The Land of Israel is known as “The Holy Land”. Million of pilgrims arrive here to follow the footsteps of Jesus and to see in their eyes the land that was the background of the events described in the Old and New Testaments. A much better understanding of the texts evolves from standing atop Mt. of Olives and looking at the Garden of Gethsemane, or Standing on Mt. Carmel and looking at the Valley of Jezreel than for just reading them back home. This way the stories come back to life in front of our eyes.
The vast majority of pilgrims settle with driving by bus or car to the churches that were established at the spots of the events, but there’s another way of doing it: Real walking on the footsteps of Jesus, the prophets, the kings and other figures whose stories are described in the texts. The experience this way can become deeper: Both with the time spent that enables us grasp better the event in its context, and of course by being in the open scenery that sometimes has not changed much since the time of the Bible. In the Galilee there is a marked hiking trail from Nazareth to Capernaum known as “Jesus Trail” (www.jesustrail.com) that can be fully or partly combined in the hiking pilgrimage.
The desert plays a major role in the scripts: Abraham was the first to settle and develop the desert by planting a Tamarisk tree in Beer Sheva, (environmentalists would appreciate it being a sustainable development since the Tamarisk is a native plant and not an invading species…), The Children of Israel wandered for 40 years in the Sinai and Jordanian deserts, David, before becoming king, dwelled in the Judean Desert, the prophet Amos was a shepard in Tekoa, at the edge of the desert, and John the Baptist was baptizing the people at the Jordan River in the furnace-hot area of the southern Jordan Valley . Half of the land of Israel is desert land, and hiking in the Negev or Judean Deserts can let us feel the special environment and atmosphere. Backpacking for two days and one night in the desert is not equal to wandering there for forty years, but can give a good idea on that!
Here is a suggested itinerary that can set as an alternative pilgrimage to the Holy land. The itinerary is based on hiking, and one can add the more standard Church Pilgrimage to get a complete experience:
Day 1: Landing at Ben Gurion Airport, driving to the Carmel Mountain. Walking from the Druze village of Daliat El Carmel through remains of an ancient Jewish village to the Carmelitic monastery commemorating the competition between Elijah and the prophets of the Ba’al. The breath-taking view from the roof of the monastery opens towards the Jezreel Valley, where stood the vineyard of Naboth (1 Kings, 21), and the capital of the kingdom of Israel; The river of Kishon, where the troops of Sisera fell into the hands of Barak son of Abinoam (Judges 4,5); The Gilboa Mountains, the hills of Nazareth and much more.
Day 2: Visiting the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth and hiking the Jesus Trail from Nazareth through Zippory to Cana of Galilee.
Day 3: Hiking the Jesus Trail from the Arbel Cliff to Capernaum, with an additional visit to Mt. of Beatitudes. Driving to The Jordan River baptismal site. Driving south through the Jordan Valley to Ein Gedi.
Day 4: A day hike in the Dry Canyon and Window Fall at Ein Gedi, then visiting the lush oasis where David found shelter from King Saul (1 Samuel 24). Afternoon bathing at the Dead Sea.
Day 5: Ascending Masada for sunrise, then hiking the Judean Desert to the awe-inspiring Rahaf Canyon. Driving to Jerusalem.
Day 6: Observation over the Old City from Mt. of olives, then a full day walking tour of the four quarters of the Old City, including a walk on the stations of the cross, followed by a visit to The Church of the Holy Sepulchure, The Western (“Wailing”) Wall and The Garden Tomb.
Day 7: A hike around the hills of Jerusalem and the ancient agriculture remains. Drive to the Negev.
Day 8-9: Two days hiking with outdoors camping in the desert, crossing from Makhtesh Ramon (“crater”) to the Arava Valley. Farewell dinner and overnight in Tel Aviv.
Day 10: Jaffa, Tel Aviv and fly home.
A guided trek on this trail can be reserved at www.yoeloren.com