After a restful night at Kibbutz Lavi, we traveled on the way to Arvel via the Horns of Hattin. The Horns are the remnants of an old volcano crater and were the scene of the practical end of the Crusaders’ quest to conquer Palestine once and for all.
The battle took place July 3 and 4 in the year 1187 as the Crusader forces under a coalition of commanders led by Guy of Lusignan and Raynard of Chatillon set out to pursue the invading Muslim forces under Saladin, rather than staying in reinforced strongholds with good water sources and allowing the Muslims to exhaust themselves in attacking. The results were predictable. The Crusaders outpaced their logistics (especially water) and found themselves surrounded. After a fierce battle of attacks and counterattacks, and after the Muslims set the surrounding fields on fire, the exhausted Crusader army finally was cornered on the Horns and virtually destroyed. From a military history standpoint, it was a classic case of over-reaching and there’s evidence of that ev
erywhere you look here. Whether it’s the Romans, the Babylonians, the Ottoman Empire, or any one of the myriad peoples who conquered this land, military gains don’t last forever. There’s a lesson in that somewhere.
We hiked to the top of the Horns of Hattin (actually, I did it twice because we lost the trail again on the other side and made an unnecessary two mile detour to get back on it). While on top of the Horns and taking in the view, we heard Israeli fighter jets flying sorties near the border with Syria, no doubt patrolling to prevent an ISIS
incursion. Later in the day as we were hiking in the Arbel Valley we came across a sign on a fence warning us to stay on the trail because there were unexploded mines on the hillside to our left. It was a reminder that this has long been a place of conflict and that prayers for peace are always needed.
We dropped down from the Horns and took a short detour to visit the holiest site of the Druze religion, which contains the tomb of Jethro whom we know as Moses’ father-in-law but they know as a prophet. It was a very quiet site and we definitely felt out of place, especially when they made me put on a robe before visiting Jethro’s tomb. I went inside and the man who followed me in simply pointed at a sarcophagus covered in green cloth and said, “Jethro.” That was it. Not exactly worth an extra mile or so of walking.
After a brief lunch we got back on the trail for the longest stretch and in many ways the most scenic. We hiked through the Arbel Valley, winding through farm fields (and dodging a mine field) and enjoyed the beautiful scenes of farm fields, mountains, and streams. This seemed more like the kind of place that Jesus actually walked. I can guarantee that he didn’t spend much time doing the detours we did!
In some ways I think the Jesus Trail is a misnomer. In only a few places can we say, “Jesus walked here” for sure but, like most things in Israel, that’s not really the point. We’ve gotten a better sense of the land and the people as they are today, which is quite a different view than you get from the tour bus. I had hoped this would be a trip that would be more spiritually focused (quiet, prayerful, meditative) but it turns out that it hasn’t really been like that. Instead, it’s been an equally valuable lesson in taking things as they come, being open to new people and new experiences, and enjoying daily life in a different rhythm for a while–a rhythm punctuated by each step. Come to think of it, that’s kind of the definition of a spiritual experience after all, just of a different stripe.
The jets overhead and the shadow of the Horns of Hattin aside, you can see the peacefulness of this place breaking through in the midst of the tension. From the wonderful hospitality of an Arab family to a lovely meal at a Jewish kibbutz, there’s a real sense that the land where Jesus lived still has the potential to embrace his message of peace, hope, and love. It’s interesting that this trip has been more about the people than the scenery and that’s been a blessing.
We arrived in Moshav Arbel at the Shavit Family Guesthouse and were greeted immediately with a cold pitcher of lemonade, a welcome respite after a hot climb out of the Arbel Valley. Chris shot this incredible picture of the Valley of the Doves looking out toward the Sea of Galilee and the finish line for tomorrow’s hike. It was a fitting end to today’s hike and look forward to making it there tomorrow.