The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee view from the South
The Sea of Galilee view from the South

The Sea of Galilee is a unique lake and the only fresh water body in the world situated below sea level.


At the northwest edge of the lake a hill rises which is called Tel Kinorot. Around 4000 years ago, there was a city called Kinar at this location, the name of a local god. His wife’s name, Kinnereth, was given to the lake which is mentioned in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible.


Later, it bore a name of Ginnesar, after a local fishing village. When King Herod Antipas built a city on the western shore of the sea, it acquired another name: the Sea of Tiberias which is recorded in the Gospel of John. 


The Sea of Galilee has a circumference of 53 km (33 miles), 21 km (13 miles) long and over 13 km (8 miles) wide. The depth is an average 26m (85 feet) with deepest area around 44m (144 feet). Along with the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee is the lowest in the world at 210m (650 feet) below sea level.


From ancient times, people have settled here, thanks to the warm climate and abundance of water and fish for food and many of them are known from the pages of the New Testament.


Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote about this region and the events that occurred there. Here is what he says about this beautiful area, sometimes called the fruit basket of Israel:


"The country also that lies against this lake has the same name of Gennesareth, it's nature is wonderful, as well as its beauty, it's soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there, for the temper of the air is so well mixed, that it agrees very well with those several sorts, particularly walnuts... there palm trees also, which grow best in hot air, fig trees also and olive trees grow near them. One may call it an ambition of nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another, to agree together."

The Ministry of Jesus in Galilee

The Gospel of Matthew tells us,

 "When Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
“The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light,
And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death,
Upon them a Light dawned”
(Matthew 4:12-16).


Following the narrative of the Gospel of John, we can trace the route of the travels of Jesus between Galilee and Judea and the calling of disciples Philip and Nathanael.

“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’… ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.’ Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that’” (John 1:43, 48-50).


Then Jesus visits Cana,

 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding”            (John 2:1-2).


After the wedding,

“After this, He went down to Capernaum with His mother and brothers and His disciples. There they stayed for a few days” (John 2:12).


From here, He traveled on to Jerusalem,

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 2:13).


He left Jerusalem after the feast,

“After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them, and baptized” (John 3:22).


While in Judea, Jesus heard that the Pharisees were becoming aware of His growing followers, so He left the area,

“So He left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now He had to go through Samaria” (John 4:3).


After successful events in Samaria Jesus decides to go back to Cana and performed His second miracle,

“Once more He visited Cana in Galilee, where He previously turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live’” (John 4:46,49-50). 


As the Feast of Tabernacles approached, Jesus followed the Law of Moses and went to Jerusalem again,

"After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem"  (John 5:1).


His activity, sermons and healing on Sabbath day made staying in Jerusalem extremely dangerous and so He had to leave,

"After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. When evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum" (John 6:1, 16).

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill Him" (John 7:1). 


(It is important to understand that John does not mean "all the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill Jesus". The same Jews in the Galilee region did not seem to wish to kill Him. When John uses the term Jews, he probably means Judeans who lived in Judea).