If you happen to be visiting the Lower Galilee region, you will notice the towering presence of Mount Arbel, standing watch approximately 1,300 feet above the western side of the Sea of Galilee. Not unlike many mountains in Israel, Mount Arbel affords stunning vistas of the surrounding area, including the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon. The village of Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene, is also nestled in its foothills.
And while its physical presence is undeniable, its biblical presence is strangely absent. Many first-time visitors are surprised to discover that the Bible makes no mention of Mount Arbel, although you might consider this passage from Hosea 10:14:
Therefore tumult shall arise among your people, and all your fortresses shall be plundered as Shalman plundered Beth Arbel in the day of battle; a mother dashed in pieces upon her children.
Arbel’s sheer face was certainly a prominent landmark throughout biblical history, and its cliffside cave system provided shelter for many political refugees over the centuries. In fact, you can read Josephus’ account of Herod’s soldiers scouring the cliffside for enemies holed up in caves. But in spite of its sometimes-violent history, it is the significance of its location that brings the most benefit. Looking out from Arbel, one can see with almost perfect clarity the places dotting the Galilee shoreline where Jesus spent most of His ministry—particularly around Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and Tabgha.
What to see at Mount Arbel
Adding to the plethora of Israel’s national parks, Mount Arbel also provides visitors a look at ancient life that once inhabited its peak. If you have the hiking bug, Mount Arbel offers challenges to every level of hiker, and it also connects to part of the well-known Jesus Trail.
At its highest point, Mount Arbel is almost 600 feet above sea level, and the area is dotted with various overlooks, springs, and caves. You will find few trees, with exception of a lone carob tree which marks one of several lookouts.
You also do not want to miss the synagogue ruins as well as the cave fortress. Both are part of a three-hour hike that is not for the faint-of-heart, but the views are truly unforgettable.
If you plan to visit Mount Arbel, block several hours, and make sure to bring your camera and a pair of comfortable walking shoes. The park is open in the summer from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and closes at 4:00 pm during the winter months. There is a small entrance fee, but it is well worth it. Prepare to be astounded!
You can never spend enough time at Mount Arbel. Make it part of your next trip to Israel!
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