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 of Jesus.

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)

Early Christian 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 Gennesaret.

-- 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."

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