As the year 2000 approached, Pope John II announced that he would be paying a visit to Nazareth. Christian tradition attaches considerable importance to a mountain just outside ancient Nazareth and, assuming that the Pope would be touring its heights, Israel's Jewish National Fund outdid itself in a race to get the site ready. Foresters prepared an excellent road all the way to the mountaintop, paved a parking lot, marked out a superb scenic path to the summit and completed a spectacular observation area overlooking Nazareth and the lower Galilee. However, before the JNF completed construction of large stone maps intended to surround an olive tree, the Pope called off this particular outing.
While the Pope never made it to the mountain, Israelis and tourists now have yet another enticing venue for a jaunt. Situated at 397 meters above sea level, the mountain's Latin name is Saltus Domini - Leap of the Lord. Its Hebrew name of Har Kefitza translates literally as Jump, or Leap Mountain, and it is also known as Mount Precipice. ccording to tradition, enraged azareth townspeople threw Jesus into the abyss elow this mountain.
The New Testament relates that Jesus 'went to azareth, where he had been rought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into he synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him' [Luke 4:16-17]. Some scholars believe that Jesus angered the populace by hinting that Isaiah's prophetic words about the Messiah - 'The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord will rest upon him' related to Jesus himself.
Others note that Jesus refused to commit miracles upon command, and that this infuriated the worshippers. In an expression that has become integral to the Hebrew language, Jesus stated that 'only in his hometown . . . is a prophet without honor' [Matthew 13:57].
The townspeople, then 'drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way' [Luke 4:29-30]. Tradition places Jesus on Har HaKefitza, and many believe that he actually leaped into the valley from its heights.
It isn't hard to imagine why Har Kefitza was honored with this particular tradition instead of some other nearby hill, for it is unusually steep and impressive. Prehistoric man must have found it special as well: archeologists have uncovered evidence of settlement here dating back 50,000-100,000 years. Maybe that's why it is also called Har Kedumim - Mount of the Ancients. The most important remains were ound in a communal grave ithin a cave on the slope. These were 12 keletons belonging to the Galilee ype of Neanderthal man. Resembling the European eanderthal, the Galilee an was short with a wide face and a protruding kull. Other remains include osaic ruins from a chapel that Christians built ere in the Middle Ages.
Foliage on the mountain's peak has been severely affected by natural elements and destroyed by overgrazing.
Nevertheless there are still plenty of flowers on the heights. Indeed, from August to October the mountain hosts masses of white squill. White squill, which flower from the bottom up, grow out of bulbs that store their nourishment underground. White squill herald the coming of the rains, for they are the very first blooms to emerge at the end of the dry, hot summer. Few animals will touch the white squill, for it has a very sharp, unpleasant smell. The leaves also contain a material which, when prepared properly, can give a rat a heart attack!
It is said that when Joshua marked out the borders of the Land of Israel he needed a plant that wouldn't be ravaged by goats and he therefore picked the squill. Only the gazelle bothers to nibble at its dark green leaves when they poke through the ground. Decorative rocks are scattered all over the mountain, and in winter offer a sharp contrast to the tall, succulent green leaves that replace flowering white squill. Made of a limestone-dolomite stone, these light-colored rocks contain magnesium. As the result of constant erosion by the wind they develop splendid shapes and large crevices - and they sparkle in the sun all year round!
Winter visitors will delight in gorgeous cyclamen that spring up all over the mountain. Some Christians associate this flower with Jesus mother, Mary. Glorious in shades that range from scarlet to white, they have a deep pink or purple corolla that faces the ground in humility. The corolla's flaming color, which heats the leaves and protects the flower during cold winter nights, relates to Mary's agony; the heart-shaped leaves are considered a symbol of love.
Cyclamen bulbs, bulb liquid, and cyclamen leaves have all been used to heal burns, fractures, wounds, and even fungi. And the powder, mixed with a drink, is a powerful love potion! In winter, when grape leaves are unavailable, local Arabs have been known to use cyclamen leaves to prepare a delicacy stuffed with rice. The cyclamen probably has more appellations than any other flower. In a survey of plants used in Arab medicine, the cyclamen was given 20 differentnames.
In some localities the Arabs call thi sflower 'Mary's shrub', evidence of its traditional relationship to Jesus' mother. Beautiful groves of stone pines, drop-shaped trees with furry tops and long trunks were planted on the mountain over the years. Withinthe cone is a large fruit with a hard seed: the stone from which this kind of pine gets is name. Inside the seed are delicious and protein-rich pine nuts. An overlook at the mountain's peak, really an amphitheater with steps,offers you a splendid view of the region. Below you lies the Kesulot Valley. Impressive Mount Tabor, whose foothills hold the Arab village of Daboria, stands across from you.
The Carmel Mountains areto the right (west) and below you on the same side stand the tall trees of the Balfour Forest. Planted in 1928, it was one of the earliest JNF forests. Its forestation provided much-needed employment for the impoverished settlers at nearby Kibbutz Ganigar, established six years earlier. Between the mountains stretches the lush green Jezreel Valley. A smattering of blue below you in the valley are reservoirs and acid pools for sewage treatment that the JNF built to help combat the country's eternal water shortage.
On the other side of the valley you can see hills called Ramot Menashe and Givat Hamore. Look for the small town of Migdal HaEmek, then gaze towards ancient Nazareth, topped by the Basilica of the Annunciation and Joseph's Church. From the amphitheater a path leads to the Forester's House, used for storing equipment and foliage while the JNF was preparing for the millennium. If you look to your right while treading the path you will see the Arab village of Iksel and Moshav Tel Adashim. End up at one of the area's most attractive observation points.
Ruins of a church are visible on the top of an adjacent hill, to your right as you ride back down the mountain. Some Christians believe that Jesus' mother Mary stood on that hill, perhaps weeping as the crowds swept Jesus onto Har Kefitza - or possibly watching with wonder as he walked through the populace.
Orginally published by The Jerusalem Post July 19, 2002.