat HaMoreh (Hill of Moreh) on the far side of the valley. At its base is the Arab village of Sulam, or Shunem as it was known in Biblical times. This was where the Philistine was camped, while the Israelite army was encamped somewhere on 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. Two paths connect these two observation points – a paved upper path and an unpaved footpath a bit lower down. You can take either.
From the western observation area, cross the main access road and go down the hill on the well-marked black-marked footpath. It is rocky but not difficult. You will soon come to a shaded observation structure. Continue on the black-marked path which will cross a gravel jeep trail. Soon you will again meet the green-marked jeep trail. Cross this road 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 this green-marked path to the Memorial to the Seven (אנדרעת השבעה). This is a memorial to seven fighters from Kibbutz Ein Harod who were killed during the 1948 War of Independence.
Retrace your steps to where the black footpath ended at 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 the circular hike for a total of about 2½ hours. This also is on an incline, but gradual and less steep.
If doing the latter circular hike, continue on the green-marked trail following the signs indicating יציאה (exit).
When you come to a 4-way junction, turn left on the red-marked trail. This will lead you to the parking lot and your car.
Memorial to the Seven who fell during the War of Independence on Givat Yonatan.
Map downloaded from the app Israel Hiking Map.
King Saul was the first king of Israel, reigning at the end of the 11th century BCE. The Bible’s description of his reign and personality are both enigmatic. On the one hand, the Bible plays up his two religious failures. For the Book of Chronicles, this was the reason he lost his dynasty and was killed in battle (I Chronicles 10:13)). Objectively, however, he was a valiant and God-fearing warrior and leader. He was appointed by the prophet Samuel following the urging of the tribes (and against Samuel’s advice) because they wanted a strong military leader to protect them against the advances of the Philistines. The Philistines lived along the coastal plain. There is no evidence they 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, except as his very end, Saul was successful in the defense of the Israelite kingdom. “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 also 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. In all this, he was the very opposite of many of the later kings of Judea and Israel. Nevertheless, his humbleness and self-effacing got the better of him, 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 left 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 called David and he would soon display his courage by defeating Goliath and display his military prowess to the extent that the women would sing “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands” (I Samuel 18:8). This was hardly the type of song an acknowledged military leader 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. One could almost say that Saul’s paranoia about David was to an extent justified, in that unknown to him David had already been appointed the future king of Israel. However, it is clear from the Bible that David had no intention of ever murdering an anointed king of God, 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 goes in disguise to a medium in nearby Ein Dor to bring up the spirit of Samuel. Not only was this against a Torah law, but Saul himself had made it a capital offense. Assured that she will come to no harm, the medium brings up the image of Samuel from the dead. Samuel lays it on the line – Saul will die, so will his sons, and his army will be defeated. Saul falls in shock to the ground. Despite this, there is no question as to whether Saul will still lead his army in battle.
Putting the three Biblical accounts of this battle together - the Israelite army flee from the Philistines. Many are killed on Mount Gilboa, including Saul’s sons. Seeing the Philistine archers closing in on him and aware that he will receive no mercy from the Philistines, Saul asks his armer bearer to kill him, but the armer bearer refuses. Saul therefore falls on his own sword, as does the armer bearer. A young Amalekite finds Saul on the battlefield and Saul asks him to finish the job, which he does (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 Shean. Soldiers from the Gilead who themselves were once rescued by Saul remove the body and bury him in their city. After a prolonged civil war, David will become the king of a united kingdom, and through his efforts the Philistines cease to be a threat to the Jewish kingdom.