(Photo: The Israeli Ministry of Tourism)
The Israeli government has given Christians a path to follow their savior's footsteps through the Holy Land.
Israel's Ministry of Tourism has opened the "Gospel Trail," a 37-mile route from Jesus' birthplace in Nazarus to Capernaum, the main focus of his ministry and a city on the Sea of Galilee, according to The Jerusalem Post. The $700,000 trail was constructed by the Ministry and the Jewish National Fund as a means of transcending tourism with a powerful spiritual experience based on Christ's life.
"In recent years we looked at which target audience we could work with, and we decided that first and foremost is the Christian world," Stas Misezhnikov, Israel's minister of tourism, told the Post. "We are creating a revolution in tourism to Israel. So it is a real honor to invite the entire Christian world to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and walk in the same places he walked."
Misezhnikov said that pilgrims could journey down the trail by foot, bike or car. Starting at Nazareth, it meanders past the Mount where Jesus gave his famous sermon, the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, the town where Christ fed 5,000 on bread and fish and onwards to Capernaum. Once travelers get to Galilee, they can sail off the shores of its titular Sea where Jesus preached.
Construction of the trail, Misezhnikov added, could top 2010's record year in Israeli tourism. The ministry said that approximately 3.5 million travelers visited the country, with a million coming for explicitly spiritual journeys. Given that 66 percent of Israel's tourists identified themselves as Christians last year, Misezhnikov said a landmark honoring their heritage could make even more feel at home.
"Israel invests a lot of money in renovating and safeguarding the holy places of all religions here," he told The Jerusalem Post. "Is it problematic to also use the culture and history of the area to promote pilgrimage and tourism for the benefit of all nations? I don't think so."
Jay Rosenbaum, senior rabbi of the Herzl-Ner Tamid Synagogue on Mercer Island, Wash., said Israel's history made it in an important place in interfaith relations. Since its inception, he said, Israel has served as a beacon to Jews of the covenant God made with their faith.
"Israel is central to the Jewish identity," Rosenbaum said. "The purpose of the Jewish people is to create a righteous community in Israel. Everything in our culture revolves around that."
Though Jews and Christians interpret Jesus' teachings differently, Rosenbaum continued, the fact that both faiths share the same Scripture makes Israel an important place in their doctrines. He said he thus understood Christians' desire to visit the Holy Land, given it's one he often encounters in his own religion.
"Jesus is the founder of one of the great faiths in the world," Rosenbaum said. "Christians make up a huge portion of that world and have had a huge impact on its history. In Israel, both the Bible and all of Jewish history come alive."
The Holy Land's history, he concluded, is something that both Jews and Christians should try encountering. Seeing the nation's sacred sites, he said, was like standing side-by-side with the people of Scripture.
"It is very powerful being in Israel," Rosenbaum said. "People come back from visits there transformed. The things they see in Scripture are three-dimensional there."