With its fantastic views and important Franciscan and Greek Orthodox shrines situated at its summit over 500 meters above sea level, Mt. Tabor is considered a ‘must see’ site for Christians coming on a Holy Land pilgrimage seeking to visit the site where many believe Jesus was transfigured as he spoke to Moses and Elijah in the presence of three of his disciples (Luke 9:28-36). Mount Tabor is also the place where Deborah and Sisera fought a battle as recounted in the Book of Judges.
Highlights of Mount Tabor
The 500-meter high Mount Tabor can be seen from miles and offers sweeping views of the Jezreel Valley. The Church of the Transfiguration was built in 1924, but still contains vestiges of the Crusader and Byzantine churches built on the same spot including a 12th-century tomb, 12th-century chapel, a mosaic floor and a three-aisled basilica with four bays. A rock, said to be the very site of the Transfiguration, has been preserved.
Franciscan friars live next on the mountain in a monastery established in 1873. A modest Eastern Orthodox church built in 1862 also stands atop Mount Tabor.
At the foot of Mount Gilboa is the Bedouin village of Shibli, well worth visiting. The village contains a museum featuring the millennia old Bedouin culture, the original culture of all the Semitic tribes of the Middle East. There one can also be acquainted with Bedouin food and hospitality and it is an outing also suitable for children.
Background of Mount Tabor
Traditionally considered the site of the transfiguration, Mount Tabor was also an important tribal border in Israel in the Old Testament. Deborah routed Israel’s enemy here as well. The Church of St. Melchizedek was built in honor of a 4th-century tradition in which Melchizedek spent seven years as a hermit on Mount Tabor before meeting and blessing Abraham.
History of Mount Tabor
Mount Tabor was used through the generations for its strategic importance. In the Book of Judges, the Bible recounts how Deborah chose Barak to lead the charge against Sisera and his army (Judges 4). Later, military forts stood atop the mount during the Hasmonean period, the Jewish Revolt and likely in Jesus’ day as well.
In 348, Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem decided that he preferred Mt. Tabor to Mt. Hermon as the site of the Transfiguration, and within years a church was built on the site. In 570, three basilicas were recorded as being seen on Mount Tabor in 570.
Mount Tabor was an important sacred site in the Crusader period, but it was eventually conquered by Salah al-Din in 1187. The Muslims built walls and fortifications across the entire plateau of Mount Tabor although pilgrims continued to visit the church, which survived intact.
During the Ottoman era, the Franciscans were granted permission to live atop Mount Tabor in 1631. The Franciscans rediscovered the ruined Crusader church in 1858 and began its reconstruction. In 1924, the present church, which stands over the 12th century church, was completed.
Mount Tabor in the Bible
Tabor is most widely known in the Bible for its possible connection to the Transfiguration. Many Christians consider Tabor to be the mountain on which Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John as recorded in Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36. Other possible mountains are two closer to Caesarea-Philippi, Mount Panium in Banias and Mount Hermon. However, Tabor was also mentioned in the Old Testament:
“Deborah sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, ‘The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.'” Judges 4:6-7
“You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name.” Psalm 89:12
“’As surely as I live,’ declares the King, whose name is the LORD Almighty, ‘one will come who is like Tabor among the mountains, like Carmel by the sea.’” Jeremiah 46:18
“Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’” Matthew 17:1-9
What to see Around Mt. Tabor
The area surrounding Mt. Tabor has much to offer and is revered by locals for its many sites, geography, culture, wine and more.
The nearby village of Kfar Tabor is a small agricultural moshav (community) just five minutes from Mount Tabor, founded in 1901 by 28 farming families with the support of Baron Rothschild, the great philanthropist who helped found a number of pre-state communities, including Rosh Pina, Zichron Yaacov and others. For years the small village was home to the Hashomer movement and a small museum in the village traces this movement and its early participants. The museum documents the residents realized a dream and created a homeland.
Kfar Tabor Museum – (04) 676-5844
The Tabor Winery is situated in Kfar Tabor and offers a story of rebirth. Kfar Tavor’s farmers for years grew grapes for the wineries of Israel in the hopes that one day they might have their own production facility. The dream finally came true in 1999 when a few families decided to create their own winery. Their wine became quickly successful and now produces 1.5 million bottles. The winery offers on site visits and wine tasting while the adjacent Marzipan museum includes a film depicting the marzipan – making process. Visitors can enjoy the unique display of marzipan on premises as well as the adjacent store. Marzipan workshops, suitable for all ages are also available.
Kfar Tabor Winery – Open Sunday through Thursday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Tel 04-6760444
Marzipan Museum Visiting hours: Sun – Thu 09:00 – 17:00 Fridays and holiday eves 09:00 – 16:00 Saturday & holidays 10:00 – 17:00 Tel: 04/677-2111;
Next to Kfar Tabor is the Circassian community of Kfar Cama, which is a worthy stop for travelers. The Circassian Museum is situated in a traditional basalt home and offers insight into their unique culture including their traditions and lifestyle and their contributions to the state of Israel. A village tour can include wonderful lunch hospitality as well as a tour of the historic homes and stories of the original settlers. . Unlike other Moslems, the Circassians serve in Israel’s Defense Forces. Originally Christians, they converted to Islam when they encountered the Tatars and Turks along the silk route. Their original name, however, is Adigai, which means noble. The Circassians were exiled to Ottoman Turkish areas after the war against the Russian Empire.
Kfar Cama – For tours of the Circassian Museum, Kfar Kama and special Circassian cultural events
At the village of Shibli, located at the base of Mount Tabor, you’ll find a very modest but charming Center of Bedouin Heritage (tel. 04/676-7875). It’s open Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm; admission is NIS 12 ($3/£1.50).
Kibbutz Ein Dor is the site of the Biblical town of Ein Dor, and consequently a lot of ancient activity occurred there. The kibbutz’s archaeology museum displays significant pre-historic findings alongside many changing exhibitions and activities, ancient handicrafts which passed from the world, creation in natural materials, and more. Much of the exhibition is suitable for children as well as adults.
Kibbutz Ein Dor Archaeology Museum – 04-677-0333
If the biblical foods grown in Israel are of interest the area of Mt. Tabor is rich in agriculture. Reuven Birgir is one of Israel’s foremost experts in growing olive and almond trees, and a key figure in Israels olive oil industry. In his farm in Kfar Kish, adjacent to Kfar Tabor, he grows olives, almonds and wine grapes.
Birger’s Farm, Kfar Kish, 050-499-1519, 077-524-0093
Walking along the Gospel Trail to Mt. Tabor
For interested walkers, the Gospel Trail runs 62 kilometers from Mt. of Precipice to Capernaum and travels by Mt. Tabor. Those that wish can take the side trail to the summit reachable by the 4,300 steps that were carved in the 4th century for Christian pilgrims. For more on walking the trail click here.
Where to Stay around Mt. Tabor
For large groups, Kibbutz Lavi offers an ambiance not found in your typical hotel. Along with comfortable rooms, good food and friendly service, groups will have an opportunity to learn up close about kibbutz life and can tour the community with a kibbutz member. For those seeking a more intimate experience the bed and breakfast owned by Nili Bar, Barbakfar, in Moshav Sharona, lies only 3 kilometers from Mt. Tabor.
The Church of Transfiguration is open, free of charge, Sunday to Friday. Modest dress required.
Buses are no longer permitted to drive to the top of Mount Tabor and the site is accessible only by walking or biking a winding narrow road on the north side. Walkers can use 4,300 steps built in the 4th century AD for Christian pilgrims.