the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Sea of Galilee
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
SEA OF GALILEE
i. Names.—The OT name Chinnereth had disappeared, so far as our purpose is concerned, by the time of the Maccabees, and in its place we find a variety of designations. It is then that the familiar name Gennesaret first makes its appearance in the τὸ ὕδωρ Γεννησάρ of 1 Maccabees 11:67. Josephus uses the forms λίμνη Γεννησάρ (BJ iii. x. 1), ὕδατα Γεννήσαρα (Ant. xiii. v. 7), λίμνη Γεννησαρῖτις (Ant. xviii. ii. 1; Vita, 65); Pliny has Gennesara (HN v. 15). In the Targums and other Jewish writings the name of the Sea appears as גְּנֵיסָר or גִּנּוֹסָר, these forms supplementing the Heb. Chinnereth. But though the word Gennesaret was so familiar to contemporary writers, it appears only once in the NT as applied to the Lake, in the ἡ λίμνη Γεννησαρέτ of Luke 5:1. Following close upon this, however, ἡ λίμνη occurs alone in Luke 5:2; Luke 8:22-23; Luke 8:33. The most popular name in the NT is ‘the Sea of Galilee’ (ἡ θάλασσα τῆς Γαλιλαίας), which occurs five times (Matthew 4:18; Matthew 15:29, Mark 1:16; Mark 7:31, John 6:1). The word ‘Sea’ (θάλασσα) stands alone in John 6:17-25, and the form ‘Sea of Tiberias’ (θάλασσα τῆς Τιβεριάδος) occurs in John 6:1; John 21:1. The modern designation, ‘Lake of Tiberias,’ does not occur in the NT. It is found for the first time as λίμνη Τιβερίς in Pausanias (John 21:7).
Many explanations have been offered of the origin of the word Gennesaret. Lightfoot (and others) sought to derive it from the OT Chinnereth, which it was supposed to replace. Such an origin, however, seems very improbable, not only on philological grounds, but because the latter name also remains simply transliterated in the LXX Septuagint as χενέρεθ, and was thus quite familiar to the Hellenistic world. Ritter (Geog. of Pal.) suggests that it is derived from נַּן אוֹצָר or נַּן עשֶׁר ‘garden of treasure,’ which term, of course, he refers to the Plain, deriving thence the name of the adjoining Sea. This process is quite natural, and probably correct, but still we may be permitted to doubt his derivation of the name. G. A. Smith (HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] 443 n. [Note: note.] ) has also noted that the form points to some compound of נַּן ‘garden,’ or נַּי valley; and to us this seems indisputable, so that on the whole we must admit that either the explanation given by Caspari (§ 64), נני סר (‘gardens of the [lake] basin’), or that of the older Rabbis (Ber. Rab 98), גני שׂד (‘gardens of the prince’), is most satisfactory. The termination in Gennesaret might then be regarded as the Aramaic determinative form, and compared with Nazareth from Nazara.
With reference to the name ‘Galilee,’ it has been said that it originally designated only that small tract of land given by Solomon to Hiram (1 Kings 9:11), and that the name gradually extended till in the days of the Maccabees it included Zebulun and Naphtali, so that only after this took place could the Sea be known by that name. Furrer (Wanderungen) has also drawn attention to the other names. He asserts that Gennesar or Gennesaritis is characteristic of the 1st cent., being found in Josephus, Pliny, and Strabo, while from the 2nd cent. onwards the official designation became ‘Sea of Tiberias’; and as proof of this statement he cites the Palestinian Talmud. He then ventures to infer that John 21:1 indicates a later date than the rest of the book demands, and at the same time he suggests that John 6:1 has been emended. This reasoning, however, seems inconclusive; for, apart from the fact that the Palestinian Talmud contains much that is old, it seems impossible, in view of the conservatism of the Rabbis, that such a name as ‘Sea of Tiberias’ should be found in their writings, unless it had been in common use for a considerable time. For the history of the district surrounding the Lake see art. Galilee.
ii. Description.—The Lake presents ‘a beautiful sheet of limpid water in a deeply depressed basin’ (BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] 2 ii. 380), its average below sea level being 682½ ft.; but with the season of the year the level may vary to the extent of 10 ft. The rise and fall are dependent on the rainy season on the one hand, and, on the other, on the melting of the snows on Hermon as the spring advances; and it is this latter cause that generally, in conjunction with the later rains, brings about the high level at the time of harvest (Joshua 3:15). But as the heavier rains decrease before the melting of the snow begins, there may have been already a fall of as much as 3 ft. even in March. The Sea is 13 miles long by 7 across at its broadest part—between Mejdel and Kersa; but in the clear Eastern atmosphere it looks much smaller than it really is. From no point on the western shore can it be seen in its whole extent at one time; but from the slopes above Tell Hûm, or from almost any point on the eastern shore, it is all visible. It is not quite oval, but rather pear- or harp-shaped (כִּנּוֹר), narrowing to the southern end. The sea level and the configuration of the shores have not changed to any considerable extent during the past nineteen centuries, so that, in so far as hills and valleys, ravines and slopes to the seashore are concerned, their present description gives a very true conception of what they were in Gospel days. On the west the hills are not so high and generally not so steep as on the eastern side; but they approach more closely to the shore, and are more rugged and stony. On the western side, from a short distance above what was once the western outlet of the Lake into the Jordan, and stretching some 3 miles up the Lake-side, the hills—here somewhat rounded and tame, and with but little that is picturesque in their form—slope down to the water’s edge. Then to the north of this comes a strip (Heb. רקח, which seems to justify the identification of Tiberias with the older Rakkath, Joshua 19:35; Megilla, 5b, 6a; G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] p. 447) about 2½ miles long and ¼ of a mile broad at its widest part, and at the north end of this is the modern town of Tiberias. Passing it, we have another 3 miles of sloping hills, broken about midway by the Wady Abu el-Amîs. At Mejdel we now enter el-Ghuweir, the well-known Plain of Gennesaret. Behind the village to the west is Wady Hamâm, known in the early centuries as בִּקְעַח אַרְבֵּאל, and containing in its cliffs the once famous caves of Arbela (Ant. xiv. xv. 4). This is certainly the wildest and most impressive gorge around the whole Lake. On its south side it bears some resemblance, though on a far grander scale, to the crags around Arthur’s Seat. There is the same perpendicular wall, but here it rises in places to a height of 1500 ft.; and there is also the same mass of broken rocks, making a steep slope to the plain below.
El-Ghuweir curves along the Lake from Mejdel to Khân Minyeh, a distance of 3 miles, and it has a breadth of one mile. In addition to the stream from Wady Hamâm, it is watered by three others from ‘Ain Mudauwarah, Wady Rabadï̀yeh, and Wady Leimôn, and these flow throughout the year. Just behind Khân Minyeh and its fountain ‘Ain et-Tîn at the N.W. corner of the Lake, the rounded hill Tell Oreime slopes down to the water’s edge, ending in a series of sharp rocks—the only place around the Lake where we find anything like a cliff beside the shore. Around the face of Tell Oreime there is a deep rock-cutting now used as a pathway, but in ancient times an aqueduct, as is attested by the discovery of the remains of the old piers of its continuation across the next valley to ‘Ain et-Tâbigha. Remains of masonry show that the water was led eastward as well as westward from the towers built around the springs of et-Tâbigha (Ἑπτάπηγον of Nicephorus), so that there can be little doubt that this is the spring of Capernaum mentioned by Josephus (BJ iii. x. 8). From this point onward to the Jordan the hills again extend down to the shore, but by gentler slopes than even to the south of Tiberias. Between et-Tâbigha and Tell Hûm the shore forms a number of semicircular creeks, which, with the sloping embankment at this point, assume the shape of amphitheatres. Studying the subject on the spot, the present author was convinced that one of these must be the place where the sermon from the boat was preached (Matthew 13:2 etc.). Something peculiar in the tones of our voices induced us to test the acoustic properties of the place, and we found that a speaker on the boat could be heard far up the slope, while the hum and bustle of a crowd on the shore would not disturb him.
After crossing the Jordan we meet with another plain—el-Batiha—corresponding to the one on the west, but somewhat more extensive. It is covered with green grass (Mark 6:39, John 6:10) at nearly all seasons of the year. With a breadth of 1 to 1½ miles, it extends 3 miles along the coast, and then narrows, extending nearly 3 miles more to Kersa, a short distance to the south of which we meet with the only steep place (Matthew 8:32) on the eastern side of the Lake. At this point there is practically no shore, but immediately the eastern rampart of hills—2000 ft. high, now bleak and bare, but showing streaks of green where the springs trickle out between the white sandstone and the black superimposed lava—begins to recede, leaving a plain ¼ to ½ mile broad, and this to the south of Kul at el-Husn widens out into the Ghor or Jordan Valley. At the village of Semakh, the southern end of the Lake forms a beautiful circular bay, which is enclosed by earth walls 16 to 32 ft. in height. There is deep water close in to the shore, and the currents manifestly wear away the rich alluvial soil. In so far as physical changes have taken place, we should expect that the land has suffered losses here, while there may have been slight gains by deposits on the shore of the plains of el-Batiha and el-Ghuweir (Gennesaret). What used to be the western outlet of the Jordan has also become silted up, for it must be remembered that in former times the Jordan flowed out from the two sides of a triangular island, now occupied by the ruins of Kerak—without doubt the remains of the once famous Taricheae (BJ iii. x. 1).
Compared with other lakes, the Sea of Galilee cannot be said to be deep. The maximum depth is from north to south along the course of the Jordan, and here it is 130 to 148 ft. according to the season [greater recorded depths have been proved to be in error], and except along the shores of the Plain of Gennesaret, deep water is reached all round the Lake within a few yards of the shore. The steep place at Kersa slopes down at once to a depth of 49 ft., and a short distance farther out the sounding gives 102 ft. A mile to the southeast of Tell Hûm the depth is 78 ft., and midway between Tiberias and Kersa it is 114.
One more notable feature of the Lake valley is to be found in the hot springs with which it abounds. The best known of these are at Hammam (cf. Josephus Vita, 16), south of Tiberias (132° to 144°), ‘Ain Bârideh (80°), ‘Ain Mudauwarah (73°), ‘Ain et-Tîn (82°), and ‘Ain et-Tâbigha (73° to 86°). Others certainly exist in the Lake itself. A brackish taste can be perceived at different places, and especially at a point ⅔ across between Tiberias and Kersa, where in the warmer water great shoals of fish are wont to congregate. It was probably the drinking from a spot of this kind that led Strabo (Geog. xvi. 45) to express so bad an opinion of the waters of the Lake (ὕδωρ μοχθηρὸν λιμναῖον). These springs are all more or less sulphurous, and in all the centuries they have been used for medicinal purposes—especially those at Tiberias (BJ ii. xxi. 6). A reference to these in the Talmud shows us the relationship of the Rabbis to the Sabbath, and throws some light on their attacks on Jesus (Luke 13:14 etc.). The use of the means of healing was forbidden on the Sabbath; but these baths, though medicinal, were permitted, because in addition they ministered to indulgence in pleasure and luxury, and that was permitted. (Pesach. 8b).
Complaint has been made by some of the tameness of the scenery around the Lake, and of the want of picturesqueness of the hills; while, on the other hand, Seetzen (Reisen, in loc.) has declared that ‘in the whole land of Palestine there is no district whose natural charms could compare with those of this.’ There can be no doubt that much depends upon the season of the year when the district is first visited, as well as upon the expectations formed. In the present unwooded state, with its uncultivated fields and barren hills often, as at the north end of the Lake, washed down to the bare rock by the rains of centuries, there may be little to attract, especially when the whole country has been blackened by the summer suns and the burning siroccos. But even now the earliest rains change the whole aspect of nature. The hills and the valleys on both shores become clothed in a luxuriant greenness, while, as the season advances, the fresh bursting buds of the olive, the fig, the vine, and the pomegranate, with here and there a palm tree, add variety and pleasantness to the landscape. Very soon, too, the fields are covered with great patches of anemones of varied colours—white, red, purple, and deep dark-blue, interspersed with various species of the lily family and stretches of the dark green-leaved and yellow-flowered mustard, while the watercourses and shores of the Lake are marked out by the red blooms of the oleander with its dark-green and silvery-backed leaves; and on the western shore variety is added by the gigantic reeds of the papyrus, topped by their reddish-brown waving plumes; on the higher grounds, too, every crevice of the rock is shaded by the blossoms of the cyclamen and many another flower of the field. But what must it have been in the year a.d. 27–28? It had been passing through, was indeed still in the period of transition after, the desolations of war, famine, and pestilence; but the worst was now long past, and 20 years of uninterrupted peace and prosperity had made it blossom like the rose. There was nothing in the rule of the tetrarchs Antipas and Philip to discourage perseverance, so that the land was coming more and more under cultivation. It must have been beautiful, indeed, when human industry was developing all its resources and changing the whole scene into a blooming paradise. Nothing can give a better idea of what the whole district was becoming, than the classic passage in which Josephus (BJ iii. x. 8) describes the Plain of Gennesaret in his own day (see art. Gennesaret [Land of] in vol. i.).
With Josephus’ glowing description the Rabbis are in fullest harmony. Rish Laqish says: ‘If Paradise be in the land of Israel, Beth-Shan is its entrance’ (ביתשאן פיתחה). Again we read: ‘Seven seas,’ spake the Lord God, ‘have I created in the land of Israel, but only one have I chosen for myself, that is the sea of Gennesar’ (Midr. Teh, fol. 4). Siphrê on Deuteronomy 33:23 explains the fulness of the blessing of the Lord as the Plain of Gennesaret. On the hills around the Lake were ‘vines and fruitful fields’ (Meg. 6a). ‘It is easier,’ saith Rabbi Eliezer ben Simon, ‘to nourish a legion of olives in Galilee than to bring up one child in the land of Israel’ (Ber. Rab. c. 20). The oil of the Galilaean hills was more plentiful than any in Palestine (Men. 85b), and the wheat of Chorazin is specially commended (ib. 86a). An illustration of the productiveness of the district, and a parallel to the hundredfold of the parable, may be seen in the enumeration of the products of a single סאה ארבלית ‘half bushel of Arbela’ (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Peah, vii. 3). The Gentile world also lends its testimony. To the early Fathers the district was τὰ χράτιστα τῆς Γαλιλαίας, ‘the crown of Galilee,’ while in the 3rd cent. C. Julius Solinus (Collectanea, xxxv. 13) says: ‘Lacus Tiberiadis omnibus anteponitur ingenuo aestu et ad sanitatem usu efficaci.’
But the district was not yet reduced to the calm beauty of a prosperous agricultural country. There would still be stretches of woodland remaining, tenanted by birds of brilliant colours and various forms. There would be here and there beautiful oaks, either singly or in groups, that had grown up during the years when the population was small (Baba Bathra v. 1). There would be rocky stretches, especially to the north-east of the Lake, covered with brambles, wild mustard, and coarse grass, or dotted with prickly bushes (nubk), where the wolf, the jackal, the fox, and the hyaena would make their homes, and where the brown serpent and the silvery-breasted poisonous snake would glide about.
The population would not be so dense nor the land so fully cultivated as in the days when Josephus wrote, so that there would be a more equal mingling of the wild beauties of nature with the advancing and taming conquests of agriculture. The landscape, too, was becoming varied by the presence of many buildings. It has been said that ‘the shores of the Lake seem to have borne cities and towns instead of harvests’ (Tristram, Land of Israel, 444); and this, understood in the light of what we have already said, is very true. These would for the most part be constructed of black stone, but varied at times by buildings of white marble, while even the polished granite of Syene helped to break the monotony; and although, on the whole, the majority of the buildings would be dull and sombre, still, in the midst of waving fields of green and gold, the presence of the humble village, and the beach sparkling with the houses and the palaces, the synagogues and the temples of Jewish and Roman inhabitants, would present a scene of great beauty, so that we can well understand how the wild desolations of the pre-Christian century, and the calm and peaceful years that followed the advent of the Messiah, combined to render the district more beautiful when Christ was a citizen of Capernaum than at any other time during its whole history.
iii. Climate.—The climate of the Jordan Valley is in many ways very peculiar. Its low level—the lowest depression in the world—gives it many characteristics which are all its own. The absence of all frost, and the general warmth throughout the whole year, explain to us fully the peculiar open-air life that we meet with in the Gospels. For the most part Christ speaks out of doors. So did the Rabbis of His time. Ben Azzai taught on the shores of Tiberias (Erubin, 29a), and Rabbi Jehudah in the open air (Moed Katon, 16a). In the Gospels the sick are freely carried about (Matthew 4:23, Mark 2:3), are allowed to wait in the crowd (Luke 8:43 f.), and the people are indifferent if the night find them away from home (Matthew 15:32, Mark 8:2-3). The average temperatures of the air (night and day) in January are 37° and 74° respectively, while in June they are 68° and 108°; but in July the thermometer frequently rises many degrees higher. The present writer has seen it at 106° at 6 a.m., and 139° has been recorded on the shore of the Lake at midday in August; and even the soil, the rocks, and the pebbles around the Lake side become so intensely heated that the bather must wait till long after sunset if he would enter the water without the risk of burning his feet. In such conditions, under the fiery glow of the sun and with months of drought, we can well understand that all the grass and herbage are burned up, and so in its present state of naked dreariness, visitors at such a season are naturally disappointed; but in other circumstances, and in days of universal irrigation, the whole scene would be very different (cf. Robinson’s Researches under 19th June). Another noteworthy point is that the temperature of the body may rise much higher in cases of fever, and without serious results, than would be possible in other climates, e.g. a temperature of 110° is not uncommonly recorded. This may explain the expression ‘great fever’ (πυρετῶ̣ μεγάλω̣) of Luke 4:38.
The temperature of the waters of the Lake does not vary so much as might be expected, and is very little lowered even by the melting of the snows on Hermon. This is to be accounted for by the fact that such waters have already passed through Lake Huleh and have also had a considerable course in the upper Jordan. The average to a depth of 30 ft. is 68°, from 30 to 50 ft. it is 62°, and at a greater depth there is a constant temperature of 59° (PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1894, pp. 211–220).
Rain.—The average number of rainy days during the year is 60, and the rainfall 22·5 inches. There is no rain during the months of June, July, August, and September. Two-thirds of the rainfall occurs in December, January, and February; the other months having only one to five days on which rain falls, which may mean either now and again, a whole day, or merely slight showers. The degree of humidity is greatest in January, when it stands at 77. It decreases till June, when it is 42; but in August, again, it has risen to 45; while in September it drops as low as 39.
Winds.—From May till October there are often sirocco days. They generally come 3, 7, or 10 at a time, though sometimes the hot wind lasts but one day, and then the day following brings a delightful sensation of coolness, enjoyment, and satisfaction. On the sirocco days the heat on the Lake and in the surrounding region is intensely depressing, but between the visits of the hot wind, westerly breezes blow in summer, and this makes the east side of the Lake pleasant. The western shore, however, south of Mejdel benefits little, as the winds pass over the protecting hills and strike the Sea far out, leaving the air inshore close and stifling. The north end of the Lake does not suffer to the same extent, because to the west of the Plain of Gennesaret the hills are somewhat lower and farther back, and, besides, the wind blows freely down the Valley of Pigeons, and gives the district around Capernaum all that the east side enjoys at such seasons. These westerly winds usually spring up in the afternoon, they become strong as the evening advances, but generally cease about 10 p.m. During the rest of the year the weather is more variable, and the winds blow from different directions. Strong winds sometimes come from the north-east, and when they diverge to the north and come over Hermon the temperature is still more reduced, and a sensation of chill is felt in the atmosphere. This sometimes occurs till well on in May; while, on the other hand, a hot south wind will sometimes blow up the Ghor (Jordan Valley) in April, bringing with it clouds of dust which dim the sunlight and darken the hills, giving one a premature sensation of the summer’s glow.
Storms.—The rainy season is generally introduced by thunderstorms. In October and November, small clouds, scarcely larger than a man’s hand, gather on Tabor, Jebel Jarmuk, and the other hills of Upper Galilee. They grow in size and in threatening aspect, and generally in three days’ time a violent thunderstorm with heavy rains bursts over the valley. This is then usually followed by a time of calm with a clear blue sky overhead. Such storms, but not generally so violent, occur from time to time during the winter, and the rainy season may be closed by something of the same nature. In the beginning of May the sky will be clouded, and there will be one or two days’ rain with or without thunder. Sometimes, however, when the valley has been enjoying the most peaceful calm, it will be affected by storms that have occurred elsewhere. The hills of Upper Galilee may have been hidden in dense mists for a day or two, but nothing has disturbed the peace of the Lake. There have been rains, however, on the high lands only a few hours distant, and these, forming themselves into mountain torrents, have come down, sweeping all before them (Matthew 7:27, Luke 6:49) in their descent, and flooding what but a few minutes earlier had been a dry channel. The present writer has personally watched the Wady Rabadḯyeh and the Wady Leimôn, both of which cross the Plain of Gennesaret, as they became in an incredibly short time changed from little more than dry, stony river-beds to impassable foaming torrents; and, when the hills have been dark with clouds, has heard the warning given to get over these wadys ‘before the stream comes down.’
Storms may occur on the Lake at any season, and there are few places where changes come so suddenly. The experience of Lynch is that of every one who has spent any time here: ‘While pulling about the Lake, a squall swept down one of the ravines, and gave us a convincing proof of how soon the placid sea could assume an angry look’ (p. 164). The storms on the Sea of Galilee are in many ways peculiar, and sometimes the wind seems to blow from various directions at one time, tossing the boat about. This arises from the fact that the winds blow violently down the narrow gorges and strike the Sea at an angle, stirring the waters to a great depth. Many of the storms, too, are quite local in their character. This may be understood by the fact that when a westerly wind is blowing, all may be smooth along the shores to the north and south of Tiberias and for a mile out, but there we may pass in a moment from the region of perfect calm into a gale so violent that the only chance of safety is to run before the wind to the eastern shore. At other times the south end of the Lake may be comparatively peaceful, but, sailing northward, we no sooner reach Mejdel than the wind from Wady el-Hamâm will seize the sail, and, unless it be instantly lowered, overturn the boat. These winds are from the west, but it is generally the wind from the north-east that raises a general storm over the whole Sea. This wind blows right into the Sea from el-Batiha, and from this direction no part is sheltered. The suddenness, too, with which the storms spring up may be illustrated by a storm which came from this direction, and which the present writer observed. A company of visitors were standing on the shore at Tiberias, and, noting the glassy surface of the water and the smallness of the Lake, they expressed doubts as to the possibility of such storms as those described in the Gospels. Almost immediately the wind sprang up. In 20 minutes the sea was white with foam-crested waves. Great billows broke over the towers at the corners of the city walls, and the visitors were compelled to seek shelter from the blinding spray, though now 200 yards from the Lake side. It is further to be noted that the north end of the Lake, being less sheltered than the rest, is more subject to storms. Indeed, only in peculiar circumstances could it escape having a chief share in any storm.
These facts may now be used to illustrate the two occasions on which Jesus is recorded to have been on the Sea in a storm (Matthew 8:23, Mark 4:37, Luke 8:23; and Matthew 14:24, Mark 6:48, John 6:18). On the former of these the journey was from Capernaum to Gergesa, and the wind was from the north-east. Thus the boat was struck on its side, and so ‘the waves beat into the ship’ and it became ‘filled.’ On the second occasion they were attempting to pass from Bethsaida Julias to Capernaum. The wind was against them, blowing down the Wady Hamâm and over the Plain of Gennesaret, so that they were ‘toiling in rowing, for the wind was contrary.’ It is also made clear to us that, although the wind prevented their getting to Capernaum, it was not such as would prevent boats coming from Tiberias (John 6:18-24). Even in the height of the storm they could have, under the shelter of the western hills, proceeded as far as Mejdel, and thus come early upon the scene at any point at the north end of the Lake when once the storm was calmed.
It might be imagined that the cessation of the storms might mean simply the passing from an exposed and stormy to a calmer and protected region, but in both the cases recorded this is impossible. In the first instance, when the wind was from the north-east, the whole Sea would be disturbed; while in the latter case the Sea to the north of Mejdel would be all affectcd by the storm; and as the passage was between el-Batiha and the Plain of Gennesaret, the boat would not even approach the region of calm.
iv. Industries.—During the peaceful years of Christ’s ministry the whole Lake-basin was becoming a focus of life and energy. We have already indicated, by references to Josephus and the Rabbis, what the land was in the process of becoming in so far as agriculture was concerned. The tilling of the soil must have been a tempting occupation where the land was so fertile, so well watered everywhere, and enjoyed so much of the sunshine. Besides, it could be sown two and even three times in the year. At the present time in the plain of el-Batiha this is the case. After the corn harvest is gathered in, Indian corn may be sown; and when this also has ripened and been cleared off, the land and the season are ready for vegetables and water melons. The peculiar climate, too, ripens the harvest a month earlier than on the higher lands of Galilee and Bashan. The melons and the cucumbers are ready for use fully four weeks before those of Acre and Damascus, so that the prospect of greater gain by being able to anticipate the markets in all the larger towns must have been a powerful incentive to diligence when the means of transport were easier than now. We know that the fruits of Gennesaret were taken to Judaea (M. Ma‘aser Sheni ii. 3), though it is said that they were not allowed in Jerusalem, lest on account of their goodness they should form an inducement, apart from the spiritual one, for pilgrims to journey thither (Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Pesach. 8b). With so much activity was this work pursued, that the hiring of day-labourers seems to have been quite common, and they were wont to go from Tiberias to till the lands of Beth-maon (Kul‘at ibn Ma‘an), which lands we believe to have been in the Plain of Gennesaret (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Met. vii. 1; and cf. Matthew 20:1-17). Nor can we overlook the work of the shepherd, so closely bound up with agriculture, and to which there is so frequent reference in the Gospel story; but, just as in modern times, this work would be less pursued by the Lake side than on the neighbouring hills, where we know that even the flocks of Judaea were pastured (Baba Bathra v. 1).
Then the Gospels set before us a very great activity in fishing. There was a Jewish tradition that the fishing in the Lake was to be free to all, subject to the one condition that stakes were not to be set that might impede the progress of boats; and tradition further said that the freedom had been conferred by Joshua (Baba Qama, 80b). Not only the statements of the NT, but the names of the towns and villages, lead us to the knowledge of activity in this direction. Thus we have two towns of the name of Bethsaida (‘Fisherrow’); a village called Migdol Nunia (‘Fish-tower’), probably situated at ‘Ain Baridch (Pesach. 46a), and the great city of Taricheae (‘Fish factory’) at the south end of the Lake. At Taricheae, as the name indicates, the fish were salted and dried, and to-day the salt can be seen here encrusted on the sand like hoarfrost. So far as the Mosaic law was concerned, the fish in the Sea of Galilee were all clean; but, as one passage in the Gospels draws a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ (Matthew 13:47-48), it may be of interest to note that the Jews of the present day, for some superstitious reason, refuse to eat one kind named burbût (Lynch, p. 165). Josephus (Vita, 12) found that the fishers were a strong party in Tiberias also, so we may conclude that the boats that came thence were used for fishing (John 6:23).
The chief fishing ground to-day is in the neighbourhood of el-Batiha, and here the work is conducted in boats with drag-nets (σύροντες τὸ δίκτυον, John 21:8); but in other places the want of a boat need not prevent a man becoming a fisher. If he simply possess a net and learn to cast it (βάλλοντες ἀμφίβληστρον, Matthew 4:18), he may be very successful in places where the water is not deep. Where the warm springs flow into the Lake the fish congregate in great numbers. We have seen shoals at ‘Ain Barideh and ‘Ain et-Tabigha so great as to cover an acre of the surface, and so compact together that one could scarcely throw a stone without striking several. In such cases the handnet is thrown out with a whirl. It sinks down in a circle, enclosing a multitude, and these are then gathered in by the hand, while the net lies at the bottom. The hook (ἄγκιστρον, Matthew 17:27) is also used in our day, and frequently a large quantity is taken in a short time. In the days of Josephus (a.d. 67) there were very many boats on the Lake,—230 at Taricheae alone (BJ ii. xxi. 8),—but in the year a.d. 27–28 they must have been still far below the number they reached in later years.
The fishing industry implied many others. Delitzsch (Handwerkleben zur Zeit Jesu) tells us that the fish from the Lake were sold in Jerusalem; and when we think of the greater refinement of the Apostle John, his acquaintance with the high priest (John 18:15), and his having a house in the Holy City (John 19:27), we feel almost compelled to infer with Nonnus that he had acted there as agent. The sale of fish in Jerusalem and elsewhere would mean the employment of a goodly number of muleteers, and in ordinary circumstances the Apostolic band would travel in such caravans, just as Joseph and Mary had previously done (Luke 2:44). We must get away from the idea that they always travelled on foot.
Then on the shore of the Lake itself the fishing industry implied boat-building and repairing, and this, amongst other things, may have helped to decide our Lord’s settlement in Capernaum, for there, as a carpenter, He could still from time to time exercise His own calling. At any rate, after He had settled here for some time, He was still known as ‘the carpenter’ (Mark 6:3). That this should be the case was quite in harmony with the practice of the teachers of those days. We find Rabbi Abin also working as a carpenter (naggâr), while Rabbi Ada and Rabbi Ise are said to have been fishers (zayyâdîn). To some extent also the boats may have been used for transport trade; but we are inclined to think that the fact that the two sides of the Lake belonged to two different tetrarchies, each with its own customs and taxation, would militate against this.
The Talmuds and Midrash bring to our notice other occupations carried on beside the Lake, especially at Magdala, a portion of which was named Migdol Zebaya (Erubin v. 7) from the dueing operations there conducted. So late as the year 1862, Sepp found this work still in existence, and indigo being grown in the fields of Mejdel. Then we read that there were 80 shops in the same town for the sale of linen (Taan. iv. 5), and we learn later that the linen of Galilee was fine (Baba Qama, 119a; Ber. Rab. c. 20). But perhaps of more interest than either of these is the fact that Magdala contained 300 shops for the sale of pigeons (Midr. Echa, 75d), which were used for purifications in the Temple (Luke 2:24). These pigeons would be captured among the overhanging rocks of Wady Hamâm, where they are so plentiful to-day, or trapped in nooses laid out in the adjoining fields (cf. Baba Qama vii.). These would be transferred to Jerusalem, where we learn that there were booths on the Mt. of Olives for the sale of such (Cholin, 53a), as well as in the Temple courts when the sellers had invaded the sacred precincts (Matthew 21:12 etc.). In this connexion it is to be noted that when those who sold doves were driven out of the Temple they could not be ignorant of the personality and power of Him who expelled them. Magdala and the Mt. of Olives being thus connected, another item is cast into the balance in favour of some relationship between Mary of Magdala and the family of Bethany (cf. Baronius, Annales, cap. 32). It may also be interesting to note here a still further connexion, for in the year a.d. 67, when the Jewish war broke out, the Jews took occasion to destroy the booths on the Mt. of Olives because the occupants ‘established their doings on the Law, and did what was forbidden by the words of the wise’ (Cholin, 53a); and during the same year Magdala and other towns in Galilee were destroyed, and the epithets used in the reasons given seem to indicate that the inhabitants were Christian (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Taanith iv. 5; Baba Mez. 88a; Midr. Echa ii. 2). These industries gave the Lake valley a trade connexion with the outside world; but, apart from those engaged in these occupations, multitudes would be employed in making articles for home use, as well as for the supply of the two courts and the various garrison towns. All trades would be represented, and these we sometimes read of incidentally, as in the case of tanning and the manufacture of earthenware at Migdol Zebaya.
v. Geography.—This has long been a vexed question, and is likely to remain so till excavating work is undertaken. The sites of Tiberias, Magdala, and Julias seem alone to be undisputed, so far as the Gospel history is concerned. The questions regarding the various sites will be treated each in its own place. The towns with which we are concerned were for the most part Jewish; but there were also Greek cities (πόλεις Ἑλληνίδες) around the Lake. In Tiberias and Julias, built by the tetrarchs, in Gamala, Hippos, Gadara, Taricheae, and in Philoteria (Polybius, v. 70), all trace of which has been lost, Greek influence would be paramount, though, of course, there was a Jewish element dwelling among the Gentile population (Rosh-Hash. ii. 1). These cities would have their own influence on the people of the surrounding districts. It may seem strange that the Gospels never touch them, and that the fact of their existence is no more than recorded, though they were large and important in comparison with the Jewish towns named. We feel justified in believing that Christ never entered these fashionable Greek cities. We know that the pious Jew specially abhorred Tiberias, and would not enter it, as it had been built on an ancient cemetery (Shebhiith ix. 1). We read, indeed, of a circuit through Decapolis (Mark 7:31); but in view of Christ’s relationship to the nearer towns, and His own statement (Matthew 15:24), we are constrained to believe that He confined Himself to the country districts as occupied by the Jewish population. In harmony with this is His desire not to have His works proclaimed in these Greek towns (Mark 8:26).
Roads.—The Sea of Galilee was in no sense in the 1st cent. what it is now, something of the nature of a retired mountain lake. On the contrary, it was kept in constant touch with the whole world. The western shore was one of the chief meeting-places of the world’s highways. The Via Maris (the Way of the Sea, Matthew 4:15), a well-known trade route, along which the wealth of the East passed westward, touched its north-eastern shore. Paved portions of it still remain. Details of the network of highways meeting in this region will be found in their own place (see Roads); but we have to remark that the Jordan could be passed not only at the usual fords, but, during the spring and summer months, also by wading knee-deep along a kind of bar formed by pebbles and sand, where the river enters the Lake (Matthew 14:13, Mark 6:33). Further, it is to be noted that most if not all of these roads were available not only for mules and camels, as in modern times, but also for vehicles, for we learn that on account of their quantity the contributions were sent from Magdala, Cabul, and Sogane to Jerusalem in waggons (Ta‘anith, iv. 5).
vi. Population.—We can now well understand the various classes of people who dwelt in and around this district. In the Greek towns the population would be chiefly Greek-speaking sojourners of mixed race—the Levantines of those days. The Roman soldiery would be there in considerable numbers as well as scattered through the towns, especially where customs were collected. There would be courtiers around the Herods in Tiberias and Julias—‘Herodians,’ as they were called; and they were, for the most part, Sadducecs. The publicans would have their headquarters in the two capitals, but they would be employed everywhere, and would be specially active at the north end of the Lake, on the great trade routes. There, too, the Pharisees and probably also the Essenes (BJ ii. viii. 4) would be chiefly in evidence. It is the population at this north end that chiefly concerns us; for amongst them the Lord dwelt, and there He had His own city (Matthew 9:1). The people here were essentially Jewish, but there was a world of difference from the Judaism of Judaea. Graetz (ii. 148, English ed.) has well described this when he says: ‘Morality was stricter in Galilee, and the laws and customs more rigidly enforced. The slightest infringement was not allowed, and what the Judaeans permitted themselves the Galilaeans would by no means consent to.’ We might almost put it, Judaea had much of the semblance of piety, Galilee more of the reality. Indeed, their piety as Jews had already impressed even the heathen world (Luke 7:5). The Talmuds tell us that the Galilaean loved honour more than wealth, and that the contrary was the case in Judaea (Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Keth. iv. 14); that the marriages were simpler and more decently conducted (Keth. 12a, with which cf. John 2:1-11; Edersheim, Sketch of Jewish Social Life, p. 152 ff.), and also that the widow’s right of occupancy of her husband’s house was fully recognized (Mishna, Keth. iv. 12 and Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] Keth. iv. 14; cf. Matthew 8:14). The Galilaeans, too, were accused by their neighbours of being too talkative with women; and in this connexion the expression סומה נלילאה ‘foolish Galilaean,’ came into use (Erubin, 53b; cf. John 4:27). Josephus also speaks well of the Galilaeans, commending their courage, and adding that they were inured to war from their infancy (BJ iii. iii. 2). There is another remark in the Talmud regarding their character that is worth noting: אנשי נליל קנמרנין היו ‘the men of Galilee were disputatious’ (Nedar. 48a). This has always been a characteristic of the Jew; he has never been able to argue calmly; and when we add to this acknowledged characteristic of the people the circumstances of a fishing and boating life, we must admit the truth of the accusation; and knowing this, we can well understand that many of the scenes around the Lake were much noisier than the calm words of Scripture would lead us to suspect (Matthew 9:24-25, Mark 3:22, Luke 8:37 etc.); and we can appreciate the facility with which Peter relapsed into what must have been an old habit (Mark 14:71). Then the inhabitants of the district would not be over cleanly in their habits. We can infer nothing from the neglect of hand-washing (נמילת ידים), for it is at best purely ceremonial; but the Jew generally was, in the 1st cent., the butt of the Gentile world on account of his uncleanliness, just as he is to-day (Seneca, Ephesians 5; Perseus, Sat. v.). Apart from the Greek towns, which, like Tiberias and Gamala, were supplied by aqueducts (portions of which still remain), the general water supply was from the Lake; and in consideration of the traffic that existed and the absence of sanitary arrangements, this could not be satisfactory in the neighbourhood of a town like Capernaum. Then every village would have, as at the present time, its own dunghill, a fruitful source of swarms of flies.
Great extremes of wealth and poverty there would not be. We meet, indeed, with a knowledge of wealth (Matthew 7:6; Matthew 13:46; Matthew 18:24, Luke 12:18-19); but on the whole the life was of the simplest, as we see from the nature of the household furnishings,—the bushel, the candlestick (Matthew 5:15), there being but one; and the mention of the food—bread, eggs, fish (Matthew 7:9-10, Luke 11:11-12).
Then it is to be noted that the people were to a certain extent bilingual. Judging from similar conditions in this district and elsewhere at the present day, we should say that the language of the homes and of the Jewish population among themselves was Aramaic, but that the men would generally be acquainted colloquially with the Hellenistic speech of the larger towns. The native language, too, had its own peculiarities (Matthew 26:73), the chief of which was a remarkable confusion of the gutturals, which is repeatedly ridiculed in the Talmuds, where a notable example is given of a Galilaean being asked, when shouting on the street, whether he wished to sell ‘wool,’ ‘a sheep,’ ‘wine,’ or ‘a donkey’ (Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] Erubin, 53b; Berakhoth, 32a).
To sum up, then, the population of this district was as manly, industrious, independent, moral, pious, and experienced in the world as any in Palestine. It was among men who were morally right that our Lord chose to settle. It was such that He made His first disciples, and finally His Apostles. Had these been willing to compromise conscience, they might easily have passed into easier walks of life. In the full strength of early manhood, they might have had a share in the settlement of Tiberias (Ant. xviii. ii. 3), but they had resisted that temptation. It is true that Matthew the publican (Matthew 10:3) was among them, but it is to be remembered that here he did not serve an alien like the publicani in Judaea. The taxes he collected would go to the coffers of Antipas in Tiberias (Titus Livius, 32 F; Cicero, in Verr. ii. 72), and they would be drawn from the tax on goods passing along the highways as well as on the fish from the Lake, as at the present day. This latter fact suggests a peculiar relationship between Matthew and the ‘fisher-folk’ among the Twelve, and a still more interesting one between him and Simon the Zealot, who had fought against these taxes.
We conclude by observing that, as no land in the world save Palestine could have given us the Bible, no part of the land save this, with its wealth of recent historical association and variety in nature, from the torrid heat of el-Ghuweir to the perennial snows of Hermon, could so well have suited the Great Teacher in His appeal to men of every kindred and every clime. In its calm beauty it was in many ways worthy of the presence of the Son of Man, and it presents us with a beautiful picture of many aspects of His life and character. It deserved all that Jew and Gentile said in its praise even in their playing with its names—Tiberias טובה ראייתה (מבריא), ‘beautiful of appearance’; Capernaum (כפר נעים, χωρίον παρακλήσεως), ‘land of pleasantness or consolation.’ Before the time of the Lord Jesus the Sea of Galilee was to the world an unknown, neglected, and almost unnamed distant inland lake; but He has changed all this. He has rendered it immortal.
Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and Encyc. Bibl. art. ‘Galilee, Sea of’; G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] , ch. xxi.; Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ; see also art. Galilee and the Lit. given there.
Wm. M. Christie.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sea of Galilee'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/sea-of-galilee.html. 1906-1918.