SEA OF GALILEE
"And great crowds followed him" (Matt. 4:25)
Writing in 1894, George Adam Smith identified seven dominant features of
Galilee: (1) a close dependence on Lebanon; (2) an abundance of water; (3)
great fertility; (4) volcanic elements such as extinct craters, dikes of
basalt, hot springs, and earthquakes; (5) great roads and high ways; (6)
a large population with busy industries and commerce; and (7) neigh boring
provinces "pouring upon Galilee the full influence of their Greek life."
Smith concluded: "These seven features of Galilee in general were concentrated
upon her Lake and its coasts. The Lake of Galilee was the focus of the whole
province" (Smith, p. 284).
Throughout history different names have been used for the Sea of Galilee:
The "Sea of Chinneroth" and "Chinnereth" are used in
the Old Testament(Josh. 12:3; 13:27);"Water of Gennesar" in the
accounts of the Hasmonean revolt (I Macc. 11 :67); the "Sea of Galilee,"
the "Sea," the "lake of Gennesaret," and the "Sea
of Tiberias" in the New Testament (see John 6:1; 17-27; Luke 5:1; John
21:1); and the "Lake of Gennesareth" in Josephus' commentary on
the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (III Wars x.7). Today in Israel the
lake is known as Lake Kinneret. Most of the Christian world, however, still
uses the name Sea of Galilee because of its association with the ministry
The warm climate and fertile soil of the plains around the Sea of Galilee
nourished a variety of extended-season crops, including tropical varieties
such as dates and bananas. Josephus' description of the plain of Gennesaret
included walnuts, fig trees, olives, and grapes. He called the plain "the
ambition of nature" (III Wars x.8; see Mark 6:53-56). Domestic and
foreign trade were also important to the economy of the lake region. Merchant
caravans from all directions passed along the shores of the lake, including
some loaded with grain from the Golan region. Thus market day brought villagers
from round about to sell their produce in the cities by the lake, all of
which contributed to the busy life and economy of the Sea of Galilee. This
was the world in which Jesus labored, where "a great crowd followed
him and thronged about him" (Mark 5:24; italics added). In his sermons,
Jesus told of the lake, the land around it, the roads, and the people who
lived and worked in the area. He used images that the people could relate
to, so that the people could more easily under stand his message. In this
setting Jesus told many of the parables, including the parables of the sower,
the wheat and the tares, the grain of mustard seed, the leaven, the treasure
hid in the field, the pearl of great price, and the net cast into the sea
(see Matt. 13).
Selected Views of the Sea of Galilee Region
The first picture on this page shows the ancient synagogue at Capernaum.
This particular synagogue was built in the 3rd to 4th century A.D. but reminds
us of the synagogue in Capernaum built, by the Roman officer for the Jews
in Jesus' day (see Luke 7:1-5). Capernaum is located on the northern shore
of the Sea of Galilee, about 2.5 miles from the mouth of the Jordan River.
It was one of the busiest towns in Galilee and the center of Jesus' Galilean
ministry (Mark 1:21; 3:1; Luke 4:31-38; John 2:11-12). In the Gospels, Capernaum
is called "his own city" after Jesus with drew from Nazareth (Matt.
4:12-17; 9:1). Here, in the synagogue of Capernaum, Jesus taught: "I
am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who, believes
in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).
Jesus summarized the basic gospel themes in what is known as the Sermon
on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). The memory of the sermon is preserved in the CHURCH
OF THE BEATITUDES, which was built by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi
on a hill (Mount of Beatitudes) overlooking the Sea of Galilee The Church's
octagonal shape is symbolic of the eight beatitudes. (The fifth-century
pilgrim Aetheria identified a hill near the sea as the traditional place
where Jesus did much of his preaching.) In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus
taught many lessons, including the one to "Love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you" (Matt. 5:44). A small cove is visible
in the upper left hand corner of this picture, reminding us of a time when
"great crowds gathered about [Jesus], so that he got into a boat"
and taught the people who were on the shore (Matt. 13:1-2)
tradition places the Multiplication of "loaves and fishes" near
the sea on a spot known in Greek as Heptapegon, "Seven Wells,"
which has been shortened to Tabgha. When Jesus saw the great multitude that
had "followed him on foot out of the towns, he had compassion on them,
and healed their sick." There is an altar inside the CHURCH OF THE
MULTIPLICATION OF BREAD, on which Jesus is said to have placed five loaves
and two fishes. From these he fed "about five thousand men, beside
women and children" (Matt. 14:13-21). Behind the altar of the church
is a beautiful mosaic which shows a basket containing four loaves of bread,
and two lake fish, one on either side of the basket.
A short distance away, by the shore, is the CHURCH OF THE PRIMACY, where,
by tradition, Peter received the commission from Jesus: "Feed my lambs
... Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17).
The village of Kursi was at the point where the road leading up to Golan
meets the shore road. According to an early Christian tradition, this was
the place where Jesus caused certain demons to enter the bodies of pigs
grazing on a nearby hill (see Matt. 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39). A short distance
south of Kursi is the only spot along the eastern shore where the mountains
reach to the lake. A Byzantine church was built at Kursi in the middle of
the 5th century A D. to identify this spot as the place of the miracle.
Bible Study - Sea of Galilee
The number of towns that flourished around the Sea of Galilee during the
1st century A.D., indicates that this was an important center of the religious,
social, political, and commercial life of all Galilee. The names of the
towns include Ammathus, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Chorazin, Gennessaret, Gergesa,
Hippus, Magdala, Philoteria, Sennabris, and Tiberias. The excavation of
these towns has revealed the prosperity of the region in all periods.
-- Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 2:13-14. Peter, Andrew, James, and other
apostles were called as Jesus walked by the sea: "And he said to them,
'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."'
-- Mark 3:7-12; Luke 5:1-3. Jesus spoke to the multitudes from a boat, "lest
they should crush him; for he had healed many, so that all who had diseases
pressed upon him to touch him."
-- Luke 5:4-11; John 21:6-8. The sea yielded a "great shoal of fish"
when Jesus told the disciples to cast their nets into the lake.
-- Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25. Jesus stilled a storm on the
Sea of Galilee, showing that he was also master of the elements.
-- Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:16-21. Jesus walked on the water
to his disciples whose "boat by this time was many furlongs distant
from the land, beaten by the wave; for the wind was against them."
-- Matt. 13:1-52; Mark 4:1-34; Luke 8:4-18. Jesus taught a number of parables
from a boat as the people sat on the shore.
-- Matt. 14:34-36; Mark 6:53-56. Many people were healed as Jesus walked
along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, through the Plain of
-- Mark 14:28; 16:7; John 21:1-23. After his resurrection, "Jesus revealed
himself again to the disciples by the sea of Tiberias."
-- Matt. 8:5-17; 9:1-8,18-26; 12:9-14; Mark 1:21-34; 2:1-12; 3:1-6; 5:22-43;
Luke 4:31-41; 6:6-11; 5:17-26; 7:1-10; 8:40-56; John 4:46-54. Jesus healed
many people during the years of his Galilean ministry.
-- Matt. 15:1-20; 18:15-35; Mark 2:23-28; 7:1-23; 9:33-50; Luke 6:1-5; John
6:22-71. Jesus gave many sermons in the synagogue of Capernaum, including
one on the "bread of life."