Israel's Good Name


In Galilee, Israel on August 9, 2015 at 5:08 AM

The other week I went on a two-part trip, of two consecutive days, to Bar’am and the surrounding area, not far east of Ma’alot in the Galilee. The first trip was with my parents and my brother and we were only going with the purpose of visiting some graves (keverim) of sages and prophets of yore. We drove on the Old Northern Road and then turned onto Road 8967, passing the national park of Bar’am and pulling over at the signs denoting keverim.

Kever of Nachman Chatufa

Kever of Nachman Chatufa

The first kever was that of Nachman Chatufa, a boy wonder of sorts who was born some 1,500 years ago speaking words of Torah and prophesies upon birth. Shocked, his father muted him and it wasn’t until Nachman’s 12th birthday that he opened his mouth releasing a torrent of prophesies – then fell over and died. The second kever, about a hundred metres south, is that of Mar Zutra, an Amora who lived in Babylon some 1,400 years ago or so. When we were leaving Mar Zutra’s kever we noticed that there was an old archaeological dig between the kever and the old Christian cemetery of Bar’am (or as they’d say, Biram). Upon closer examination we found “abandoned” and unmarked wall sections still partially buried, a carved stone that looks like it might be an ornate lintel or something along those lines and, of course, loads of potsherds.

Unnamed archaeological dig

Unnamed archaeological dig

I’m very curious to learn more about this dig but haven’t found anything online and I’m waiting to hear back from the Antiquities Authority. A hundred and forty metres north of Nachman Chatufa’s kever is the grave of the prophet Ovadya (Obadiah), of Biblical fame. It was he who hid one hundred prophets from the wrath of the wicked king and queen of Israel at the time, Ahab and Jezebel, sustaining them in their cave hideouts until he depleted his great reserves. It was also he who was the “pawn” in arranging the meeting between King Ahab and Eliyahu (Elijah) the Prophet before the famous sacrificial showdown on Mount Carmel. I found his story and his kever location to be most interesting. We drove back home after that, and it was on the next day around noontime that I set out again to visit more sites in the area – this time alone.

Overgrown ruins of Bar'am

Overgrown ruins of Bar’am

I began with the Bar’am National Park, which we had visited as a family years ago before I started my blog, hosting one of the most beautiful ancient synagogues in the country. One of the smallest national parks I’ve ever been to, there are many unmarked ruins of houses around the parking lot and then pieces from the great synagogue on display.

Synagogue pieces on display

Synagogue pieces on display

The showcase of the park is, of course, the aforementioned synagogue from the Talmudic era. With excavations on the synagogue starting in 1905, the magnificent columned structure had been slowly uncovered and its architecture and layout have proven most interesting to researchers.

Bar'am's main synagogue

Bar’am’s main synagogue

There is another, smaller synagogue just a few hundred metres from the main synagogue that was discovered even earlier by a British survey team. The lintel, with an inscription by Yosef HaLevi – the stonemason who carved it, now resides at the Louvre Museum in Paris with a replica being held at the Bar-Dor Museum in Kibbutz Bar’am. Unfortunately, this smaller synagogue is unmarked so I cannot be sure if I saw it or not. Just after the main synagogue is an old church of the Maronite sect of Christianity, with the remains of their village Biram which was built on the remains of the ancient Jewish settlement.

Entrance to the Maronite church

Entrance to the Maronite church

After leaving the national park, I kept driving a bit further on the Old Northern Road until I reached a small access road to the peak of Mount Shifra (elevation: 730 metres) where KKL-JNF built an observation tower. When I reached the top I was disappointed to see the area blocked off due to construction – I can only hope that they are improving the Bar’am Tower. Abandoning the area I drove back west until I got to the Pa’ar Cave, parking at the roadside gravel lot. Getting out of my car I noticed something strange at the edge of the parking lot… What I found were two or three wild boar corpses being consumed by maggots, presumably the results of hunting/poisoning from the way they were laid out (just guesswork).

Fan-fingered gecko

Fan-fingered gecko

What I found next, in the grass nearby, brought me great joy – a clean skull! Unfortunately, the impressive tusks are on the lower jaw which becomes separated from the skull after decomposing, but there are still smaller tusks on the upper jaw – this image is the best I can find to illustrate the layout of boar jaws. Grabbing some newspaper I claimed my prize and the skull is now in my backyard getting sun-bleached everyday until it is fit for displaying. With the skull safely locked in the car I headed on over to the cave, just about a hundred metres from the road via a dirt trail. When I reached the cave I could hear the sounds of humanity emanating from the chasm, as a group of merry-makers had also chosen this hour to visit the cave.

Visitors in the Pa'ar Cave

Visitors in the Pa’ar Cave

And so I shared my brief spelunking experience with these fine individuals, enjoying the light of their flashlights as I had forgotten to pack one. I intend to return one day and properly explore this karstic sinkhole as I’ve heard the cave goes very deep/far and I’d like to verify that myself.

Pa'ar Cave from the outside

Pa’ar Cave from the outside

Continuing on to my trip’s final destination, I drove up the nearby Mount Adir (elevation: 1,008 metres) to hike the brief summit trail. Just as I was reaching the peak I saw what I believe was an eagle of sorts taking flight from a fence post; I’d love to have gotten a picture. At the new top I parked and continued on foot headed along the trail with the green marker to the Mount Adir lookout. Dedicated in 2012 to the soldiers who died in battle during the Second Lebanon War (2006), the wooden balcony provides a great view overlooking Lebanon, including many of the battle sites where Israeli lives were tragically lost. One thing that piqued my interest was looking down on the Tegart fort on Mount Metat (interestingly enough, the gematria of Metat in Hebrew is 840 and the mountain’s elevation is 840 metres above sea level).

Mount Adir lookout over the border

Mount Adir lookout over the border

Having read that there was an ancient fortress discovered and partially uncovered from the 1960’s, I set out on the green trail to find it. Continuing onward and onward along the flat peak, I circumvented a military installation and discovered that I was actually heading down the mountain back towards the Pa’ar Cave. Unable to ascertain whether or not the green trail was circular I turned back and it was when I was passing a rusted piece of army bunker, along the northen edge of the summit, that I noticed a wall partially uncovered. I believe that this must be the ancient fortress, which is thousands of years old and is believed to have been built by the Phoenicians. With that I headed back to the car, pausing briefly to examine the remains of a kestrel in the grass, and drove back down the mountain to home.

  1. In my experience the plural of kever is kevarim, which is usually pronounced as kvarim on the street 🙂

    • You are most correct, R N! I only spell it as “keverim” for continuity as for many of my readers, the word is foreign. I guess I am taking creative licence with the spelling.

  2. As an interesting twist, cemetery is called Beit Kevarot in Hebrew, pronounced on the street as Kvarot 🙂

  3. […] from Lebanon as well (most of the Christians coming from nearby Biram, as mentioned in the Bar’am […]

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