LOWER GALILEE


"Galilee of the nations" (Isa. 9:1)

Galilee was a region in northern Palestine that was controlled at different times by the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, and Roman Empires. Under the Romans it became a fixed administrative area (ca. 57 B.C.). Herod Antipas, for example, was tetrarch of Galilee after the death of his father, Herod the Great (4 B.C.; see Luke 3:1). Because the Israelites never succeeded in driving out the Canaanites who "dwelt among them" (Judg. 1:30-33), and since Galilee was surrounded by foreign nations whose populations mixed freely with the Jews, this region was called by Isaiah, "Galilee of the nations" (Isa. 9:1). The name "Galilee" comes from the Hebrew galil which means a circle. The word "nations" is from the Hebrew goim, which can also be translated "gentiles." Thus the phrase "Galilee of the nations" might also be translated "in the district (or region) of the gentiles," reflecting the fact that Galilee often comprised a mixed population of Jews and gentiles.

Galilee is composed of several subregions, including Upper Galilee (most of which is in Lebanon today), Lower Galilee, and the Sea of Galilee (see Sea of Galilee). Upper and Lower Galilee are distinguished by differences in altitude, climate, and vegetation. The mountains of Lower Galilee are less than 2,000 feet high; whereas those of Upper Galilee attain almost twice that height. Upper Galilee is fragmented into isolated hills and deep valleys. Lower Galilee is more open: the valleys run between and parallel to the mountains, connecting the coast with the Jordan Valley and the Sea of Galilee. These valley roads carried the commerce and military might of the ancient world, making Lower Galilee a focus of international concern.

According to Josephus (lst century A.D.), "the cities [of Galilee] lie here very thick; and the very many villages ... are everywhere so full of people, by the richness of their soil, that the very least of them contain above fifteen thousand in habitants" (III Wars iii.2). The figures provided by Josephus seem high (else where he mentions some 200 towns and villages, making a total of more than 3,000,000 inhabitants in Galilee!), but his description of a highly populated region accords with what is known about Galilee in that period. What was true of Galilee, in general, applied more specifically to Lower Galilee because of its rich soils and abundant rainfall and because there was more level ground. Lower Galilee was one of the favored regions for settlement. Here, also, "Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity" (Matt. 9:35).

Selected Views of Lower Galilee

An extinct volcano called the "Horns of Hattin" where, in 1187 A.D., Saladin handed the Crusaders their final defeat. The narrow valley leading to the Plain of Gennesaret (northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee), was also called the "Valley of the Robbers." Bandits used to plunder caravans as they travelled up and down this strategic pass. Herod the Great (38 B.C.), for example, I gathered a force at the village of Arbela to purge Galilee of the "robbers that were in the caves" above the pass (I Wars xvi.2-5). This was also the way of the in ternational highway called the Via Maris, and the road used by Jesus when he traveled from Nazareth to Capernaum (see Sea of Galilee). The Plain of Gennesaret was the place where Jesus and his disciples landed after a severe storm on the lake. As they | traveled through the plain on their way to Capernaum, there was brought to Jesus many who were sick, "and as many as touched [his garment] were made well" (Mark 6: 53-56) .

The Turan Valley is just north of the mountains of Nazareth. The valley carried the most important highway through Lower Galilee, connecting the port city of Acco/Ptolemais with the Sea of Galilee and Jordan Valley. According to tradition, the incident of Jesus' disciples plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath took place in this valley (see Matt. 12:1-8). In the foreground are the ruins of Sepphoris, an important city of Lower Galilee. It was located 5 miles northwest of Nazareth. Herod Antipas "built a wall about Sepphoris" and made it the capital of Galilee before he moved the capital to Tiberias (XVIII Ant. ii.1). The mostly Jewish population Sepphoris supported the Romans in the First Jewish Revolt (66-73 A.D.).

Cana of Galilee was the home of Nathanael, the same who inquired of Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46). When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to meet him, he said: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47; 21:2). In this same Cana of Galilee, Jesus performed his first public miracle by changing water into wine at the wedding feast: "And [Jesus] manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him" John 2:1-11). Later from Cana, Jesus healed the nobleman's son, who was sick in Capernaum (John 4:46-54). Kefar Kana is 4 miles northeast of Nazareth. A FRANCISCAN CHURCH is built over the spot where it is believed Jesus turned the water into wine. The SAINT NATHANAEL CHURCH is built where, according to tradition, Nathanael was born. Archaeologists, however, identify Cana of Galilee with Khirbet Qana which is in the Netofa Valley, about 9 miles north of Nazareth (see Holy Land map).


Nazareth was the home of Joseph and Mary, as well as the town in which Jesus grew up. In his day, it was a small agricultural village with about 2,000 inhabitants. When Philip said to Nathanael, "We have found him, of whom ... the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth," Nathanael promptly asked of Philip,"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:45-46). Nazareth itself was small, but its position between two international highways gave it a good view of the ancient world. To the south was the Jezreel Valley where many events from Israelite history took place. Through this valley passed the merchants, as well as the armies of Rome (see Bible Study- Lower Galilee).


Bible Study- Lower Galilee

Nazareth was the village of Jesus' youth, where "Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:51-52). It is significant to note that Nazareth was only 5 miles southeast of the Roman capital of Galilee, Sepphoris, and that Nazareth overlooked the Jezreel Valley. George Adam Smith, in his Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1894), described Nazareth and its relationship to the valleys around it: "The village lies on the most southern of the ranges of Lower Galilee, and on the edge of this just above the Plain of Esdraelon [Jezreel Valley]. You cannot see the surrounding country, for Nazareth rests in a basin; but the moment you climb to the edge of this, which is everywhere within the limit of the village boys' playground, what a view you have! ... The pressure and problems of the world outside must have been felt by the youth of Nazareth as by few others; yet the scenes of prophetic missions to it, Elijah's and Elisha's, were also within sight. A vision of the kingdoms of the world was as possible from this village as from the mount of temptation. But the chief lesson which Nazareth teaches is the possibility of a pure home and a spotless youth in [the] face of [an] evil world" (Smith, pp. 282-283). The following passages from the New Testament reflect only a few of the events that took place in Lower Galilee.
-- Isa.7: 14; Luke 1 :26-38; Matt. 1: 18-25. Gabriel announced the coming of Christ, who was to be named Jesus.

-- Matt. 2:21-23; Luke 2:1-7. Mary and Joseph left Nazareth to go to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. After returning from Egypt, Mary and Joseph made Nazareth their home.

-- Matt. 2:23; Luke 2:39, 51-52. Jesus grew up in Nazareth.

-- John 2:1-11. Jesus' first miracle was performed in Cana of Galilee.

-- Luke 4:16-30. Jesus gave his first recorded sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth. Not only was he rejected, but the people threatened to take his life by throwing him from the mountain known today as the Mount of Precipitation.

-- John 4:46-54. From Cana, Jesus healed the nobleman's son, who was in, Capernaum.

-- Matt. 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6. Jesus was rejected a second time in Nazareth, "and he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them."

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