Off the Beaten Track: Panoramic views from Mt. Gilboa

In late autumn, the Jezreel Valley begins to turn from the overgrown, weed infested, brown dust bowl, to the freshly plowed, fertile plain with scattered green seedlings.

gilboa view 248 88 (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
gilboa view 248 88
(photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
"Thy beauty, O Israel, upon thy high places is slain! How are the mighty fallen!" II Samuel 1:19.
There are a few passages in the Bible that can be quoted (and misquoted) by almost everyone because of their infamy due to their absolute poetic beauty. The aforementioned quote is one of them. It’s part of David’s lament upon receiving the news of King Saul’s tragic death on the slope of Mt. Gilboa. Certainly this biblical passage is one of the most beautiful in its poetry. Bring your Hebrew-English bible and a good map for this tour…or just an iPhone with those apps.
Take route 65 northeast through Wadi Ara. When you are approaching Megiddo Junction you will start to get a glimpse of the Jezreel Valley, the hills of Galilee and Mt. Tavor. At Megiddo Junction you are at the crossroads to the ancient world between Mesopotamia to the north, Egypt to the south, the spice routes of the Far East to the east and the Mediterranean ports to the west. On the right side of the junction is a modern prison built over a Roman fortress which includes perhaps the oldest mosaic floor of a church ever found. On the opposite side of the junction is Tel Megiddo, also known as Armageddon, where some traditions believe marks the spot of the coming End of Days scenario, and contains dozens of strata of civilizations dating back to some of mankind’s very first agricultural settlements.
In late autumn, the Jezreel Valley begins to turn from the overgrown, weed infested, brown dust bowl, to the freshly plowed, fertile plain with scattered green seedlings, spouting towards the scattered clouds among the heavens seemingly begging for more rain. The nip in the air brings the promise of more rain and the greenish-brown mountains that surround the valley begin to remind us of the beauty they guard throughout winter and spring.
Take a right at “Taanachim” Sargel Juntion onto road 675. Pass Jezreel Junction and then take your next right onto the “Gilboa Scenic Route” (road 667). Notice Mt. Gilboa to your right and the mountains of Samaria just beyond. The Palestinian city of Jenin can clearly be seen on the Samarian slopes. Notice that most summits on the peaks of the Gilboa are covered with trees planted by the Jewish National Fund over the years. One summit however remains bare. We’ll get back to that fact. This area used to be much more scenic, in fact it may have been the most beautiful corner of Israel. Before you turn right look left over the incredible Jezreel Valley, Galilean foothills and into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As you turn right your view will be suddenly obstructed by an artificial ski slope and two restaurants, one kosher and one not. This complex is a real eyesore on a beautiful historical site, a national treasure actually. On the other hand, the kids love the snowless skiing and the food, drink and views are just fantastic at Kimmel at Gilboa (not kosher) and Joseph’s (kosher). Kimmel makes one of the best burgers that I have ever tasted.
Continue up this beautiful road and through the forest. You will eventually get to a gorgeous log cabin type building surrounded by crops and cows. This is the beautifully built restaurant, the Herb Farm (not kosher), which serves up fresh meat and produce from this family owned ranch and fish from the Jezreel Valley fish ponds. Make sure you have a reservation, even for lunch. Continue down the road and on your left you will come to a turn off for “Mt. Shaul” or “Katef Shaul” also known as “Saul’s Shoulder”. There is a playground there in the forest and a great place for a picnic. Continue to the end of this road to a parking lot. Walk out onto the treeless overlook of the Jezreel Valley and beyond. The view is simply spectacular. If you are lucky you will see one of the crazy Israeli paragliders jumping off this spot with nothing but his or her parachutes.
Traditionally, this is the spot where King Saul, Israel’s very first monarch, gazed out at the Philistine camp at Givat HaMoreh, clearly seen from here on the other side of the valley, and he panicked. Saul is a tragic figure who never wanted to be king in the first place. He actually hid behind the luggage cart so Samuel wouldn’t make him king (I Sam 10:22)! That’s probably the reason Samuel chose him to be king, perhaps believing this tall, good looking, simpleton from a lowly family in the weakest tribe could be controlled (I Sam 9). After disobeying a direct order from the Prophet Samuel (you see in Judaism, God is the boss through his law, i.e. Torah, and the judge, i.e. prophet, is the one who interprets the law), Saul is left without a prophet and loses his mind (I Sam 15). By this point in the life of King Saul he is so crazy (I Sam 16:14-23) that he had tried to kill his son-in-law David (I Sam 18:10-12), and then goes to see a witch (Saul had previously banned witchcraft) at Ein Dor. From here you can see Ein Dor across the valley nestled in the hills. The witch, who probably realized that she was talking to the disguised king who had put her out of business, “conjures” up the spirit of Samuel who prophesizes Saul’s death on the battlefield the next day along with all of his sons (I Sam 28).
The next day Saul, believing that the fight is all for not, leads a charge into the open fields below against the Philistines and their chariots of iron. In previous battles against the Philistines he never met them on flat ground knowing that he could only win in the hills (I Sam 17). The battle ends with the king falling on his own sword and Jonathan dying in battle. David, a loyal Israelite to his king returns to the site after the battle and curses the mountain:
“Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of choice fruits; for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.” II Samuel 1:21
Hence the Jewish National Fund left this summit bare of trees out of respect for the death of our first king.Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land  of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD