peak rising 588 m above sea level in the midst of the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel (map reference 186 × 232). It is the scene of some of the most dramatic events in the Bible, such as the clash on the border of three Israelite tribes (Jos. 19), the battle between Deborah and Siserah (Jgs. 4), and the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mt. 17:1–13 and parallels).
At the crest of the mountain, above early remains, a monumental church was erected in the early twentieth century, on the same plan as a former Crusader church, whose excavation was never properly published. The earliest remains are the walls surrounding the summit, which enclose an area of about 75 acres. A survey and a small probe carried out by Mordechai Aviam in 1984 for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel revealed Hellenistic sherds at the foundations of the walls. The walls may be the remains of the Hellenistic fortifications mentioned as Ataburion by Polybius (Hist. 184.108.40.206) during the Syrian Wars, in the reign of Antiochus II, in 218 BCE. It is unclear whether there was a town on the summit then or only a large fortress. There is no doubt, however, that the same wall was referred to by Josephus Flavius when he wrote about “fortifying” the mountain in forty days (War 4.1.8). The fort was conquered by Roman troops after a brief battle at the end of the war in Galilee in 67 CE. [See First Jewish Revolt.]
At the beginning of the Byzantine period the mountain became a holy place associated with the tradition of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Literary sources attest to three churches built on the summit to commemorate the three tabernacles mentioned in the New Testament (for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus). Remains of Byzantine construction have been found under the Crusader buildings. Evidence of monastic life was found by Bagatti in underground chambers, including a cross and Greek letters in red paint on white plaster. According to a ninth-century monk, Epiphanius, 4,340 steps cut into the rock led to the top of the mountain; some of these were unearthed during construction of the modern church (Wilkinson, 1977, p. 121).
In 1101 a church and a Benedictine monastery were built on top of Mt. Tabor by the order of Tancred, the prince of Galilee, beside the Greek church that had probably been there since the Byzantine period. The monastery built in 1888 and the church built in 1919 covered the remains of the Crusader and Byzantine structures.
Under the Ayyubids a large fortress was built, in opposition to the Crusader capital in the coastal city of Akko. [See Akko.] The work started in 1209 and ended about five years later. In 1217 the Crusaders failed to take the fortress; it was ruined by the Arabs themselves in the same year. The remains of this fortress are the most substantial on the mountain today.
- Bagatti, Bellarmino. “Una grotta bizantina sul Monte Tabor.” Studium Biblicum Franciscanum/Liber Annuus 27 (1977): 119–122.
- Loffreda, Stanislao. “Una tomba romana al Monte Tabor.” Studium Biblicum Franciscanum/Liber Annuus 28 (1978): 241–246.
- Wilkinson, John. Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades. Warminster, 1977. .