Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee is known by many names: Sea of Galilee; Lake Galilee; Syrian Sea; Yam Kinneret (because it is shaped like a harp), Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberias, but it is presently known as a great place for swimming beaches. The surface of the lake is below sea level but this varies according to the snow that has melted further north. It is still subject to high winds and sudden storms as in Jesus day. It is fed by springs, from Syria, north of Israel,that flow into the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea then flows into the Jordan River which continues south to the Dead Sea. If it didn’t stop there, it would continue to the Gulf of Eilat/Gulf of Aqaba. If you continue further south you would be in the Rift Valley in Africa. There are plans  of build a canal from the gulf to the Dead Sea to reclaim the water.

A good road circles the lake today although it is important to remember that the exact shores have changed over the centuries. It is also possible that names of places will have changed as well and may still be changing. No one is completely sure where events took place. See the types of sacred sites CLICK HERE.

Boat Trip on the Sea of Galilee
Boat Trip on the Sea of Galilee

Except for nuns and monks, few local Christians live around the lake, but it is known as the place where Jesus did much of his teaching and healing. There are few proven places where Jesus actually did something specific, although we know that here is where he experienced the land, wind, rain, seasons, soil, trees, flowers, rocks, and hills. Today they are called the Fifth Gospel which can teach us about Jesus, along with the four gospels in our Bibles.

The sites are mostly commemorated by churches built in the 20th century, rather than ancient buildings. A number of these sites require an admission fee. (You can purchase an Israeli pass which is good for many different places at several sires.) This description of sites assumes you are coming from the Nazareth area and starting at Tiberias and going north. If you come from southern sites or up the Jordan River, you might want to visit Yardinet first and then go north along the west side of the lake toward Tiberias.

Included at the end of each site in brackets [….] are some thoughts you can use to think about what God might be saying today in these ancient scriptures.

  • Sea of Galilee Baptismal Site
    Sea of Galilee Baptismal Site
     Yardinet Baptism site (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:4-11) The gospels tell us that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Tradition has it that it was east of Jericho. The area has been an Israeli closed military zone since 1967 and a large building was erected. Another site was opened up by the Israeli government, sometimes called Yardinet, where the Sea of Galilee empties into the Jordan. It is run by a commercial Kibbutz which sells gifts and containers to hold water to take home. The kKbbutz also rents white robes to allow people to be baptized or re-baptized at that place. If you go to the Kingdom of Jordan, you can find a site marked as the Baptismal site which is probably more accurate. It is said that the original site near Jericho might be restored again but the water is contaminated. [Think about the idea that baptism can only take place once. When were you baptized?]
  • St. Peter's Fish
    Tiberias (John 6:23) The mention of Tiberias is very casual in the Bible and no healings or teachings are listed as happening there. The town was built by Herod Agrippas in honor of the Roman Emperor, Tiberias Antipas. Since it was a Roman town, it did not figure in Jesus’ ministry but became popular after 70 C.E. when it became a center of Jewish learning. Little of the ancient city remains today because of an earthquake in 1033. Tiberias is now a thriving commercialized resort city and the home of St. Peter’s fish, which everyone who visits has for dinner. The Franciscans visit Tiberias on St. Peter’s feast day, June 29, and have built a church resting on crusader foundations. The church has an apse resembling the keel of a boat. [Think about the ways in which honors to great people can be lost to time.]
  • Church at Magdala
    Church at Magdala
    Magdala (Mark 16; Luke 8:2) The town of Magdala is the place where Mary Magdalene presumably came from. It was a prosperous fishing and weaving town and shortly after 70 C.E. was destroyed by the Romans. The remains are largely under water although nearby there is the site of Migdal, an ancient town, which might be the origin of the name. [Think about why Mary Magdalene has been defamed over the years as a prostitute when the evidence of the Gospels gives her a leading role.] 
  • Tabgha is commemorated as the place where Jesus fed thousands of people, although the feeding was originally celebrated on the east side of the lake. (John 6:1-14)
    Mosaic of Loaves and Fishes
        Mosaic of Loaves and Fishes
    There is a reconstruction of a 4th century Byzantine basilica in the sanctuary with a mosaic depiction of loaves and fishes. The depiction is well known in Christian literature. Further along the road is the access to a 1933 chapel commemorating the Primacy of Peter (John 21:15-19). The chapel was built on the remains of a 4th century church and has an outdoor altar. [Peter was called to be a leader. Think about the characteristics needed for today’s church leaders.]
  • Ginosar (Matthew 8:23-26) is the location of a small 1st century C.E. boat of the kind the apostles might have used. The boat was found in 1986 when the water of the Lake fell to a very low level. In order to conserve it, the boat it is kept submerged in water in a museum. It is flat-bottomed and very shallow and illustrates why the apostles might have gotten frightened in a storm on the lake. [Think about a time when you have been frightened by natural forces and what has reassured you.]
  • Original Wall Capernaum
        Original Wall Capernaum
    Capernaum was the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. He called Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew here and often stayed at the home of Peter, as if it were his own family home. It was a lively city near the border of Syria. In the 800s Egeria, the early pilgrim, noted that a church had been built over the home of Peter. A fifth century octagonal church was built reducing the earlier building to ground level. Over the years a variety of buildings were constructed, but nothing remains except ruins. A modern basilica has been built by the Franciscans over the house of Peter, and it was constructed so that one can look down on the remains. A diagram is on display showing the earlier buildings and which parts of the ruins belong to which earlier church. Nearby are the ruins of a synagogue from the 5th century. The Greek Orthodox Church has excavated some small areas nearby as well. The place is an archeologist’s dream. [Jesus had two families, one in Nazareth and one with his disciples. Think about families which you feel part of even though you are not related by birth.]
  • Mount of Beatitudes
    Mount of Beatitudes
    The Mount of Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) is one of those sights for which we have no real evidence. Jesus preached all over the area, but this site was chosen by the Franciscan sisters who built a chapel with an exceptional view of the Sea of Galilee. It is a good place to pause for worship if you are in a group. [Read Matthew 5:1 – 12 and think about those who need blessings today.]
  • Chorazin - also named Korazim (Matthew 11:21) Jesus cursed Chorazin because it did not repent and there is nothing there today but a few ruins and some Israeli settlements built by early Zionists. [We do not outwardly curse places or people but think about similar things we do today with the same effect.] 
  • Safed – This town is not featured in the Bible but it is up on a hillside and often thought of as the “town that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). [Think about other objects that are symbols of events that cannot be hidden.]
  • Kursi – is often identified as the site where Jesus healed a man (or two men) possessed by demons by driving them into a herd of pigs. (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26). It is sometimes referred to as the land of the Gerasenes, Gadarenes or Gergesenes and it is no longer considered much of a pilgrimage site. [This is a story from the bible with many questions. Do you know other stories that make people doubt?]