Located in the Lower Galilee at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley is the stunning Mount Tabor. Just 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee, the mount was the site of the battle between Barak and the army of Jabin during the 12th century BCE. Believed by many Christians to also be the site where the Transfiguration of Jesus occurred, Mount Tabor has much to offer those desiring to make the trek!
Mentioned for the first time in the Hebrew Bible in Joshua 19:22, the mountain initially acted as a border between the tribes of Zebulun, Isaachar, and Naphtali. It was strategically important, allowing control of routes within the Galilee and Jezreel Valley. The mountain is also the site where the Israelite judge Deborah commanded Barak from Naphtali’s tribe to take 10,000 men and ultimately vanquish the Canaanites.
In the times of the Second Temple, Mount Tabor’s peak, being high and easily seen from throughout the surrounding region, was traditionally used as a place from which a beacon was lit that served as a means for notifying northern villages of the onset of Jewish holy days and the beginning of a new month. It was also during this time that a Hasmonean rebellion against the Romans took place, resulting in the death of almost 10,000 Jewish Fighters. During the First Jewish-Roman War, Galilean Jews under the command of Josephus Flavius fortified their forces here, the mount serving as a strategic structure benefitting their efforts. After the destruction of the Second Temple, Jewish settlement on Mount Tabor was renewed.
The Church and The Sanctuary
Writers of the Christian New Testament state that Jesus had brought Peter, James, and John (his brother) into a high mountain and that Jesus became “radiant” there. Many Christians today believe Mount Tabor was the site of this miracle, although there is also strong belief that it may have been on the higher Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi.
Mount Tabor was not named as the site of Jesus’ Transfiguration until it was identified by the Greek scholar Origen in the 3rd century CE. In the 4th century CE, accounts from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, as well as Saint Jerome, endorsed the authenticity of Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
Between 1919 and 1924, the Church of the Transfiguration was built on the mount’s peak by the Franciscan order. The church was built upon the ruins of a Byzantine church dating back to the 5th or 6th century CE. The church is comprised of three aisles lined with two rows of beautiful columns and home to two chapels, with one being dedicated to Moses, and the other dedicated to the prophet Elijah. Above the main altar, there is a mosaic depicting the Transfiguration. On the Transfiguration holiday, the mosaic is illuminated by beams of sunlight reflecting off of a glass plate located on the floor of the church.
On Mount Tabor, you will also find a Greek Orthodox Monastery. The main sanctuary, dedicated to the Transfiguration, began construction in 1859 and finished in 1862 by a Romanian monk, making it the first religious structure built by Romanian Christians in the Holy Land.
Today, Mount Tabor is located off Highway 65 and its summit is accessible by personal vehicles, a modern ‘miracle,’ really, because 1,600 years ago, individuals wishing to visit the summit would have walked almost 4,500 stairs to arrive. However, the ascent is a narrow switchback road which is daunting to many drivers. A shuttle service transports tourists arriving in larger vehicles that are unable to travel the narrow serpentine path that leads up to the top. For those interested in hiking, a long trek starting in the village of Shibli is a bit more than 3 miles in length, while a shorter nature trek, a little longer than 1.5 miles, will also take you to the mount’s summit.
While reaching the top today does not demand great effort, especially if traveling by vehicle, it is a great place to spend some time and hike. There you can see remnants of the First Jewish-Roman War, the Jezreel Valley, Mount Gilboa, Mount Carmel, the Golan Heights, and the Galilee Region. With hang gliding and other activities available during certain seasons of the year, Mount Tabor is a colorful and exciting place to experience just a taste of what the Holy Land has to offer!