Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Brief History

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people." Matthew 4:23. "Galilee" is one of the most famous place-names to Christians. Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, he lived most of his life in the region of Galilee, in northern Israel. Most of his ministry and miracles took place in the Galilee.

Galilee is about 50 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west. Roughly speaking everything north and east of the modern city of Haifa is known as "Galilee," and now, as in ancient times, it is Israel's lushes region. In the spring the valleys and slopes become an ocean of wildflowers and blossoming trees. Beginning in March the area is covered by a vast blanket of green. The fertile land is a texture of orange groves, vineyards and fruit orchards, and it is the site of most of Israel's collective farms (kibbutzim).

After the death of Solomon, the Galilee formed the northern part of the Kingdom of Israel. However, the ancient boundaries are indistinct. In the 1st century AD, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus defined them as extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the west and the Jordan River to the east, from a line roughly corresponding to the modern Israel-Lebanon border to the north and Samaria to the south. At the time of Jesus, the Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, with the title of Tetrarch (from Greek "tetrarches"), literally "governor of a fourth part" (of Palestine). Because of Galilee's great fertility, it was a very populous part of the country. Josephus recorded that it had 204 villages, each with a population of no less than 15,000, making a total of three million! Although Josephus was governor of the Galilee for a time, historians believe the figure is exaggerated. It does indicate, however, that the region was heavily populated at the time of Jesus.

Galilee is derived from the Hebrew galil, meaning "circle" of "circuit." Isaiah (9:1) called the region "Galilee ha-gohim" or "Galilee of the gentiles" (NIV) or "Galilee of the nations" (KJV), reflecting the fact that from the 8th century to the 2nd century BC, it was controlled successively by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians and Seleucids. The region was not governed by the Jews until 80 BC, when Alexander Janneus subdued the area tempted to Judaist the population. Over these six centuries the region experienced constant migration as foreigners moved into the region and freely mixed with the Jews. By the time of Jesus there were so much foreign influence that Galileans could be recognized by their distinctive accent, as in the case of Peter when confronted in the courtyard of the home of the High Priest Caiaphas on the night of Jesus' betrayal: "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away." (Matthew 26:73). Among Roman administrators the Galilee had a reputation as a hotbed of subversive activity, while the conservative elders in Jerusalem regarded the region as a heathen province riddled with religious cults. This varied community was open to new ideas and more alert to the realities of life in the Roman Empire than the aloof inhabitants of Jerusalem who despised their northern cousins as country bumpkins.