The Gospel/Jesus Trail

Has anyone done this? How many days does it take?

TEL KINROT, ISRAEL—Luis Alvarado stood on a hill near Capernaum overlooking the sparkling Sea of Galilee. It was his second day on a pilgrimage tour and he was one of the first tourists to walk on part of the Gospel Trail, a new path that follows the steps of Jesus.

“It’s very different just reading the Bible and being in the place where it really happened,” said Alvarado, 48, who is here on a tour with his pastor. “Here, you can feel the presence of God. I know this is going to increase my faith and my understanding of the Bible.”

The 62-kilometre trail runs from the Mount of the Precipice, where many believe Jesus miraculously escaped an enraged mob, to Capernaum, the centre of Jesus’s ministry and the place where Jesus recruited Peter to be his disciple.

Another stop is the Mount of Beatitudes, reputed to be the site where Jesus delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount, which included the phrase “the meek shall inherit the Earth.”

The trail can be travelled by foot, bike or on horseback. It runs through the green hills of Israel’s northern Galilee region, where Jesus spent much of his life. Parts of the trail are unspoiled and remote — you can walk for hours without seeing any towns.

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • John W Frye

    Not anything called “the Gospel trail” but Julie and I walked that area with a tour group led by Ray VanderLaan.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    It may sound good but here is the problem:

    “Here, you can feel the presence of God. I know this is going to increase my faith and my understanding of the Bible.”

    What changed? Perhaps I’m being too critical, but to walk this trail and be guided, who is being paid and how much? Who picked many of these ‘mounts as the official location? Why has no one explained to this man what the veil in the Temple being torn means or what it means to worship God ‘in Spirit and Truth’?

  • RJS

    Cal,

    I’ve never walked this trail or anything like it, but what changes?

    For me the bible went from being a book read through my cultural eyes and expectations, to being more real and grounded in the place where the events occurred. Being there gave something real that just reading or studying didn’t.

  • http://www.jesustrail.com David

    You can find out more about walking the Jesus Trail at http://www.jesustrail.com!

  • Yallah

    The Jesus Trail is about 60 kilometers, and can be walked in 4 days. There are convenient accommodations in Nazareth, Cana, Kibbutz Lavi and Moshav Arbel or people can camp along the way for free.

    The Jesus Trail can be walked easily without a guide, there is a great guidebook available. I don’t know about the Gospel Trail, which is an initiative of the secular Israeli government, but the Jesus Trail wasn’t created to make money (there is very little money in hiking trail development!)

    The Jesus Trail has the goal of being a bridge between communities, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, and giving hikers an opportunity to talk face-to-face with local people. The JT helped an Arab Christian family in Cana to start a small guesthouse that hosts hikers. Accommodations are set up so hikers can spend 2 nights in Arab communities and 2 nights in Jewish communities (both religous and secular). For many hikers, meeting the diverse local people and receiving hospitality are a highlight of the journey, as much or more than experiencing nature. The Galilee was also diverse in the time of Jesus (“Galilee of the Gentiles”) and the stories of the Gospels show how Jesus interacted with diverse people he encountered (tax collectors, Romans, Samaritans, prostitutes, Pharisees, etc.)

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    RJS:

    You don’t think there’s something seriously wrong with “feeling the presence of God” more because you’re in Israel?

    I’m a major history lover, and I love Israel and Semitic cultures in the Levant. I find it all fascinating. I also would love to really see the places talked about where Jesus walked and lived and where the Apostles taught. However, perhaps I’m being hyper-sensative, but how is God any different in Jerusalem than New York, Beijing, Pretoria or Timbuktu?

    It’s a step in the direction to ‘pilgrimage’, feeling like you’ve done something by seeing ‘holy places’.

  • John W Frye

    Cal,
    I think you are being hyper-sensitive as you suggest. As you know geogrpahy is a major part of biblical revelation. It is important to know that Jesus–the second Person of the Trinity incarnate-walked this earth. Do you need to go to Israel to feel the presence of God? Of course not. But if you do, you can’t escape the awe of walking where Jesus himself walked. You almost sound like a ‘sour grapes’ commenter.

  • RJS

    Cal,

    God isn’t any different in Beijing, Jerusalem, or Denver. But the Christian faith is rooted in history – real events that happened to real people in real places. Being there and seeing and understanding (as much as possible with the passage of time) makes a difference. Not so much a difference in the presence of God as in the earthy reality and grounding of our faith.

    Pilgrimage is a loaded word – and by no means do we need to “do something” by seeing “Holy Places”, but then we also don’t need to “do something” by reading a “Holy Book”. On the other hand, we learn, understand, and internalize the reality of our faith by reading a Holy Book, and can also experience greater understanding and internalize the reality by visiting real places, “Holy” places.

  • scotmcknight

    Cal, I would want to say these things:

    1. Incarnation theology values particularity, and there’s something particular about the Land of Israel.
    2. Many people find “thin places” in this world that “do it” for them, where they sense God’s presence differently. While I’m not particularly into thin places, I’ve read books by those who are and I’ve met plenty of folks who tell me that experience. I value their reporting.
    3. The OT is filled with places that become significant because of an experience with God. That has long provided a pilgrimage theology for many in the Christian faith.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    RJS:

    I understand the importance of reckoning the importance of historical grounding. I agree, it’s that “Here, I feel the God”. That is dangerous. I’m being sensitive because this can lead down very many roads. I’m not trying to offend, just pointing out underlying issues that one shouldn’t let go by so easily. That’s all. I may have come off as an alarmist.

    Scot:

    I can understand the importance, but this is a question of Holiness, of the issue of the ‘presence of God’. I’m sure Muslims feel in awe and connected when visiting Mecca and Medina and seeing the Kaaba. It doesn’t validate it.

    Not saying it’s the same, just doing as Paul said, “testing all things, holding fast to what’s good”.

    To all:

    I’m just being cautious, and perhaps a debby downer and a critical cal (!). Just pointing something out to consider.

  • Sarah C.

    It was profiled this month in Backpacker magazine if you want more information.

  • Hector

    I’ve definitely thought about doing a Pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine before. It would be amazing to spend Christmas in Bethlehem or Easter in Jerusalem. I think it would be thrilling to be in Jerusalem when they have the Miracle of the Holy Fire every year, and to witness that. And yes, to walk by the lakeshore where the disciples caught fish and to stand on the Mount of Beatitudes.

    My issues is that I’m strongly pro-Palestinian and opposed to the government of Israel, and I don’t especially want to put tourist dollars into their pockets. Also, I look physically like I could be an Arab- I’m South Asian, and a South Asian fellow I know who lived in Israel told me I would probably get a lot of police harassment.

    Nevertheless, I still might go sometime. There are plenty of places I’d like to make pilgrimages to- Constantinople, Armenia, Fatima, Walsingham- but Israel is certainly one of them.

  • Hector

    Re: Who picked many of these ‘mounts as the official location?

    Ummm, the Christian communities of Palestine? People who were in a position to know?

    Christians have lived in that part of the world continuously since the first century, and a very important patriarchate has been based at Jerusalem. From a very early time Christians living in that area put a lot of effort into trying to locate the holy places associated with the lives of Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles. The continuity of traditions and community in that area, as well as the importance they would have placed on the specific details and places associated with Jesus and his associates, makes me think they knew what they were doing.

  • phil_style

    @Cal,

    I’m going to come to your defence and say that the quote “Here, you can feel the presence of God.” – struck me as very odd indeed too. I wonder, would an atheist “feel the presence of god” there too?

    I think we should cut the guy some slack though. What he probably means is that being in such a geography allows his mind (which is bound by the natural stimuli of the environment) to grasp elements of the gospel stories previously un-reachable. To experience in tangible ways some of the literary content of the texts.

    I would’ describe this as “the presence of God”, but I would say it helps shape new emotional connections to the literature (the gospel accounts), which might, in turn reshape one’s orientation towards god.

  • David P

    I didn’t do the Jesus Trail when I was in Israel. Didn’t have time, but if I’d had a few more days I would have considering my sister and both had good backpacks.

    For me, there was something very special about being where our Lord walked. I remember, in particular, praying in the Garden and reflecting on the fact that some of the olive trees growing around me were there 2000 years ago on the night he was betrayed. I wouldn’t say it happened in many other places. Indeed, the myriad shrines erected over any place where anything might have happened in the Bible tended to dampen the simplicity of spending time where Christ was.

    And, Cal, I understand your concern. I’m cautious about such an understanding of Israel as well, given the immediate connection many brothers and sisters make between the experiences I mentioned above and the immediate lending of unquestioning support to the modern nation-state of Israel. It was fascinating, though, staying in most hostels we encountered folks who were either there a) to spend time touring the ‘holy’ (I’m nervous about using that word) sites or b) were there to learn more about the Israel-Palestinian situation. There seemed to be no one who saw an overlap between the two, who reflected on what the witness of Christians could be in that situation nor a desire to speak with either the Palestinian Christian or the Messianic Jews to see what our brothers and sisters there felt and thought about the whole thing. Granted, most of the folks in the hostels were not committed Christians, and I suppose it has to do (partially) with our Enlightenment worldview’s bifurcation of politics and faith that many people who travel there primarily view the conflict as political, and if people could just ‘get over’ their faith claims we could make a deal and solve this whole thing.

  • Terry

    I have hiked/walked portions of the trail. In addition to the trail the suggested accommodations are first-rate. It is something I have hoped to do in its entirety. I have a long-time friend who is an Israeli guide, and writer for the ministry of tourism, who raves about the whole of it.

    As to feeling the presence of God, in the manner in which it was referenced, I personally try to use different language. But I use different language to avoid what Cal has brought up, not because the experience hasn’t been true, or is invalid. Historicity is huge for certain, but the simple truth is God put His Name there, in various ways, and I think the ‘thinness’ referenced testifies to that.


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