Background on the Jezreel Valley
The Jezreel Valley – more famous for the ominous name of the Valley of Armageddon – is a fertile swath of land between lower Galilee and Samaria (north to south), and Mount Carmel and Tiberias (west to east). The area includes famous biblical sites and mountains and is believed to be the plain where the final epic battle will take place: the battle of Armageddon.
Before the battle, however, the Valley of Jezreel is a pleasant place to visit in the Holy Land. From mountain hikes, to ancient archaeological sites to bird watching, the often-overlooked valley is rife with attractions and history. The Jezreel Valley is home to some of Israel’s most fertile farmland. Many of the communities and neighborhoods in the area offer guest houses.
Jezreel in the Bible
The palace of Israel’s leaders, Ahab and Jezebel, was located in this region adjacent to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite (I Kings 21). When Ahab coveted the vineyard that Naboth refused to sell, Jezebel manipulated a situation that resulted in Naboth’s death and she secured the vineyard for her husband. Navot Junction is named for Naboth.
The valley was an important thoroughfare in ancient times from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and Egypt and was known by the Romans as the Via Maris, the ancient route from Egypt to Mesopotamia.
After healing the centurion’s servant at Capernaum, Jesus travelled to Nain where He raised a widow’s son from the dead.
In Shunem, a small village in the tribe of Issachar, Elisha took up residence in the home of a rich woman in the area. He prophesied the birth of the woman’s son and subsequently raised him from the dead when he died (2 Kings 4:8-37).
Megiddo – Armageddon
Armageddon, from the Hebrew “Megiddo,” was a major city in the region that flourished under the reign of King Omri and was destroyed by Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BCE. Today Megiddo is an archaeological site. The book of Revelation speaks of a final battle that will be held in this valley.
The visitor’s centre at Megiddo features modern facilities presenting the long history of the place in a very accessible way. A tour into the ancient water tunnel is a must, where the visitor can see first hand what represented high technology in Canaanite times. The water system in Megiddo was developed to enable the inhabitants of the city to draw water within the safety of its walls, even if the only well available was situated outside the city.
To the Christian visitor Megiddo is first and foremost the site of the future battle of Armageddon mentioned in Revelation. In history Megiddo’s geographical location in the Jezreel Valley made it a place of key importance concerning trade and security and many battles were fought there. Excavations have revealed 20 levels of inhabitation at the site and that the Megiddo hill (tel. Hebr.) actually is a man made creation due to these layers. Megiddo’s history goes 9000 years back and its rich history is very representative for the area in general due to its richness, but Megiddo itself was an unusually sophisticated and powerful city state in Canaanite times.
Other sites in the Jezreel Valley area
Deborah and Barak camped on Mount Tabor with the Israelite army before attacking and defeating the Canaanite army (Judges 4:6, 12, 14). Mount Tabor, 1,350 feet high, was also the site where the Midianite kings Zebah and Zalmunna killed Gideon’s brothers (Judg 8:18).
King Saul and his sons killed themselves on Mount Gilboa before the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines. David cursed the mountain: “O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings” (2 Sam 1:21).
There is a small church at this the site where, according to the New Testament, in Luke, Jesus raised a young man from the dead. He was the only son of an unnamed widow. Jesus was at the funeral and walked towards the stretcher, touched it, stopped the procession and told the man: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The man came alive, sat up, and began to speak.
Ein Harod & Harod Valley
At the foot of Mount Gilboa is Ein (spring of) Harod where Gideon chose his men for his army and where Jesus may have healed lepers. Today, a pool sits in front of the cave near the spring.
Bird Watching in the Jezreel Valley in the Holy Land
Bird watching can be rewarding in this area. North of Afula are several reservoirs and fishponds where pink-backed pelican and yellow-billed stork have been spotted. At the Tishlovet Reservoir, white-headed and marbled ducks congregate in the winter. In the fall, you may see red-footed falcons and lesser kestrels.
Also in the region you may spot honey buzzards, especially in the first half of September, lesser spotted eagles and levant sparrowhawks.
Ancient church discovered in the Jezreel Valley
In 2005, archaeologists discovered the remains of a church, believed to be from the third century, a time when Christians were still persecuted by the Roman Empire. The remains were found at the Megiddo Prison. Among the finds is a well-preserved 580-square-foot mosaic with fish symbols and a Greek inscription stating that the church is consecrated to “the God Jesus Christ.”
The church remains were found on the grounds of a prison. Not all archaeologists agree this was a church, but those who do say it is the oldest known Christian church in all of Israel—and perhaps the world.
The tiled mosaic commemorates a woman, Akeptus, who donated money to build the church and a table probably used to commemorate the Last Supper; Porphyrio, a Roman officer who donated the money for the mosaic floor; and four other women.
Prior to this find, the oldest known Christian churches date from around 330–370 AD. They include: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; the Nativity Church in Bethlehem; the Byzantine church built over the Tomb of the Patriarchs at Alonei Mamre near Hebron; the Dura-Europus house church in Syria, and the church in Ramle.