(Galʹi·lee) [Region; Circuit [from a root meaning “roll; roll away”]], Galilean (Gal·i·leʹan).
The first mention of Galilee in the Bible identifies it as a district in the mountainous region of Naphtali, where the city of refuge Kedesh was located. (Jos 20:7) If not earlier, at least by Isaiah’s time, Galilee included the territory of Zebulun. Perhaps many non-Israelites lived in Galilee; whence the expression “Galilee of the nations.” (Isa 9:1) Some scholars think that the 20 cities of Galilee that King Solomon offered to Hiram the king of Tyre were probably inhabited by pagans. (1Ki 9:10-13; see CABUL No. 2.) The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III conquered Galilee during the reign of the Israelite king Pekah (in the eighth century B.C.E.).—2Ki 15:29.
Boundaries. (MAP, Vol. 2, p. 738) Over the years, the territorial boundaries of Galilee did not remain constant. Their greatest extent seems to have been about 100 by 50 km (60 by 30 mi) and embraced the ancient territories of the tribes of Asher, Issachar, Naphtali, and Zebulun. However, during the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, Galilee, while under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas (Lu 3:1), extended only about 40 km (25 mi) from E to W and about 60 km (37 mi) from N to S.
To the S lay Samaria, Galilee’s southern boundary extending from the foot of Mount Carmel along the Plain of Jezreel (Esdraelon) toward Scythopolis (Beth-shean) and then to the Jordan. According to Josephus, the Jordan River, with the Sea of Galilee and Lake Hula (now mostly drained), constituted the eastern boundary, but there may have been areas where that boundary was not so precise. The territory of Tyre, reaching below the ancient city of Kedesh (Kedasa, Cydasa), bounded Galilee on the N. (The Jewish War, III, 35-40 [iii, 1]; II, 459 [xviii, 1]; IV, 104, 105 [ii, 3]) To the W lay the territory of Ptolemais (Acco) and Mount Carmel.
This northerly Roman province of Palestine W of the Jordan was further divided into Upper and Lower Galilee. The boundary between the two Galilees extended from Tiberias on the W bank of the Sea of Galilee to a point in the vicinity of Ptolemais.—The Jewish War, III, 35 (iii, 1).
Geographic Characteristics. In the first century C.E., before the war with Rome, Galilee was densely populated and enjoyed great prosperity. A thriving fishing industry existed at the Sea of Galilee. Other occupations included weaving, stonecutting, shipbuilding, and pottery manufacture. The Jewish historian Josephus claimed there were 204 cities and villages in Galilee, the smallest of these numbering over 15,000 inhabitants. If this testimony is not an exaggeration, as many believe it to be, this would mean that Galilee had a population of about three million.—The Life, 235 (45); The Jewish War, III, 43 (iii, 2).
Galilee was blessed with abundant springs and fertile soil. So the chief occupation of the Galileans apparently was agriculture. Today many different kinds of vegetables, as well as wheat, barley, figs, millet, indigo, olives, rice, sugarcane, oranges, pears, and apricots, are cultivated. Anciently, Galilee was heavily wooded. Among the varieties of trees still found there are cedar, cypress, fir, oak, oleander, palm, pine, sycamore, and walnut.
Both the climate and the geographic features of Galilee are marked by great contrast. The highlands are cool, the seacoast enjoys a mild temperature, and the Jordan Valley is hot. The altitude of Lower Galilee plunges to about 210 m (689 ft) below sea level in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee and reaches its highest point at Mount Tabor, with an elevation of 562 m (1,844 ft). (PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 334) However, the hills and mountains of Upper Galilee range from 460 m (1,500 ft) to 1,208 m (3,963 ft) in height.
People of Galilee. As a group, the Jews of Galilee differed from those of Judea. According to the testimony of rabbis of ancient times, the Galileans valued reputation, whereas the Judeans placed greater emphasis on money than on a good name. The Galileans generally were not such sticklers for tradition as were the Judeans. In the Talmud (Megillah 75a), the former are, in fact, charged with neglecting tradition. In this regard it may be noted that Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, not from Galilee, were the ones who took issue with the failure of Jesus’ disciples to observe the traditional washing of hands.—Mr 7:1, 5.
Since the Sanhedrin and the temple were in Jerusalem, doubtless a greater concentration of teachers of the Law was to be found there; hence the Jewish proverb: “Go north [to Galilee] for riches, go south [to Judea] for wisdom.” But this does not mean that the Galileans were steeped in ignorance. Throughout the cities and villages of Galilee there were teachers of the Law as well as synagogues. The latter were, in effect, educational centers. (Lu 5:17) However, the chief priests and Pharisees at Jerusalem evidently considered themselves superior to the common Galileans and viewed them as ignorant of the Law. For example, when Nicodemus spoke up in defense of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees retorted: “You are not also out of Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up out of Galilee.” (Joh 7:45-52) Thus they ignored the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Messiah’s preaching.—Isa 9:1, 2; Mt 4:13-17.
Some ascribe the distinct Galilean accent to foreign influence. It is not at all unusual that the Galileans were easily recognized by their speech (Mt 26:73), especially since the region of Samaria separated Galilee from Judea. Even today, in many parts of the earth, people are readily identified by their regional accent. Also, among the tribes of Israel pronunciation differences existed centuries previously. A striking example of this is the inability of the Ephraimites in Jephthah’s day to pronounce the password “Shibboleth” correctly.—Jg 12:5, 6.
Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Galilee was the scene for many outstanding events in Jesus’ earthly life. The Galilean cities of Bethsaida, Cana, Capernaum, Chorazin, Nain, and Nazareth, as well as the regions of Magadan, are specifically mentioned in connection with his activity. (Mt 11:20-23; 15:39; Lu 4:16; 7:11; Joh 2:11; see BETHSAIDA.) Most of his earthly life Jesus spent at the Galilean city of Nazareth. (Mt 2:21-23; Lu 2:51, 52) At a marriage feast in Cana, he performed his first miracle by turning water into the best of wine. (Joh 2:1-11) After the arrest of John the Baptizer, Jesus withdrew from Judea to Galilee and began proclaiming: “Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Mt 4:12-17) As Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, he taught in the various synagogues. In the course of time he came to his hometown, Nazareth, where, on the Sabbath day, he read his commission from Isaiah chapter 61. Although those in the synagogue were at first favorably impressed, when Jesus compared them to the Israelites in the days of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the synagogue audience became enraged, and they were ready to kill him.—Lu 4:14-30.
Afterward Jesus went to Capernaum, “a city of Galilee,” and established this as his home. Evidently near Capernaum he called Andrew, Peter, James, and John to be fishers of men. (Lu 4:31; Mt 4:13-22) Accompanied by these four disciples, Jesus began a major preaching tour of Galilee. In the course of his activities of teaching and performing powerful works, Jesus called Matthew from the tax office at Capernaum to be his follower. (Mt 4:23-25; 9:1-9) Later, at a mountain near Capernaum, he chose the 12 apostles. All of them, with the possible exception of Judas Iscariot, were Galileans. Also near Capernaum, Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. (Lu 6:12-49; 7:1) At the Galilean city of Nain, he resurrected the only son of a widow. (Lu 7:11-17) In a later preaching tour, Jesus revisited Nazareth but was again rejected. (Mt 13:54-58) At Capernaum, around Passover time of 32 C.E., during what was apparently his final intensive coverage of Galilean territory, many disciples, stumbled by Jesus’ words about ‘eating his flesh and drinking his blood,’ forsook the Son of God.—Joh 6:22-71.
Although the synoptic Gospels tell mainly of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, the Son of God did not ignore Judea, as some have wrongly concluded. It is noteworthy that the initial interest the Galileans showed in Jesus was aroused by what they saw him do in Jerusalem. (Joh 4:45) However, probably more space is devoted to Jesus’ activity in Galilee because the Galileans responded more readily than did the Judeans. This is confirmed by the fact that the first disciples to receive God’s holy spirit were Galileans, some 120 in number. (Ac 1:15; 2:1-7) The control and influence of the Jewish religious leaders must not have been as strong among the Galileans as among the Judeans. (Compare Lu 11:52; Joh 7:47-52; 12:42, 43.) Some suggest that the crowd that clamored for Jesus’ death was mainly composed of Judeans (Mt 27:20-23), whereas those who had previously hailed Jesus as king were perhaps primarily Galileans. (Mt 21:6-11) The presence of many Galileans and other non-Judeans during the Passover period may also have contributed to the fear of the leaders of Jerusalem to seize Jesus in broad daylight ‘lest an uproar occur.’—Mt 26:3-5.