Out of the Jezreel Plain emerges a mountain, perfectly rounded and symmetrical, 1400 feet above its surroundings, 1900 above sea level, a constant reference point in Galilee.
In the drama of its thrust, it has for ages attracted religious feeling. The tribes of Zebulon and Issachar are told to rejoice (Deuteronomy 33):
19 "They will call peoples to the mountain;
There they will offer righteous sacrifices;
For they will draw out the abundance of the seas,
And the hidden treasures of the sand."
Since Tabor stands on the border between them, it was probably the intended mountain. Hosea later condemned the cult on Tabor (Hosea 5:1)
Its thrust also led the Psalmist to couple it with the much higher Hermon (9146 feet above the sea): "Tabor and Hermon shout for joy at Your name." (Psalms 89:12)
Tabor, therefore, could compete with Hermon in the Byzantine period for the honor of being the "high mountain" upon which Jesus appeared transfigured to Peter, John and James (Matthew 17) . In the late fourth century it won the contest, thanks to support from St. Jerome -- and, no doubt, from aging Byzantine tour guides.
Here, then, we recall Jesus' conversation with Moses and Elijah, both of whom received the Word from God on a mountain in Sinai. After Peter proposes building huts for the three, a voice comes from a cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" The words echo those of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him."
In the period of the judges, Barak was told to gather 10,000 men of Naphtali and Zebulon at Mt. Tabor (Judges 4:6). It is hard to imagine anyone attacking down such a steep slope: soldiers and horses would have had to keep the brakes on. An army might take refuge here, however, or safely muster before an assault. Thus in preparing the revolt against Rome, Josephus, then a general leading the Jewish rebels, fortified the top of Tabor with a wall, parts of which are still visible. The Roman general, feigning retreat, managed to lure the Jewish forces down to the plain, where he overwhelmed them. The story...
Today two churches, a Greek Orthodox and a Roman Catholic, grace the top of the mountain. A bus cannot negotiate the zigzag road. One ascends either by taxi (found just north of the Beduin village Daburiyya) or by foot, following either the road or the marked trail. The view toward Megiddo, from the drive leading toward the Catholic church, makes it very worthwhile.
Mt. Tabor in the Jewish Revolt
Josephus Flavius, The Jewish War III 7.31 (Whiston translation):
And these were the hard circumstances that the people of Gamala were in. But now Vespasian went about other work by the by, during this siege, and that was to subdue those that had seized upon Mount Tabor, a place that lies in the middle between the great plain and Scythopolis, whose top is elevated as high as thirty furlongs and is hardly to be ascended on its north side; its top is a plain of twenty-six furlongs, and all encompassed with a wall. Now Josephus erected this so long a wall in forty days' time, and furnished it with other materials, and with water from below, for the inhabitants only made use of rain water. As therefore there was a great multitude of people gotten together upon this mountain, Vespasian sent Placidus with six hundred horsemen thither. Now, as it was impossible for him to ascend the mountain, he invited many of them to peace, by the offer of his right hand for their security, and of his intercession for them. Accordingly they came down, but with a treacherous design, as well as he had the like treacherous design upon them on the other side; for Placidus spoke mildly to them, as aiming to take them, when he got them into the plain; they also came down, as complying with his proposals, but it was in order to fall upon him when he was not aware of it: however, Placidus's stratagem was too hard for theirs; for when the Jews began to fight, he pretended to run away, and when they were in pursuit of the Romans, he enticed them a great way along the plain, and then made his horsemen turn back; whereupon he beat them, and slew a great number of them, and cut off the retreat of the rest of the multitude, and hindered their return. So they left Tabor, and fled to Jerusalem, while the people of the country came to terms with him, for their water failed them, and so they delivered up the mountain and themselves to Placidus.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(r), (c) Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. (www.Lockman.org)