The Hike the Bible series is currently covering points of interest along two hiking trails through Galilee, the 40-mile Jesus Trail and the 39-mile Gospel Trail. These two trails re-create possible routes Jesus likely traversed during His sojourns in Galilee.
After discussing the Galilean points of interest, this Hike the Bible series will continue with reviews of other major hiking trails in the Lands of the Bible.
Horns of Hattin
The mountain named the “Horns of Hattin” is an extinct volcano. It’s a one-quarter-mile long ridge rising at each end into a peak. The volcano’s crater lies between the twin peaks (“horns”) of the mountain. The mountain reaches 1,816 feet above the Sea of Galilee and 1,135 feet above sea level.
This site is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, and it’s not on the Gospel Trail. But it is on the Jesus Trail, and it may be the location of the most famous sermon of all time – the Sermon on the Mount.
Sermon on the Mount
One Christian tradition identifies the Horns of Hattin as the mountain of the Sermon on the Mount. Another tradition places it at the Mount of Beatitudes near Capernaum.
In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Matthew says, “He [Jesus] went up on the mountain.”
In Luke’s record of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:17-49), Luke says, “And He [Jesus] descended with them, and stood on a level place.“
Critics frequently cite Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts as an example of a clear contradiction in Scripture. How could Jesus both “go up” and “descend” to give the Sermon on the Mount?
One possible solution is that Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (“level place“) represent distinct messages with a similar theme given on different occasions in different places.
The topography of the Horns of Hattin mountain suggests another possible answer to this dilemma for those who think, as I do, that both Matthew and Luke are reporting the same event.
In the aerial view above, the star marks the location on the Jesus Trail from which the picture at the top was taken. The red triangles 1, 2, 3 mark the three prominent peaks on Hattin. The North Horn is #1 and the South Horn is #3. An easy trail leading up the west side of Hattin to the plateau is marked in thick white. The trail running around the plateau between the horns is marked in thin white.
The low area toward the right end of the ridge in the picture at the top is part of the plateau. This is where the trail ascends. The plateau extends north behind the taller region in the middle (Peak #2) as shown in the aerial view.
The Hattin crater/plateau covers most of the area between the two horns of Hattin. The crater forms an extensive level plateau large enough to easily hold thousands of people. From both Matthew (7:28)and Luke (6:17-19) we learn that a large crowd of people heard the Sermon.
At the right is a picture of the middle third of the plateau looking east from Peak #2. In the distance is a tree line at the eastern edge of the plateau.
I think this plateau could be where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus went up on the mountain (per Matthew) to the top of one of the peaks to pray all night (per Luke). The next day he descended part way down the mountain to the plateau (or level place as Luke says) and delivered the Sermon on the Mount or Plain.
There are actually several “level places” on the mountain below the peaks where Jesus could have spoken His famous sermon. In addition to the crater plateau, there is a smaller plateau immediately below the North Horn to its south. Another possible spot is a plateau on the southern slope of the South Horn. At this location there is a Church of God Monument commemorating the site as the location for the Sermon on the Mount. The monument location is marked on the aerial view above; here’s a picture.
Both Matthew and Luke are scrupulously accurate with what they record. Jesus did go up on the mountain to speak, and He did descend from higher up on the mountain to a level place lower down on the mountain to speak. Neither writer gives the full story, but combining and harmonizing their accounts gives a fuller picture than either alone.
Mount of Beatitudes
A stronger tradition favors another stop on the Jesus Trail as the site for the Sermon, the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum. This site is not on the main Gospel Trail, but on a side branch.
The reason some prefer the Mount of Beatitudes is that Luke reports, “When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum.” (Luke 7:1) Many believe this verse indicates the Sermon site was near Capernaum.
Is this legitimate reasoning?
The verse only says Jesus went to Capernaum after the Sermon. It says nothing about the time elapsed or distance covered from the Sermon to Capernaum. Many times the Gospel writers jump over segments of time and distance with little or no indication of distances covered or time elapsed. They telescope time and distance, mentioning only events of their choice.
For example, after Jesus’ first miracle at the Cana wedding, John says, “He went down to Capernaum.” Next from Capernaum John says, “Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” In neither case does John mention that these trips were several days walk. They were longer than the trip from the Horns of Hattin to Capernaum. (John 2:11-13)
After the people of Nazareth almost threw Jesus off a cliff following His message in the Nazareth Synagogue, Luke himself immediately says, “And He came down to Capernaum.” Applying the same reasoning used to place the Sermon on the Mount near Capernaum, one could conclude that the cliff Jesus was almost thrown from was near Capernaum. Yet we know from earlier in Luke’s account that it was at Nazareth, 40 miles away. (Luke 4:16, 28-31)
Thus Luke’s statement that Jesus went to Capernaum after the Sermon does not imply the Sermon occurred very near Capernaum. It does not rule out the Horns of Hattin, a day’s walk of about 15 miles from Capernaum, as a possibility for the Sermon’s site.
Horns of Hattin vs. Mount of Beatitudes
In my opinion, the Mount of Beatitudes near Capernaum is an unlikely site for the Sermon on the Mount. It is not even really a mountain, but just one of many low hills around the Sea of Galilee. It’s only 575 feet above the Sea of Galilee and 115 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea (sea level) – hardly a mountain. In fact, as can be seen in the picture above, neighboring hills are higher and larger than the tiny hill called the Mount of Beatitudes.
Both Matthew and Luke seem to identify the Sermon site as a known, prominent mountain. They use the definite article, not an indefinite article, to refer to the site as “the mountain” instead of “a mountain“. Matthew says, “He went up on the mountain” (Matthew 5:1). Luke says, “He went off to the mountain” (Luke 6:12).
The Horns of Hattin mountain rises above the hills along the Sea of Galilee (including the Mount of Beatitudes). It is the highest feature to the west that can be seen from the shore. It’s the most prominent mountain in the area, and yet one that can be ascended easily (from the west) by huge crowds. There’s nothing to distinguish the Mount of Beatitudes as “the mountain” of Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts.
The Mount of Beatitudes tradition goes back to the 4th century when a Byzantine church was built there. The current Roman Catholic church was built in 1938. During the last century the Mount of Beatitudes has been popularized as the Sermon’s location, primarily, I believe, for commercial and tourist reasons. Previously, the Horns of Hattin mountain was generally thought to be the Sermon’s location.
Historian Stanley Lane-Poole (1854-1931) was a British orientalist, archaeologist, and professor of Arabic Studies at Dublin University. Writing of the Battle of Hattin he said,
“The Horn of Hattin was believed to be the very Mount of Beatitudes where the Saviour taught the people the blessedness of peace. The Mount now bore witness to not peace, but a sword.”
(From Lane-Poole’s 1898 book Saladin: The All-Powerful Sultan and the Uniter of Islam, p 216.)
The 1915 edition of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia agrees. The article on the Sea of Galilee says,
“From the northern parts of the lake [the Sea of Galilee] the Horns of Ḥaṭṭīn, the traditional Mount of Beatitudes, may be seen through the rocky jaws of the gorge.”
The Horns of Hattin is a likely spot for the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the most prominent mountain in the midst of the Galilean locales that Jesus frequented. It also has the right topography which fits the harmonized Matthew and Luke descriptions.
For this reason it’s good that the site is on the Jesus Trail. It gives the hiker a chance to visit what, in my opinion, is the most likely site for the Sermon on the Mount, the most famous sermon in the history of the world.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the eleventh installment in the Hike the Bible series reviewing major hiking trails in the Lands of the Bible.
Read the prequels:
1. Hike the Bible – Jesus Trail (with video)
2. Hike the Bible – Gospel Trail (with video)
3. Hike the Bible – Jesus Trail vs. Gospel Trail
4. Hike the Bible – Nazareth
5. Hike the Bible – Zippori
6. Hike the Bible – Mash’had
7. Hike the Bible – Cana (with video)
8. Hike the Bible – Roman Road
9. Hike the Bible – Via Maris
10. Hike the Bible – Horns of Hattin
Read the sequel:
12. Hike the Bible – Arbel Cliffs
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Wednesday April 4, 2012 A.D.
Read my March 2012 newspaper column:
Hike the Bible
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)