Arbel

Arbel

Main attractions: Visits by Jesus to area, archaeological remains, vistas, climbing challenge

The crest of Mt. Arbel allows adventurous climbers, and those assisted by a back-road drive, to drench themselves in an almost unparalleled sweep of the Galilee region. Such majesty belies the bloody history of the area.

"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". Hosea 10:14

This only known Biblical reference to Arbel indicates a bloody history in a setting that is paradoxically serene. Mount Arbel is located on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore, close to Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene, overlooking the Valley of the Doves. It is thought to be a route used by Jesus in his travels between Nazareth and Cana.

The battle described in Hosea is between Assyrians and Israelites, though the blood didn’t stop flowing with the Assyrians; General Bacchides of the Seleucids is mentioned by historian Josephus who describes the mountain as being captured with massive executions. Later down the line, in 39 B.C.E. came Herod the Great, who dropped his soldiers down in baskets for closer proximity in their mission of slaughtering the Jews hiding in caves in the face of the mountain. Some associate Isaiah’s 9:2: “land of the shadow of death” as a reference to the shadow cast by Mt. Arbel.

Known as Arabela, the city atop Mt. Arbel was populated continuously between Hasmonean and New Testament times. The area was known for its flax industry and the making of linen in biblical times. A partially excavated 3rd century synagogue on the edge of the mountain is the only remnant of the ancient city. There is no concrete answer to the question of whether Jesus climbed Arbel, though it is thought that his natural curiosity would have led him there. With his ministry being situated in nearby Capernaum, the distinct possibility exists. Today, the mountain-top is the home to the Arbel moshav (collective farm)

Mount Arbel today

A draw for modern hikers and climbers, Arbel’s steep face is a challenge. Steps and hand-holds were added for the safety and convenience of hikers in recent years for the route that begins at the foot of the cliff in the Valley of the Doves. Reaching the crest is worth the effort, revealing a dazzling view of the Sea of Galilee and on a clear day, vistas that reach Mt. Hermon in the north and Mt. Tabor in the south. Still, the climb has portions not meant for the squeamish who might prefer a drive up the back of the mountain, nearly to the top, with only a short walk to the crest of the peak.

Mt. Arbel is the subject of expansive theological discussion regarding the proportion and reasons for the extent of death and destruction that took place at the location.

A station for Joshua’s guards and the residence of Nitai the Arbelite, head of the High Court, Arbel is mentioned by Shmuel Ben Shimshon in 1210: “

“…And we went up to the Arbel and there is a big synagogue built by Nitai the Arbelite.” Some say that the graves of Jacob’s children - Dan, Levi, and Shimon and Adam’s son Seth can be found here”.

He further writes:

“And near to Arbel are three tribes of the sons of Jacob and Dina their sister and beside the flock grows a beautiful myrtle and none may take a branch from it, neither a Jew or Ismaelite, for fear of punishment”.

With repeated mention of crimes and punishment over the centuries, there are disturbing parallels between past and present.

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