Sprawling peach, fuchsia and white colored majnooni (lit. “Crazy” in Arabic, a.ka. bougainvillea) and elegant, high-reaching palms decorate our road and greet us as we enter the seaside city of Tiberias. We’ve arrived in Galilee! I’d like to believe the sight was something similar in the days when Jesus walked here, that is, minus the paved road, cars and hotels.
We drive up to Mount Arbel for a panoramic view of the area. As our bus climbs up the hill olive trees sweep past us on the left and almonds fly by on our right. We then bend right and see new, nice, modern-looking homes while the left reveals Wadi Haram (Valley of Doves) which opens to the glistening sea. This valley is the shortcut to the sea from Nazareth, about a day’s journey away, and a path surely familiar to Jesus’ sandals.
Standing at the top of Mount Arbel to the southwest of us sits the loaf-shaped mountain, Tabor, quite possibly the location of Jesus’ Transfiguration. As we stand with our faces to the east, the Golan Heights lie ahead in the distance while Jordan lies to the south. Magdala is the closest city to us, laying just below toward the east. As we look farther northeast we see Capernaum, above and beyond which is the Mount of Beatitudes, and past that is where the feeding of the 5,000 (plus) took place. I’m amazed at how close everything is to each other!
Dolomite rocks craft Mount Arbel which indicate this natural high-rise once dwelt under the sea! It now towers above the sea, or, lake, rather, and houses caves used centuries ago by the people of Magdala. Sadly, according to the historian Josephus, a mini Masada took place here. Roman enemies descended Arbel’s cliff-top on ropes and threw the people out of the caves to a bitter death. Thankfully, now only signs of peace pervade the mountainscape. Today one meanders through a hearty meadow of tall, wispy, tan grass and climbs amidst hefty boulders and plentiful pebbles. It is a magnificent, serene sight to behold.