Hiking Day 1: (10.6 mi, 17 km) Nazareth to Ilaniya

Today is “Tu B’Shevat “ in Israel, literally the “new year of the trees.” In religious society, it was the date used for calculating the beginning of the agricultural cycle for the purpose of tithes. In secular Israel, it has become a type of eco day similar to “Arbor Day” where people go out and plant trees. It seems appropriate to start a hike on a day associated with preserving the woods. So at exactly 10:30 AM we started our hike. We almost made it out of the parking lot before Cheerio took her first fall. She walks fine, it’s the running you’ve got to watch 🙂 She is now riding in the backpack.

We are hiking “The Gospel Trail”, which starts in Nazareth where Jesus was raised and ends in Capernaum along the see of Galilee where Jesus lived during His ministry years. The trail is well marked, and is labeled in English (it is geared towards non Jewish tourists) with a series of cairns that have a mosaic of an anchor. The trail was developed within the last 10 years due to the popularity of a nearby private route called the Jesus trail. The Jesus trail passes through a number of Arabic communities (and sadly large piles of garbage which is the biggest complaint of people hiking the Jesus trail) and is designed for pilgrims. It was modeled after the Camino in Spain and caters to a very specific type of tourism. For example there is a church associated with Jesus’s miracle of turning water into wine where you can renew wedding vows on that route. The gospel trail instead is routed through a scenic forest which is more our style, eventually meeting up with the Jesus trail near the Sea of Galilee after a couple of days. Both cover areas Jesus would have walked, but the gospel trail is much less commercial.

Alon picked us up from the guesthouse we were staying in and brought us to the starting point. We could have walked from where we stayed, but with the baby, he thought it would be nice to shorten the day a little bit for us. He is transferring our luggage between hotels, so he was coming by anyways. We were grateful! Oddly, neither of us experienced any jet lag. The weather today is reportedly the coldest day of the year so far. It was about 50F most of the day. Clouds felt cold, shadows felt cold, and the sun felt warm. It really made for pleasant hiking. We were also spared rain today.

For most of the day, the trail followed an asphalt road that was infrequently travelled with a mix of pedestrians and cars. We were the only ones actually hiking the gospel trail. The trail follows the ridge line from Nazareth, providing really nice views of the Jezreel valley down below. The valley is an agricultural breadbasket for this region of the world. The trail provided nice views of Mount Tabor most of the day. In the Old Testament, this was the place where Deborah and Barak gathered the Israelite armies to defeat the Canaanite armies led by Sisera. Here is a picture of Cheerio looking at Mt Tabor in awe while eating an apple for lunch around 1:30pm 🙂

The people we met along the way were very friendly. We chatted with a local who lectured at LSU for 2 years. We passed a large local tour group out walking the woods just to see the plant life. Our favorite though was an Arabic man gathering a vegetable he called “luf” (probably spelled wrong) which he uses for traditional flavoring of dishes. He was very kind and gave Cheerio a candy bar. Oh yeah we also passed a lost sole, not sure whose shoe it came from (okay pun intended).

For the most part though it was a solitary day where we got to enjoy the natural beauty of the land. We passed olive groves, walked through forests, and followed a ridge with open views all as we slowly descended towards the Sea of Galilee. The area has lots of wildflowers in bloom this time of year Including red, yellow, white, and purple ones. We also saw an animal, called a hyrax (referred to in Leviticus 11:5 as an unclean animal because it chews cud but does not have a parted hoof). Cheerio thought it was a primate and started making monkey sounds.

We finished the day at a restaurant that Alon drove us to and orders something we never thought we’d find in Israel, cheeseburgers. Since we began the journey in Nazareth we thought we’d share a little about Jesus’ home town:

Biblical events in Nazareth: It was here that Gabriel announced his birth to Mary (Luke 1:26-27). He was born in Bethlehem while his parents were visiting for a census. They then fled to Egypt because Herod the great was a nut (Matthew 2:19-23). When Herod died, they decided to head back up to Nazareth which is in the lower Galilee region of Israel. He lived here as a boy (Luke 2:51). He ministered here (Matt 4:12-16) which fulfilled a prophecy (Isaiah 9:1-2 – note Nazareth was in “Zebulum” and Capernaum was in “Naphtali”. He was also first rejected here (Luke 4:16-30). It appears he went back and was rejected again later in his ministry (Matt 13:53-58, Mark 6:1-6).

Some things you may not know about Nazareth: Nazareth is a New Testament town that is situated on a ridge overlooking a valley that is used for agriculture. The valley below is called the Jezreel valley, and something like 37 world history changing wars have been fought in it. In fact, the final battle of “Armageddon” will take place in this same valley. The reason so many wars have been fought here is basic geography. Three continents come together in Israel (Europe, Asia, and Africa). Where there are numerous ways that one can pass from Europe to Asia, Israel is essentially the narrow spot along the Fertile Crescent for the connection to Africa. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the West and dessert to the East. This funneled the flow of ancient traffic through Israel. Due to arrangement of mountains and passes in northern Israel, nearly all of those ancient caravans (or armies) flowed specifically through the jezreel valley and then through one of the three mountain passes to get down to the coastal highway (one of which is the Meggido pass where the famous last battle gets its name). So Jesus as a boy would have watched caravans of trade and soldiers flowing between Rome and Alexandria literally everyday by the many hundreds. It was the equivalent of living next to a major interstate highway in the United States. It was situated high enough that none of it would actually come into the city (too out of the way). There were other settlements along the hills, basically where the farmers who worked in the valley lived. It was these settlements that Jesus visited when he “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness along the people” Matthew 4:23. This trail we are hiking almost certainly crosses those ancient paths which means we are stepping in places that Jesus once walked when God stepped down from heaven, took on flesh, and hiked the good hike.

Hike the good hike,

Sherpa and Porter

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