The sheer rock cliffs of Mount Arbel stand like a sentinel over the western side of the Sea of Galilee. Mount Arbel has watched over numerous battles, travelers, and even disciples.
Mount Arbel is one of those places never mentioned in the Bible. Its presence was so obvious, it was assumed.
Certainly, anyone traveling around the Sea of Galilee or along the International Highway would have used Mount Arbel as a landmark, identifiable from most any spot on the lake.
Jesus would have passed it thousands of times.
Mount Arbel—Cave Dwellers Beware
Honeycombed with caves along its cliffs, Mount Arbel has given military refuge to various people through the centuries.
- Some of these include partisans of the Maccabees in 161 BC, rivals of Herod the Great in 38 BC, Josephus in AD 66, and others from the Druze Maan dynasty at the beginning of the 17th-century.
- Archaeology has revealed a nearby village, a forth-century synagogue, as well as signs of occupation in the caves as early as the second century.
Josephus offers a grisly account of Arbel in his Antiquities (14:423–425). One of Herod’s soldiers grew irritated with the inaccessibility of the enemies holed up in the caves. Lowering himself in a basket, the soldier jerked out some of the cave dwellers with a grappling hook and shoved them over the cliffs.
Watch the video below I shot from a helicopter over Mount Arbel. Note particularly the caves all along the cliffs as the helicopter makes a second pass.
The Best View
No doubt, the best way to enjoy Mount Arbel is from on top of it! (Just make sure Herod’s troops aren’t around.)
The panoramic view offers a perspective that stretches 400 meters (about 1,300 feet) above the water.
It astounds every first-timer. It still amazes me. Why? Because the majority of the events in the Gospels occurred within the scene you can see from atop Mount Arbel.
I once even scaled down the cliffs with the convenient handheld cables affixed to the rocks. A journey down the cliffs with the handheld cables is only for the surefooted and physically fit.
The last time I stood on Mount Arbel, I gazed at the modern highway on the Plain of Gennesaret far below me. Part of the ancient International Highway ran beside the Sea of Galilee—roughly where modern Route 90 runs today. I imagined the armies of history that had marched right below me.
(All pics courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)
A Panorama of Jesus’ Ministry
Although the history intrigues, and the view inspires, the greatest benefit I’ve enjoyed from the top of Mount Arbel comes as I see—from one location—the places where Jesus spent most of His ministry around the shores of this famous lake:
- Capernaum, the Cove of the Sower, the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha—these and other places dot the shoreline.
- At the foot of the cliffs of Mount Arbel also lay the village of Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene.
Mount Arbel—The Place of the Great Commission?
I have often wondered in pure conjecture if “the mountain” to which Jesus brought His disciples when He issued the Great Commission was Mount Arbel (Matthew 28:16-20). It really could have been.
- From this one spot they could observe the area where Jesus called them as disciples as well as the many places where He taught and performed miracles according to the gospels.
- Also below them lay the highway that journeyed to the nations to which Jesus called them to make disciples.
No visit to Mount Arbel is ever long enough. It remains one of the most beautiful, inspiring, and instructive sites in Israel.
Tell me what you think: What benefits do you see in getting a panoramic overview of Jesus’ ministry? To leave a comment, just click here.
Mount Arbel on the Map: