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Sea of Galilee

Places100Located about 60 miles north of Jerusalem and approximately 30 miles west of the Mediterranean Sea in northern Palestine, the Sea of Galilee is 8 miles wide at its widest east-west distance and 13 miles long north to south. Close by, the Galilean hills reach to approximately 1,500 feet above sea level. The Lebanon Mountains are situated to the north of this freshwater lake, and the Mountains of Gilead, with peaks that reach upwards of 3,300 feet, are located to the east. Interestingly, despite the fact that the Sea of Galilee is relatively close to the Mediterranean Sea, it’s surface lies 700 feet below the level of Mediterranean’s surface. All of these factors set the stage for unpredictable, sudden, and severe storms. We see such a storm in Luke 8:22-25 (see also Matt. 8:18,23-27; Mark 4:35-41).

What we know as the Sea of Galilee in the New Testament is called the Sea of Chinnereth in the Old Testament (see Num. 34:11; Joshua 13:27). In his Gospel, Luke referred to this body of water as Lake Gennesaret (see Luke 5:1). And in his Gospel, the apostle John called it the Sea of Tiberias (see John 6:1,23; 21:1). Significantly, the city of Tiberias, located on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore, was a Gentile city. Other significant cities close to the Sea of Galilee included Capernaum and Bethsaida, both of which were situated on the northern side. Six other cities stood near this body of water as well.

Fishing was a major industry in this area during Jesus’ day. Four of Jesus’ 12 disciples—Peter, Andrew, James, and John—were fishermen (see Matt. 4:18-22); thus the Sea of Galilee was vital to their livelihoods. The Sea of Galilee also was the backdrop for a significant number of events in Jesus’ ministry. We find it mentioned in many passages in the Gospels, including these, which are listed in probable chronological order: Matthew 4:12-16; Luke 5:1-11; Mark 2:13-14; 3:7-12; 4:1-2; Luke 8:22-25; Mark 5:1-20; John 6:1-3; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:22-40; Matthew 15:29-31; 17:24-27; John 21:1-25. The name Galilee means “circle.”

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