The Sea of Galilee
FIGURING prominently in the earthly ministry of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was the beautiful sea of Galilee. It was also known as the “sea of Tiberias” because Herod Antipas had built his capital by that name, in honor of Caesar Tiberias, on its shores. In the time of Moses it was called the “sea of Chinnereth.” The Maccabees changed its name to the “sea of Gennesareth” after the exceedingly fruitful adjoining plain by that name. The learned and much-traveled physician Luke never refers to it in his writings as a sea but merely as a lake, which is what it was, the “lake of Gennesaret.”—Matt. 4:12, 13; John 6:1; Num. 34:11; Luke 5:1.
The sea of Galilee is a pear-shaped oval, some twelve to fourteen miles long and about eight miles wide. The province of Galilee lay to the west and north of it and Perea to the east, across the Jordan, and to the south of it. Its surface lies some seven hundred feet below that of the Mediterranean Sea and it has a depth between 150 and 200 feet. The Jordan River flows through it from the Lebanon mountains on the north to its destination, the Dead Sea. Due to the hills on the east and west sides of the sea of Galilee, great winds from the mountains in the north sweep down upon it, causing violent storms.
Just as many a beautiful island is a gem of green in a setting of blue, so the sea of Galilee is an aquamarine gem in a setting of verdant green. Well is it termed the “Lake of Blue.” The Jews of Jesus’ day called it “the entrance to Paradise,” while the Talmud refers to it as the “crown of Galilee.” The climate of its coasts left nothing to be desired; spring came early and frost was unknown. It was a favorite summer resort for the Romans.
In Jesus’ day the sea of Galilee supported a prolific fishing industry, remarkable for both the quantity and the quality of its fish. These were distinctive in appearance and taste, according to Josephus the historian, who was governor of Galilee after the death of Jesus Christ. The sea also supported a shipping industry—230 vessels of various sizes.
A goodly number of cities dotted its coastlands, including Galilee’s largest and Jesus’ home town after he began his ministry, Capernaum; Chorazin, a health resort; Tiberias, the capital; Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene; and Bethsaida, the name of which means “house of fishing.”—Matt. 11:20-24; John 6:23; Matt. 15:39.
It was on the shores of this sea of Galilee that Jesus began his ministry and recruited his first four disciples. On at least two occasions Jesus calmed the violent storms that blew up upon its waters. It was into it that a herd of swine hurtled after a legion of demons entered into them. Upon it Jesus also taught from a boat, because of the press of crowds; at the time giving, among other things, his illustration of the sower.—Matt. 4:18-22; 8:24-27; 13:1-8.
It was also upon the surface of this sea of Galilee that Jesus once walked to rejoin his disciples when a storm arose in the middle of the night; and upon which Peter took a few timid steps, only to begin to sink because of his lack of faith. It was also in this sea that Peter, at Jesus’ command, caught a fish in whose mouth Peter found a silver coin with which to pay the temple tax. And finally, it was here after his resurrection that Jesus met his disciples and gave Peter his threefold commission to feed his sheep.—Matt. 14:24-31; 15:29; 17:27; John 21:1-17.
Truly the sea of Galilee was unique in beauty and wealth and particularly in its associations with Jesus’ earthly ministry.