In I Kings18-19, Elijah the prophet challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt. Carmel whose god will miraculously consume the sacrificial offering, sending fire from heaven. Needless to say, Elijah wins handily, thus making himself unpopular with the Queen Jezebel. Elijah flees to the desert where he enters a cave and experiences the revelation of God in the still small voice. Though the text says clearly that the contest was on Mt. Carmel and the cave was at Mt. Sinai, hundreds of miles away, Jewish, Moslem, and Christian traditions associate Elijah with just about every cave on Mt. Carmel and there are dozens.
The other day we were looking for a short easy hike in the Haifa area, so that we could spend the afternoon hiking and finish in time for an evening movie there. We chose to explore Nachal Siach, a valley running from the Central Carmel business district on top of the ridge, down toward the sea. Around the time of the Crusades, Christian hermits used to live and meditate in the caves along this valley, believing that they were imitating Elijah. Later they were granted permission by the Pope to form a monastic order the Carmelites. As we hiked down the valley from the edge of the modern neighborhood of Carmeliya, we passed a couple of trickling springs of clear water, extensive terraces that the monks had once farmed (now lushly overgrown), and the remains of a large church, its graceful arches still intact among the rubble. When the Mamelukes drove out the Crusaders, according to Christian tradition, they slaughtered the monks who lived here hence another name of the valley, Valley of the Martyrs. We passed a cheerful, elderly Arab goatherd, laboriously climbing up the valley while his flock ranged over the side of the ridge. At the springs we found some young couples picnicking and wading. Farther down, we came to a large pool filled with the spring water, in the ruins of a country club operated here by a wealthy Haifa Arab before 1948. Landscaped terraces with the remains of fountains lie desolate and overgrown today but the pool is a pool, and there were some local teens swimming in it.
The proprietor of the club had built a set of cement steps straight up the side of the valley to the neighborhood of Kababir; these remain almost fully intact, and we climbed them (all 313). Kababir was an Arab village that has now been surrounded by Haifas expansion, but retains its identity as the only community of Ahmediya Moslems in Israel. The twin minarets of the mosque are a landmark visible for miles, as you come into Haifa from the south. We went in the gate of the mosque complex and were welcomed by an Ahmediya missionary assigned here from India (How long have you been here? Four years. Do you like it here? It is not in our hands.). There may be only 1,000 Ahmediyas in Israel, but the movement claims tens of millions of followers, mostly in India and Pakistan. The Sunni and Shiite Moslems consider them to be heretics, and not Moslems. The movement was founded in 1889 when Mirza Ghulam Ahmad proclaimed himself the messiah. He believed that Jesus did not die on the cross, but fled to Kashmir to minister to the ten lost tribes living there. He believed himself to be the promised second coming. The Ahmediyas, of course, believe that they are the true Moslems, and that they must bring the world to their belief by means of peaceful persuasion and education. One of the ways they do this is to publish the Koran in translation, and the visitors center in the mosque has a display of dozens of examples, including many Asian and African languages I had never heard of.
Just on the other side of the Carmel ridge is the Bahai complex representing another religion started by a 19th century Moslem (a Shiite in this case) who believed that he was the messiah. Maybe its strange, but maybe it isnt, that on this mountain, so loaded with messianic freight, we built during the Mandate period what used to be called Red Haifa the bastion of secular socialism in Israel.