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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Galilee

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Galilee is seldom mentioned in the NT outside the Gospels. The only references are in the early chapters of Acts (Acts 1:11; Acts 5:37; Acts 9:31; Acts 10:37; Acts 13:31). Most of the apostles belonged to this northern province (Acts 1:11; Acts 13:31). Judas, the Leader of an agitation in the days of the enrolment of Quirinius, is described as ‘of Galilee’ (Acts 5:37). After Saul’s conversion, peace descended upon the Christians in Galilee, as well as in Judaea and Samaria (Acts 9:31). Walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, their numbers greatly increased.

1. The name.-The name ‘Galilee’ is derived from the Heb. נָּלִיל (Gâlîl), through the Gr. Γαλιλαία and the Lat. Galilœa. The Hebrew word, denoting ‘ring’ or ‘circle,’ was used geographically to describe a ‘circuit’ of towns and villages. As applied to this particular district in north-western Palestine, the form used is either הַנָּלִיל, ‘the district’ (Joshua 20:7; Joshua 21:32, 1 Kings 9:11, 2 Kings 15:29, 1 Chronicles 6:76), or נְּלִיל הַנּוֹיִם, ‘district of the nations’ (Isaiah 9:1). Given originally to the highlands on the extreme northern border, this name gradually extended itself southwards over the hill-country till it reached and eventually included the Plain of Esdraelon (G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 4, pp. 379 and 415). For the most part, however, Esdraelon seems to have been a frontier or arena of battle, rather than an actual part of Galilee.

2. The boundaries.-The natural boundaries of Galilee never agreed with its political frontiers. The naturallimits are Esdraelon, the Mediterranean Sea, the Jordan valley, and the gorge of the river Litany. But the actual borders have shifted from time to time. At the period of widest extension, they may be set down as the Kasimiyeh or Litany gorge on the N., the southern edge of Esdraelon on the S., Phœnicia (which always belonged to Gentiles) on the W., and the Upper Jordan (with its two lakes) on the E. These boundaries, excluding Carmel and the area of the lakes, enclosed a province about 50 miles long by 25 to 35 miles broad-an area of about 1600 square miles. Within these limits lay ‘a region of mountain, hill, and plain, the most diversified and attractive in Palestine’ (Masterman, Studies in Galilee, p. 4).

3. The divisions.-Josephus (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) iii. iii. 1) gives the divisions, in his time, as two, called the Upper Galilee and the Lower. The Mishna (Shebuth ix. 2) states that the province contained ‘the upper, the lower, and the valley.’ The latter are certainly the natural divisions. The mountains separate very clearly into a higher northern and a lower southern group, and the ‘valley’ is the valley of the Upper Jordan.

(a) Upper Galilee is less easily characterized physically than Lower. ‘It appears to the casual observer a confused mass of tumbled mountains, to which not even the map can give an orderly view’ (Masterman, p. 11). It is in reality ‘a series of plateaus, with a double water-parting, and surrounded by hills from 2000 to 4000 feet’ (G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 4, p. 416). The central point is Jebel Jermak (3934 ft.), the highest mountain in western Palestine. The scantier water supply of Upper Galilee is compensated for by the copiousness of the dew-fall throughout the later summer months.

(b) Lower Galilee is easier to describe. It consists of parallel ranges of hills, all below 2000 ft., running from W. to E., with broad fertile valleys between. The whole region is of great natural fertility, owing to abundance of water, rich volcanic soil, the gentleness of the slopes, and the openness of the plains. The great roads of the province cross this lower hill-country. The dividing-line between Upper and Lower Galilee is the range of mountains running right across the country along the northern edge of the Plain of Rameh.

(c) The Valley consists of the Upper Jordan and its two lakes, Huleh and Gennesaret. The river, taking its rise from springs and streams in the neighbourhood of Banias and Tel-el-Kadi, flows south in a steadily deepening channel, through Huleh, till it empties itself into the Sea of Gennesaret, at a depth of 689 ft. below sea-level. It has fallen to this depth in about 19 miles. Six miles north of the lake, the river is crossed by the ‘Bridge of the daughters of Jacob,’ on the famous Via Maris of the Middle Ages, the principal thoroughfare between Damascus and the Mediterranean ports. The Lake of Galilee could never be sufficiently praised by the Jewish Rabbis. They said that Jahweh had created seven seas, and of these had chosen the Sea of Gennesaret as His special delight. It had rich alluvial plains on the north and south, a belt of populous and flourishing cities round its border, abundance of fish in its depths, and a climate that attracted both workers and pleasure-seekers to its shores. At the beginning of the Christian era, it presented a reproduction in miniature of the rich life and varied activities of the province as a whole.

4. The physical characteristics.-These are principally two: (a) abundance of water, and (b) fertility of soil. As to (a), the words of the ancient promise, ‘for the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths springing forth in valleys and hills’ (Deuteronomy 8:7), are literally true of Galilee, particularly in its southern half. Large quantities of water are collected during the rainy season among the higher slopes and plateaus, and are thence dispersed by the rivers and streams over the lower-lying tracts, where they become stored in springs and wells. There are the two lakes already mentioned-Huleh, 3½ miles long by 3 miles wide (the Samechonitis of Josephus, but probably not the Waters of Merom of Joshua 11:5; Joshua 11:7 [cf. Masterman, Studies in Galilee, p. 26f., and Encyclopaedia Biblica iii. 3038]); the Lake of Galilee (Gennesaret), 13 miles long by 8 miles broad at its widest point. Round its shores are the ruins of at least nine ancient cities or towns. These are Chorazin, Capernaum, Magdala, Tiberias, Taricheae, Hippos, Gamala, Gergesa, and Bethsaida. The principal rivers of the province are the Jordan, the Litany, the Kishon, and the Belus. In addition to these lakes and rivers, there are many greater streams and innumerable springs and wells. These waters, together with the copious dews of the summer, give Galilee the advantage over Samaria and set it in marked contrast to Judaea .

As to (b), all authorities unite in celebrating the natural wealth of Galilee, The other half of the promise made to the Hebrews was also true of this highly favoured province. It was ‘a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of oil olives and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it’ (Deuteronomy 8:8-9). Josephus bears witness that the soil was universally rich and fruitful, and that it invited even the most slothful to take pains in its cultivation (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) iii. iii. 2). Even to-day, when such large tracts lie uncultivated, no part of Palestine is more productive. The chief products were oil, wine, wheat, and fish. ‘In Asher, oil flows like a river,’ said the Rabbis, who also held that it was ‘easier to raise a legion of olive trees in Galilee than to raise one child in Judaea .’ Gischala was the chief place of manufacture. There were also large stores at Jotapata during the Roman War. Considerable quantities were sent to Tyre and to Egypt. Made from the olive trees, the oil was used principally for external application, for illumination, and in connexion with religious ritual. Wine was made in many quarters of the province, the best qualities coming from Sigona; while wheat and other grains were plentifully raised all over Lower Galilee, especially round about Sepphoris and in the fields of the Plain of Gennesaret. The fish, for which the province was always noted in ancient times, was caught in the inland lakes, particularly in the Lake of Galilee. It formed a large part of the food of the lake-side dwellers, and a considerable trade was carried on by the fish-catchers and fish-curers of the large towns on the shore. The best fishing-grounds were, and still are, at el-Bataiha in the north, and in the bay of Tabigha, at the N.W. corner. Taricheae, in the south, was another centre of the industry. In addition to the above-mentioned commodities, Galilee produced flax from which fine linen fabrics were woven, pottery, and a rich dye made from the indigo plant. The prosperity of the province was enhanced by its proximity to the Phœnician ports, and by the network of highways which crossed it in all directions.

5. The inhabitants.-To-day Galilee possesses a remarkably mixed population, and its inhabitants are physically finer than those of the southern provinces (cf. Masterman, pp. 17-20). In apostolic times, the same was true. Along the western and northern borders were the Syrophœnicians (Mark 7:26), or Tyrians (as Josephus calls them), while from the east nomadic Bedouins were continually pressing in upon the lower-lying tracts. But besides these Semitic elements, Greeks and Graecized Syrians were distributed over parts of the land (Masterman, p. 120), and Romans made their influence felt throughout a large area of the province. Only in the more secluded towns among the hills would Jewish life be preserved in its characteristic purity. In spite, however, of the mingling of nationalities, the Galilaeans were thoroughly and patriotically Jewish during the 1st cent. of the Christian era. Wherever a true Jew settled abroad, he kept himself distinct from his neighbours, clinging tenaciously to his religion and to his racial customs. And the same thing happened with the Jew at home, when Gentile immigrants settled within his borders. His contempt for foreigners and foreign ways helped him to keep his own character and traditions intact. The Galilaeans were industrious workers-the bulk of them being cultivators of the soil or tenders of the fruit-trees. They were brave soldiers too, as may be learned from the chronicles of Josephus.

‘The Galilaeans are inured to war from their infancy, and have been always very numerous; nor has their country ever been destitute of men of courage’ (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) iii. iii. 2).

There does not seem to be any sufficient ground for the dislike and contempt in which the Galilaeans were held by their religiously stricter brethren of Judaea . Possibly they were less exact in their observance of tradition. But they were devoted to the Law, and their country was well supplied with synagogues, schools, and teachers. If they were less orthodox, from the Pharisaic standpoint, the Messianic hope burned brightly in their souls, and they crowded to the ministry of Jesus. They were certainly more tolerant and open-minded than the Judaea ns, and it was from them that Jesus chose most of the men who were to give His teaching to the world.

The population of Galilee in apostolic times was considerably greater than it is to-day. At the present time, it is estimated to be somewhere about 250,000 (including children), spread over an area of 1341 square miles and inhabiting some 312 towns and villages. This gives 186 to the square mile. Josephus’ figures mean that the population in his day amounted to something like three millions. He speaks of 204 cities and villages (Vita, 45), the smallest of which contained above 15,000 inhabitants (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) iii. iii. 2). This estimate, in spite of the arguments of Merrill (Galilee in the Time of Christ, pp. 62-67), can hardly be correct. Good reasons have been given for believing that 400,000 is a much more likely figure, which means a population of 440 to the square mile. A village of 1,500 inhabitants is reckoned to be a very large one today, and the largest towns (with the exception of Safed) contain fewer than 15,000 people. See Masterman, pp. 131-134.

6. History and government.-At the partition of west Palestine among the twelve tribes, Galilee fell to the lot of Issachar, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali, who did not drive out the original inhabitants. The population, therefore, continued to be a mixed one, and the borders of the province were constantly being pressed upon by foreigners. In 734 b.c., Tiglath-Pileser III. carried away most of the inhabitants, and after this depopulation very few Jews re-settled in the district till the extension of the Jewish State under John Hyrcanus (135-104 b.c.). At this time, or a little later, Galilee became thoroughly judaized. The settlers were placed under the Law, and quickly developed a warm patriotism, which made them ever afterwards zealous and persistent champions of their national rights and traditions. Later on, the province was the principal scene of our Lord’s life and ministry. Later still, it succeeded Judaea as ‘the sanctuary of the race and the home of their theological schools’ (G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 4, p. 425).

From 4 b.c. to a.d. 39, Herod Antipas was tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, by appointment of the Roman Emperor. Antipas appears to have been a capable ruler on the whole. Like his father, he was fond of building and embellishing cities. He re-built and fortified Sepphoris, his first capital, and a little later erected a new capital city on the west shore of the lake, calling it Tiberias, after the Emperor whose favour he enjoyed. Having secured the banishment of Antipas in a.d. 39, Herod Agrippa I. received the tetrarchy of Galilee, in addition to the territories of Philip and of Lysanias which he had previously obtained. From Claudius (in a.d. 41) he also obtained Judaea and Samaria, thus establishing dominion over all the land formerly ruled by Herod the Great. After Agrippa’s death, in a.d. 44, Claudius reverted to the method of government by procurator-a change which greatly displeased the Jews as a whole and especially stirred the animosity of the zealots. Under the administration of the new procurators, the people’s patience became exhausted, and in the time of Gessius Florus (a.d. 64-66) the revolt began which ended in the destruction of the Jewish State. In the spring of a.d. 67 Vespasian assembled his army at Ptolemais and began the reduction of Galilee. This was accomplished in the course of the first campaign, despite the courage and persistence of the inhabitants. But it was not till after the lapse of another three years that Jerusalem fell (a.d. 70) and the Jewish State was dissolved.

Though the general administration of Galilaean civil affairs lay (till a.d. 44) with the tetrarchs, the details of daily life were regulated by the Jews’ own religious laws (Dict. of Christ and the Gospels . i. 633). The Sanhedrin at Jerusalem exercised the chief authority, but there were also local ‘councils’ (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 10:17) which had limited jurisdiction. But, throughout the whole period, over all and influencing all, was the firm rule of Rome.

Literature.-articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 98-102 (S. Merrill), Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i. 632-634 (G. W. Thatcher), and Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 (Guthe); G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 4, 1897, chs. xx.-xxi.; S. Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ, Boston, 1881, London, 1885; V. Guérin, Description … de la Palestine, pt. iii.: ‘Galilée,’ Paris, 1880; F. Buhl, GAP [Note: AP Geographie des alten Palästina (Buhl).] , Freiburg and Leipzig, 1896, §§ 18-19, 68, 113-123; E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] , 1885-91 (index); E. W. G. Masterman, Studies in Galilee, Chicago, 1909; A. Neubauer, La Géog. du Talmud, Paris, 1868, §§ 188-240; SWP [Note: WP Memoirs of Survey of Western Palestine.] i. [1861].

A. W. Cooke.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Galilee'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/g/galilee.html. 1906-1918.


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