Ironically, the prettiest section of the trail is one place you can be sure Jesus didn’t walk: the 1,000-foot descent of the Arbel Cliffs. The scrambly route plunges straight down the canyon walls, with iron rungs installed to help you negotiate the steepest sections. We enter Arbel National Park on the morning of day four. The preserve harbors the best hiking along the entire route, with cliff-top and canyon trails, the ruins of a fourth-century synagogue, and a 17th-century Druze fortress built directly into the sheer rocks.
Maybe he didn’t risk the downclimb, but I can’t help wondering—as a backpacker who knows the power of a great view—if Jesus paused at Arbel to take in the spectacular vista. Today, the sky is clear and you can see across the Sea of Galilee to Mt. Hermon and Lebanon. The canyon below, with its rust-red cliffs and lush, spring-fed ravine, leads down to the Ginosar Valley; Capernaum, his final destination, lays just beyond.
From here, in the shade of a carob tree, I can see all of the places where the events that changed the trajectory of Jesus’s life—and Western civilization—unfolded. You don’t need to be a Sunday school graduate to know the stories. If you’ve grown up in the West, they form part of the cultural landscape, like Aristotle and the Beatles. There’s the village of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. And a mile beyond, the shoreline town where Jesus, according to all four gospels, multiplied the loaves and fishes. And there’s the slope, with a commanding view over the water, believed to be the spot where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.
Of course, no one can say, with any certainty, which of the Galilee’s many hills was the site of that particular sermon. And the miracles themselves, let alone their precise locations, are a matter of faith. And while following Jesus the Hiker has been among the most fascinating treks I’ve ever made, you obviously don’t need to know where he walked to heed his most human messages, of compassion and forgiveness.
As we start the descent on the final leg of the 40-mile journey, I recall Abud, who had shared his kebabs on the grounds of the ruined mosque. I’d asked him if he knew the Jesus Trail passed right by the mosque. He seemed surprised.
“I know Jesus’s places,” Abud said. “But I don’t know exactly where he stepped.”
Perhaps not, my friend, but the spicy chunk of lamb—proffered to a humble pilgrim hiking a dusty track—suggests otherwise.
Executive editor Dennis Lewon is now praying for a chance to hike the planned Path of Abraham, from Turkey to Jordan.