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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Galilee, Sea of

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( θάλασσα ηῆς Γαλιλαίας , Matthew 4:18; Matthew 15:29; Mark 1:16; Mark 7:31; John 6:1), called also the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; John 21:1; hence its modern name Bahr el-Tubarigeh), the Lake (λίμνη) of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), or emphatically the Sea (ἡ θάλασσα simply, Matthew 4:15); in the O.T. rarely alluded to (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 13:27) as the Sea of Cinnereth or Cinneroth (q.v.). It is the second of the three lakes into which the Jordan flows (Tacitus, Hist. 5:6). This sheet of water is particularly described by Pliny and Josephus. The former says, "The Jordan discharges itself into a lake, by many writers known as Genesera, 16 miles long and 6 wide, which is skirted by the pleasant towns Julias and Hippo on the east, of Tarichene on the south (a name which is by many persons given to the lake itself), and of Tiberias on the west" (Joshua 5:15). Josephus refers to other features. " The Lake of Gennesareth derives its appellation from the adjacent district. It is 40 furlongs (five Roman miles) broad, by 140 (17l miles) long. Its waters are sweet, and extremely pleasant to drink, as they flow in a clearer stream than the muddy collections of marshes, anti they can be drawn free from impurities, beginning throughout confined by abrupt and sandy shores. They are of a muedium temperature, milder than those of the river or the fountain, yet uniformly colder than, might be expected from the expanse of the lake. The kinds of fish found here differ from those elsewhere met with" (War, 3:10, 7). Both these are so near the truth that they could scarcely have been mere estimates. Its extreme length is 124 geographical miles, and its breadth 6; equal to about 16 by 74 Roman miles. It is of an oval shape, or rather the form of an egg, with the large end to the north. The Sea of Galilee has none of those picturesque or sublime features for which the lakes of Italy and Switzerland are justly celebrated; it has not even the stern grandeur of the Dead Sea. The shores are singularly uniform. There are no hold cliffs jutting far out into deep water; there are no winding bays running away inland. The bed of the sea is like a huge basin. Along its eastern and western sides the banks rise steep, bare, and rugged, to the height of nearly 2000 feet; and their tops, especially those on the east, are as level as a wall. At the north and south ends, where the Jordan enters and passes out, there are wide openings, through which views are gained up and down the valley. Yet nature has not left this scene altogether destitute of ornament. The scenery is not quite so dreary, nor are the hues of the landscape so dead and sombre as Dr. Traill would have us imagine (Traill's Josephus, 2, page 106). True, when the sun is high and the sky cloudless, and when the pilgrim looks down from the top of the mountains, there is a dreariness in the landscape, and a uniformity of cold gray color, which wearies the eye; but let him go down to the shore and wait till the sun declines, and he will be enchanted with the deep ethereal blue of the smooth water, and the tints, "rose-colored, pearl-gray, and purple, blended together," and thrown in soft shades over the sides of the encircling hills. The pale blue cone of Hermon, with its glittering crown of snow, forms a glorious background (Van de Velde, 2:388; Robinson, 2:380 sq.; Stanley, Palestine, page 362; Porter, Handbook, page 418).

Round the whole shore, with only one or two short interruptions, there is a broad strand of white pebbles, mixed with little shells. The Jordan enters at the extreme northern end of the lake, and leaves again at the southern. In fact, the bed of the lake is just a lower section of the great Jordan valley. The utter loneliness and absolute stillness of the scene are exceedingly impressive. It seems as if all nature had gone to rest, languishing under that scorching heat. How different it was in the days of our Lord! Then all was life and bustle along the shores; the cities and villages that thickly studded them resounded with the hum of a busy population, while from hill-side and cornfield come the cheerfully of shepherd and plowman. The lake, too, was dotted with dark fishing-boats, and spangled with white sails. Now, a mournful and solitary silence reigns alike over sea and shore. The cities are in ruins. Capernaum, Chorazin, the two (?) Bethsaidas, Hippo, Gamala, and Taricheae, are completely deserted. Tiberias and Magdala are the only inhabited spots; and for several miles inland in every direction the country looks waste and desolate. The inhabitants merchants, fishermen, and peasants are nearly all gone. The few that remain in the shattered houses of Tiberias, and the mud hovels of Magdala, and the black tents of the wandering Bedouin, seem worn and wasted by poverty and sickness. In 1858 the Sea of Galilee could just boast of one small boat, and it was so rotten and leaky as not to be seaworthy. The fish, however, are as abundant as ever; for though only little handnets are used, a considerable sum is paid to the government for the privilege of fishing (Burckhardt, Travis in Syria, page 332; Robinson, 2:386). It was observed by Hasselquist that some of the same species of fish are found in the Sea of Galilee as in the Nile (Travels, page 158); the same fact had been noted by Josephus (War, 3:10, 8). The kinds referred to are Cyprinus Benni, Silurus, Mormyrus, etc. (See Wilson's Lands of the Bible, 2:113; Robinson, 2:386). Two modes are now employed to catch the fish. One is a hand-net, with which a man, usually naked (John 21:7), stalks along the shore, and, watching his opportunity, throws it round the game with a jerk. The other mode is still more curious. Bread-crumbs are mixed up with bichlorid of mercury, and sown over the water; the fish swallow the poison and die. The dead bodies float, are picked up, and taken to the market of Tiberias! (Porter, Handbook, page 432.) The water of the lake is sweet, cool, and transparent; and as the beach is everywhere pebbly, it has a beautiful sparkling look. This fact is somewhat strange, when we consider that it is exposed to the powerful rays of the sun, that many warm and brackish springs flow into it, and that it is supplied by the Jordan which rushes into its northern end, a turbid, ruddy torrent.

The most remarkable fact in the physical geography of the Sea of Galilee is its great depression. The results of barometrical observations have varied between 845 feet and 666 feet, but according to the trigonometrical survey of Lieut. Symonds, R.E., in 1841, its depression is only 328 feet. In this Van de Velde thinks there must have been some mistake, and he adheres to the figures of Lieut. Lynch, which give 653 feet, as probably the most accurate (Memoir, pages 168, 181). This has a marked effect on the temperature, climate, and natural products. The heat is intense during the summer months. The harvest on the shore is nearly a month earlier than on the neighboring high lands of Galilee and Bashan. Frost is unknown, and snow very rarely falls. The trees, plants, and vegetables are those usually found in Egypt; such as the palm, the lote-tree (Zizyphus lotus), the indigo plant, etc. (Robinson, 2:388; Josephus, War, 3:10, 7 and 8). The surrounding hills are sometimes described as bare and barren, sometimes as green and fertile. In April the tops of the hills are gray and rocky, and destitute of vegetation. Lower down, the grass, which during the winter rains had flourished, is there withering in the sun (Matthew 13:6); but in the valleys and ravines, wherever any of the many fountains and streams gushed forth, there is verdure and cultivation (Matthew 13:8). Though the whole basin of the lake, and indeed the Jordan valley, is of volcanic origin, as evidenced by the thermal springs and the frequent earthquakes, yet the main formation of the surrounding wall of mountains is limestone. A large number of black stones and boulders of basaltic tufa are scattered along the slopes and upland plains, and dikes of basalt here and there burst through the limestone strata in the neighborhood of Tiberias and along the northern shore. Although the surface of the lake is usually very placid yet travelers (Thomson, Land and Book, 2:332; Hackett, Illustra. of Scripture, page 319) testify to the sudden fury of storms bursting down into this sunken basin through the ravined shore as in the days of our Savior (Luke 8:23; see Michaelis, De tempestate, etc. Hal. 1739; also De sensu spirituali tempestatis, etc., ib. eod.; Duthovius, Divinitas Chr. ex miraculo hoc demonstrata, in the Bibl. Brenz. 1:60-85; 2:484-7). (See GENNESARETH); (See SEA)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Galilee, Sea of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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