Mount Tabor is located in Lower Galilee, Israel, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, 11 miles (18 km) west of the Sea of Galilee. It was the site of the Mount Tabor battle between Barak under the leadership of the Israelite judge Deborah, and the army of Jabin commanded by Sisera, in the mid 12th century BC. It is believed by many Christians to be the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is also known as Har Tavor, Itabyrium, Jebel et-Tur, and the Mount of Transfiguration.The mountain is a monadnock: an isolated hill or small mountain rising abruptly from gently sloping or level surrounding land, and is not volcanic. In spite of its proximity to the Nazareth mountains, it constitutes a separate geological form.
At the bottom of the mountain was an important roads junction: Via Maris passed there from the Jezreel Valley northward towards Damascus. Its location on the road junction and its bulgy formation above its environment gave mount Tabor a strategic value and wars were conducted in its area in different periods in history.
The period of Joshua and Judges
The mountain is mentioned for the first time in the Hebrew Bible, in Joshua 19:22, as border of three tribes: Zebulun, Issachar and Naphtali. The mountain's importance stems from its strategic control of the junction of the Galilee's north-south route with the east-west highway of the Jezreel Valley. Deborah the Jewish prophetess summoned Barak of the tribe of Naphtali and gave him God's command, "Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun" (Judges 4:6). Descending from the mountain, the Israelites attacked and vanquished Sisera and the Canaanites.
The Second Temple period
In the days of Second Temple, Mount Tabor was one of the mountain peaks on which it was the custom to light beacons in order to inform the northern villages of Jewish holy days and of beginnings of new months.During a Hasmonean rebellion against the Roman Aulus Gabinius, Alexander of Judaea and his army of 31,000 Judeans, was defeated in battle near Mount Tabor. As many as 10,000 Jewish fighters were killed in the battle; Alexander himself was captured and executed.In 66 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War, the Galilean Jews retrenched on the mountain under the command of Josephus Flavius, whence they defended against the Roman assault.
Mount Tabor was one of the 19 cities which the rebels in Galilee fortified, under the command of Yosef Ben Matityahu. According to what is written in the book "The Wars of the Jews", Vespasian sent an army of 600 riders, under the command of Platsidus, who fought the rebels. Platsidus understood that he could not reach the top of the steep mountain with his forces, and therefore called the fortified rebels to walk down the mountain. A group of Jewish rebels descended from the mountain, supposedly, in order to negotiate with Platsidus, but they attacked him. The Roman forces initially retreated, but while they were in the valley, they returned towards the mountain, attacked the Jewish rebels, killed many of them, and blocked the road for the remaining rebels who tried to flee back to the top of the mountain. Many of the Jewish rebels left Mount Tabor and returned to Jerusalem. The rest of the fortified rebels in the fortress on the mountain surrendered after their water ran out. They then handed over the mountain to Platsidus.
Matthew 17 tells us that Jesus brought Peter, James, and John his brother into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them as his face shone as the sun, and his raiment was white as snow. There also appeared to the disciples Moses and Elijah talking with him, when a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice out of the cloud said "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him." [Matthew 17:1-13]. This event is also recounted in 2 Peter 1:16-18, Mark 9:2-9 and Luke 9:28-37. However, none of these accounts identifies the "high mountain" of the scene by name. The earliest identification of the Mount of Transfiguration as Tabor is by Origen in the 3rd century. It is also mentioned by St. Cyril of Jerusalem and St. Jerome in the 4th century. It is later mentioned in the 5th century Transitus Beatae Mariae Virginis. Mount Hermon is an alternative site according to tradition.
The Byzantine period and the middle ages
Due to the importance of Mount Tabor in the Christian tradition, it became the focus of pilgrimage which began during the 4th century. According to descriptions of the pilgrims, during the 6th century there were three churches on the top of the mountain, and during the 8th century there were four churches and a monastery. During the Arab period, in 947, a battle occurred in mount Tabor between different streams on the control of the land of Israel on behalf of the Abbasid Caliphate.
During the period of the Crusades, the mountain changed hands many times between Muslims and Christians. In 1099 the crusaders fortified the area of the church and the monastery which was on the peak of the mountain, in order to protect the pilgrims from the Muslims attacks. In 1101, when Crusaders controlled the area, the Benedictine monks rebuilt a ruined basilica and erected a fortified abbey. In 1212 the mountain was occupied by the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Adil I which established on it a larger fortress but in 1229 it was occupied again by the Christians. In 1263 the Mamluk ruler Baibars occupied the fortress and ruined the buildings on the mountain.
In 1799, during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to the land of Israel, in the valley between mount Tabor and the Moreh hill was held a battle in which a French force of about 3,000 soldiers in the command of Napoleon and general Jean Baptiste Kléber against a Mamluk force of about 20,000 soldiers.At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning the 20th century the Bedouin tribe Arab-A Tzabiach (Sabehi) settled in the mountain. it was one of the strongest tribes in that region.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War members from the Arab-A Tzabiach tribe (Sabehi) participated in the army of the Arab Liberation Army of Fawzi al-Qawuqji and amongst others killed seven members of the village Beit Keshet. In the start of May 1948 the Golani Brigade occupied Mount Tabor. Most members of the tribe were forced out to Syria and to the Kingdom of Jordan, except for one stream of the tribe, the clan of Shibli, whose members refused to leave their land even though they witnessed massacre of their own people. After the war their village was established, Arab Al-Shibli which is nowadays part of the village Shibli-Umm al-Ghanam. the Bedouin village was admitted as a tourist village by the Israeli government and the locals are famous of being hospitable and very friendly to visitors. since late 60s many of the tribesmen joined the Israeli Security Forces (such as IDF, Border Guarding Unit and police) proving their high integrity, loyalty and the way they're looking for better future along with the Israeli Jewish majority. note that the Arab-A Tzabaich tribe is one of the last tribes of the northern Bedouin tribes that allowed its youth to serve in the IDF, many tribes like Arab-Al Hieb began their IDF service before establishing the country, in late 30s.in order to reach the mountaintop, buses must cross through the village main road, there are two Christian monasteries, divided into Eastern Orthodox (northeast) and Roman Catholic (southeast) areas.
Church of the Transfiguration
Aerial view of the Church of Transfiguration at the summit, which is divided into Eastern Orthodox (northeast) and Roman Catholic (southeast) areas.
Between 1919 until 1924 an impressive Roman Catholic church of the Franciscan order named "Church of the Transfiguration" was built on the peak of Mount Tabor. The architect who designed the church, as well as other churches in Israel, was Antonio Barluzzi. The church was built upon the ruins of a Byzantine church from the fifth or sixth century and a Crusader church from the 12th century, which was built in honor of Tancred, Prince of Galilee. The friars of the church live next to the church in a monastery established in 1873.
The church was built from three Naves which are separated by two rows of columns holding the arches. In the two bell towers on either side of the entrance to the building, there are two Chapels. The northern chapel is dedicated to Moses and it contains an image of him getting the Tablets of Stone on Mount Sinai, and the southern chapel is dedicated to Elijah the prophet and it contains an image of him in his confrontation with the Ba'al prophets on Mount Carmel.
On the upper part of the church, above the altar, there is a mosaic which depicts the Transfiguration, and on the Transfiguration holiday on August 6, it is illuminated by the sun beams which are returned from a glass plate located on the church's floor.A rock near the entrance of the church has an engraving in ancient Greek and beside it there is an engraving of a cross. Nearby there are the remains of the monastery of San Salvatore (Monastère St Salvador) which was established by the Order of Saint Benedict in 1101.