Mount Tabor Nature Reserve and National Park 

The Summit Hike on Mount Tabor provides exceptional panoramic views of the Jezreel Valley and surrounding mountains. Mount Tabor has Biblical significance as the site of the battle between Barak and the Canaanite general Sisera; this was an important battle that broke Canaanite control over the Israelites. This mountain is also meaningful to Christians as the site of the transfiguration of Jesus, and it has been a place of Christian pilgrimage since Byzantine times. Two churches/monasteries are on the summit - the Catholic Franciscan Church of the Transformation, which can be visited, and the St Elias Greek Orthodox Monastery.

THE HIKE

 

Time: Just over one hour.

Distance: 3 Km.

Type of hike: Circular.

Difficulty: Easy hiking suitable for families.

Directions: Enter “Mount Tabor” into Waze. This will take you through the Arab town of Daburiyya and up a winding road to a parking lot by the entrance to the churches.

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About Mount Tabor

 

At 460 meters above the Jezreel Valley, Mount Tabor is not that high compared to other mountains in the Galilee, but its spherical shape stands out from the Jezreel Valley and it is readily seen and identified from as far away as the Golan. The mountain is surrounded at its base by three Arab villages - Daburiyya on its west, and the Bedouin villages of Shibli and Umm al-Ghanam on its south and east. The Catholic Franciscan monastery with its impressive basilica is on the southeast side of the summit, while the Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration is on its north-east aspect.

 

Because of Mount Tabor’s prominence and its strategic position adjacent to the confluence of two important highways, the Via Maris that passed east-west along the Jezreel Valley and a Galilee north-south road, a lot of history happened here.

 

Mount Tabor is first mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Judges as the border of the three tribes Zebulun, Issachar and Naphtali (Joshua 19:22). However, it is best known as the site where Barak, the commander of the Israelite forces, defeated Sisera, the commander of the forces of King Jabin of the Canaanite city of Hazor, following 20 years of oppression.

 

The prophetess Deborah urged Barak to assemble 10,000 men to fight the Canaanites - “And she said to him [Barak]: ‘Indeed the Lord God of Israel commanded: ‘Go and draw toward Mount Tabor, and take with you 10,000 men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun and I shall draw to you to the Brook of Kishron, Sisera, the chieftain of Jabin’s army with his chariots and his multitude, and I will give him into your hand ” (Judges 4:6-7). The Israelite forces gathered on Mount Tabor and the Canaanite forces gathered to the south of the mountain. During the battle, a fierce rainstorm sent a flood along “Nahal Kishon” which discomforted Sisera’s forces and his 900 iron chariots. (Judges 5:21).

 

It is now evident that this verse is describing Nahal Tabor (and not Nahal Kishon) which flows to the east and has tributaries around Mount Tabor. Flooding and deep mud have even been described in the modern period at the bottom of the mountain. Barak achieved a monumental victory and may have permanently removed the threat posed by the Canaanites. The verse “When the Israelites became stronger, they imposed tribute on the Canaanites” (Judges 17:13) would be sometime in the aftermath of this battle.

 

Mount Tabor was one of 19 sites in the Galilee fortified by Josef ben Matityahu, better known at Josephus Flavius, during the First Jewish-Roman Warn in 66 CE. The revolt broke out in the Galilee and Josephus realized that Mount Tabor would be attacked by the Romans. A wall was therefore built on top of the mountain to protect the many people gathered there. A Jewish war party was sent out against the Romans but was defeated. Some of the rebels fled to Jerusalem while others in the fort surrendered when they ran out of water. After subjugation of the rebellious centers in the Galilee, the Romans turned their attention to Jerusalem.

 

Mount Tabor has significance to Christians as the site of the transfiguration of Jesus. The New Testament relates that “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. … While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!' (Matthew 17:1-3,5). As early as the 3rd century CE, Mount Tabor was identified as this “high mountain,” and by the 4th century it was considered a holy mountain and had become a pilgrimage site. By the 6th century there were three churches at its top. At that time, there was no road to the summit and pilgrims had to ascend the thousands of steps (4,300 now) to reach the top. Later, the Crusaders fortified a monastery on the summit and the Muslim Ayyubids built a large fortress here.

 

The Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration was built in 1924 on the site of a Crusader church and some of its ruins were incorporated into the present building. Two towers in the façade of the church are built on the foundations of two medieval chapels. It is open to the public every day from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm, except between noon and 2.00 PM on Saturday. It is closed Good Friday and Holy Saturday. For information call 04-662 0720. The Greek Orthodox Church of the Transfiguration is not usually open to the public except on special days.

Summit trail of Mount Tabor. The parking area you will be using is the one on the left and the hike goes anti-clock wise. To follow your location on your smart phone, click on https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/share/BcJ9n95ift. Click on the black box with a cross at the top left of the map and it should change color to green. It is not necessary to download the free app unless you wish to.

THE HIKE

 

This is a hike with views. Below you on all sides is the Jezreel Valley. Mount Gilboa and the Samarian mountains are to the south, Mount Carmel to the west, the Upper and Lower Galilee to the north, the Gilead to the west, and the Golan Heights to the northwest.

 

Mount Tabor was effectively deforested during the late Ottoman period when trees throughout the country were used for charcoal, but it has since been reforested particularly with Tabor Oak towards the summit and Jerusalem Pine on the lower slopes. Both these trees are endogenous to this country. 

 

  • The black-marked trail starts by the side of the parking lot. To the north-west, you can see the city of Nazareth rising from the Jezreel Valley on the foothills of the mountains of the Lower Galilee. Continue along this path to the west side of the mountain.

 

  • After some distance, on the southern aspect of the trail, you will come to a red trail on your right. If you wish to lengthen this hike a bit, you can descend along this trail to an observation point. Below you are the Bedouin villages of Shibli and Umm al-Ghanam.

 

  • About halfway along the trail, on the east side of the mountain, you will meet a blue trail descending on your right. Continue on the black trail. Shortly after this junction you will see the corner of a medieval fortress with the ruins of a corner tower and a moat hewn into the rock.

  • Shortly before the entrance to the churches and the parking lot is the ruins of a Crusader stronghold.

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View of the basilica of the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration from the path.

Ruins of the corner tower of a Crusader or Mamluke fortress seen from the path.

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View of Nazareth from the Summit Walk