Sea of Galilee, or the Lake Kinneret, as it is officially named in Israel, is located at the foot of the Golan Heights on the northeastern part of Israel. The lake is pear-shaped, it is 33 miles in circumference, length from North to South is 13 miles, and width from East to West is 8 miles. Sea of Galilee is not very deep, with a maximum depth of 53 yards. It is the lowest fresh-water lake on the earth since the lake’s altitude is minus 232 yards below the ocean level. It is only higher than the Dead Sea, located down south, and therefore the Sea of Galilee is the world’s second-lowest lake after the Dead Sea.
Named in Hebrew “Lake Kinneret” the lake is more known as the Sea of Galilee, which is the generic English name because of the lake’s location in the Galilee Plain. Arabs call it “Lake of Tiberias” naming it after the area’s largest city and one of the largest cities of the whole Galilee region – Tiberias located on the lake’s west shore, while the Hebrew name “Kinneret” originates from the word “kinnor”, which means “harp”, because the lake looks like a harp from above.
Sea of Galilee, located in the depths of the Jordan Rift Valley is also called Syro-African Depression and is the dividing line between the African and Arab plates. The geological structure is mainly basalt and its igneous rocks. Sea of Galilee borders the plains of Gennesaret in the north-west – the Beth-Saida plain in the northeast and the Golan Heights in the middle of the east coast. The primary source of water for the Sea of Galilee is the Jordan River, which flows from the north to the south. Other sources of water are: precipitation, melting snow of the Mount Hermon and the underground springs.
The Middle East is dry and rainless, yellow sand is everywhere, and the fresh-water resources are scarce. Therefore, Israel cherishes the Sea of Galilee. Since 1964, the Government of Israel has officially proclaimed the Sea of Galilee as a national reserve. The Sea of Galilee is not just the national reserve of Israel but is also the country’s potable water tank. It is the lake of life in Israel. For decades, the lake supplied nearly half of the country’s drinking water, and it is still continuously transported through pipeline channels to Israel’s population centers. Some say that there would be no Israel without the Sea of Galilee. At the same time, according to the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, the lake also supplies water to the West Bank and Jordan.
The waters of the Sea of Galilee are also vibrant with fish. According to the local legend, one of the 153 fish captured by the Apostle Peter by request of Jesus Christ (John 21:1–14) was “musht” (or “amnon” in Hebrew) – the local species of tilapia fish. Nowadays St.Peter’s fish has become a famous dish for both the locals and the tourists and is served in many restaurants around the Sea of Galilee. Besides St.Peter’s fish, there are also many other fish species in the lake, including a unique endemic species of fish named Tristramella sacra that can be only found in the Sea of Galilee. Israel is developing commercial fisheries around the Sea of Galilee, in places such as Tiberias, Ginosar (Genessaret) and EinGev, with an annual fishing capacity of about 1.000 tons.
The area around the Sea of Galilee is rich in cultural and historical heritage, with many tourist attractions and many hot springs. It is a famous tourist destination and winter resort in Israel. There are many hot spring resorts and diving bases on the lakeside, as well as well-equipped camping sites. In the 1960s, dams were built at lake mouth, using lake water for power generation and irrigation.
The Sea of Galilee and its surrounding areas have a good climate, flat terrain, fertile soil and, of course, fresh and clean water. Since ancient times, these areas have been the land of people of all ethnic groups, and the sites of Canaanites dated back to 2000 B.C. were found here. Jews, Greeks, Hasmoneans, and Romans have established prosperous towns and settlements here: Gola, Hippos, Tiberias, etc. The 1st century Jewish and Roman historian Josephus Flavius was so impressed by the region that he wrote about it: “One may call this place the ambition of Nature.” Josephus also mentioned the thriving fisheries, as 230 ships were regularly Fishing on the lake. Altogether there were nine cities along the ancient coast, one of them being Tiberias. Tiberias continues to be an important political and economic center of the Galilee Region and one of the four holy cities of the Jewish people, along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed.
In 135 AD, Bar Kokhba’s uprising – a second Jewish uprising against the Romans – took place, but the uprising was suppressed. The Romans have destroyed the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, plowed the Temple area and prohibited all Jews from coming to Jerusalem. Since then, the Jewish cultural and educational center has been forced to transfer to the Sea of Galilee, especially the city of Tiberias. Jerusalem Talmud was written in Tiberias and tombs of the four of the most prominent Jewish sages – Rambam, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Hiya and Rabbi Meir located in Tiberias, which makes Tiberias one of the four holiest cities in Judaism, along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safed. During the Byzantine Empire, the Sea of Galilee became a major destination for Christian pilgrimages due to its association with Jesus Crist, which led to the prosperity of tourism, the emergence of arranged tours and many comfortable hotels, and the restoration and development of society.
After the Byzantine lost control of the lake, the area fell under the control of the Khalifa of the Umayyad dynasty and later the Islamic Empire, and the importance of the lake fell. In addition to Tiberias, major towns and cities around the Sea of Galilee were largely abandoned. Christian and Jewish population has mainly fled this area. In 1187, Salahaddin defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Haradin, mainly because he was able to cut off the Crusaders from the Sea of Galilee and get fresh water from it for his army.
Capernaum, located in the North of The Sea of Galilee, is also known as the “second hometown of Jesus”, as he was teaching in the local synagogue after he Nazareth. Most of Jesus’ ministry happened on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. At that time, there were settlements and villages along the lake, a large number of trades and ferries. Mark’s Gospel (1:14-20) and Matthew (4:18-22) describe how Jesus called His four apostles from Capernaum: the fisherman St. Peter and the brothers St. Andrew and St.John, and St. James. Thus Capernaum became a stronghold that helped to spread the mission of Jesus Christ to the surrounding areas of Galilee. Here Jesus healed the mother-in-law of the Apostle Peter, resurrected the daughter of Yair and did many other miracles. The relocation of Jesus Christ from Nazareth to Capernaum was caused by a religious conflict in the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth: at the very first words of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,” the people of Nazareth, in fanatical blinding, tried to throw Him off the cliff. Then he arrives at Capernaum, and here in the synagogue, he delivers a sermon, beginning with the words: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” However, He is also driven out of here as well, and he sadly exclaims: “And you, Capernaum, ascended to heaven, you will fall to hell …” Like all His other prophecies, this prophecy also comes true. Currently, Capernaum belongs to the system of Israeli national parks. In 1838, the ruins of the White Synagogue of Capernaum were discovered, but archaeological research began only at the beginning of the 20th century. The synagogue was built in the III-IV centuries. The building stands on the ruins of a more ancient structure, possibly a synagogue in which Jesus Christ preached. The territory around the synagogue belongs to the Franciscan Order.
Mount of Beatitudes
The great teaching of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, took place on the hillside by the lake, on the Mount of Beatitudes, located in Galilee, 5 miles north-west of Capernaum. In the 30s of the last century, archaeological excavations were carried out by Franciscan monks on the Mount of Beatitudes. They have discovered the remains of a small 4th Century single-nave church decorated with beautiful mosaics. A modern church was built in 1937 on the Mount of Beatitudes by a project of a famous Italian architect Bellucci.
Tabgha – The Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes
The Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, built to commemorate the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes performed by Jesus Christ (feeding 5,000 people with five slices of bread and two fish – Mat. 14: 13-21; Mark 6: 30–44), is located in a place named Tabgha, just a couple of miles west of Capernaum. Under the church altar, there is a stone which is believed to be used by Jesus Christ, and it is believed that on this stone He was laying out fish to feed people. Two Popes of Rome – Paul VI and John Paul II visited Tabgha and served a mass in the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes.
The Ancient Galilee Boat
In the North-West Coast of the Sea of Galilee, 5 miles South of Capernaum, is located Kibbutz Ginosar. Here, in 1986, in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, the fishermen brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan discovered an ancient fishing boat dated back to the 1st century. The boat was discovered due to a drought unseen before, as a result of which the waters of the Sea of Galilee retreated. The size of the boat in the form in which it has survived to this day is 8.27 meters in length, 2.3 meters in width and up to 1.3 meters in height. In addition to fishing, the brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan were also interested in archeology and often found various ancient artifacts during their travels around the Sea of Galilee and on its shores. However, they didn’t even expect to see an almost entirely preserved hull of the ancient boat on the newly formed beach as a result of the water level decrease. The brothers immediately informed the authorities about their valuable discovery and a group of archaeologists arrived in the kibbutz. Archaeologists quickly realized that this was a valuable find, which has great historical significance for both Jews and Christians. Archaeological excavations were carried out in secret, with the participation of residents of the kibbutz Ginosar and representatives of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation site had to be guarded day and night, as rumors were circulating among the local population that an ancient boat full of gold and jewels was found on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. As a result of joint efforts and painstaking work of archaeologists, kibbutzniks and numerous volunteers, which lasted 12 days and nights, the boat was pulled out of the mud before the water in the Sea of Galilee rose again. The lifted boat was kept for seven years in a special chemical bath and then was placed in a dedicated showroom in the Museum of Igal Allon, located on the territory of Kibbutz Ginosar.
Design of the boat is similar to other boats built in the Eastern Mediterranean region in the first two centuries A.D. The boat is mainly constructed mainly of cedar planks connected by mortise spikes and nails, it has a flat bottom, which allowed it to come very close to the shore during fishing. However, the body of the boat is made of ten different types of wood, which means either a shortage of wood or the fact that it was made from waste wood and was subjected to numerous repairs. The boat was adapted for rowing for four rowers; it also had a mast that allowed fishermen to sail.
The Ancient Galilee Boat possesses historical importance both for the Jews and for the Christians. To Jews, it stands as an example of the vessels used by Judeans in the first century A.D. for fishing and for transportation across the water trade routes. It might also be one of those boats used in the Naval Battle between Jews and Romans during the First Jewish Revolt. For Christians, the boat is carrying immense importance since it might be one of the boats used by Jesus Christ or his disciples, some of whom were fishermen. Until the discovery of this boat, historians only knew about them from the books of Roman authors, ancient mosaics and the Gospel, where such boats are mentioned more than fifty times. Since the boat is a contemporary of Jesus Christ, not only tourists but also many locals also call it “The Jesus Boat”.
The Jordan River, the primary source of the water inflow into the Sea of Galilee, is originating from the Mount Hermon, Syria. It flows into the Sea of Galilee in the Northern part West of Capernaum and flows out in the southern part near Kibbutz Degania, then it proceeds by the border between Israel and Jordan and flows into the Dead Sea. Jordan River is more than 360 kilometers long, and it is the world’s lowest river. According to the Bible (Book of Joshua), Israelites passed this river and entered God’s Promised Land – Canaan. Jesus Christ was also baptized here in the Jordan River by John the Baptist before he embarked on the thorny path of missionary sermons.
The Jordan River Baptismal Yard (Yardenit) is very close to the point where Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee. The Jordan River here is very narrow, with a small amount of water, surrounded by eucalyptus trees on both sides of the river. On the shore stands a wooden sign with the words “Jesus Christ Baptism” written in English and Hebrew. Every year, countless Christian tourists come here for baptizing. Men and women who participate in the baptism get dressed in white robes, recite the Bible, and slowly walk by stairs into the Jordan River. With the help of a priest, they pinch their noses and soak the whole body in the water. The believers use the rivers of the Jordan River as holy water to wash away the sins of their own. The old “I” becomes dead, and the new “I” is born again. After being baptized in the Jordan River, their bodies and minds are washed and reborn. From now on, their life becomes more valuable. Being baptized in the Jordan River, where Jesus Christ was baptized, is the glory of a lifetime. Every day, people from different countries, different nationalities, and a different race come to the Jordan River Baptismal site to get baptized. According to statistics, the number of people baptized in the Jordan River exceeds 500,000 a year.
Although small and relatively shallow, the Sea of Galilee is one of the world’s most attractive historical and geographical locations. The world’s lowest fresh-water lake, the world’s second-lowest lake after the Dead Sea, a place that became a center for Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, a place where tombs of some of the most prominent Jewish sages are located, a place where Jesus Christ was walking on the water, where he fed 5000 people with just 5 loafs of bread and 2 fish and doing his other miracles, found 4 of his disciples, including Apostle Peter and Apostle Andrew, a place where Jesus delivered his Sermon of the Mount, a place where Egyptian Sultan Salahaddin defeated Crusaders – The Sea of Galilee is one of the most-mentioned sites in the history of humanity. And undoubtedly it is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in their life.