Maps: the Sea of Galilee

Capernaum, Gadarene swine, MagdalaCapernaum, Gadarene swine, Magdala

Apart from several journeys, Jesus’ entire activity before his final departure for Jerusalem was concentrated around the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 15:29; Mark 1:16; 6:31), also called Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) and Lake Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1), and usually just ‘the sea’ in the Gospels.

  • Gennesaret seems to be an earlier name. for it replaces the biblical ‘Sea of Chinnereth’ (Numbers 34:11).
  • ‘Sea of Tiberias’ was the name used after the founding of Tiberias in 18-19AD. The first Apostles were fishermen, and sometimes Jesus taught standing in boats, with the crowds listening on the shore.
  • The Sermon on the Mount was delivered near Capernaum (Matthew 8:1 and 5). The site is said to be on the height just behind Capernaum. On occasion Jesus upbraided the cities that refused to repent (‘Woe to you Chorazin , woe to you Bethsaida. Capernaum shall be brought down to Hades’ (Matthew 11:21-23; Luke 10: 13- 15).
The Roman gates of the city of Tiberias - photograph by Hanay

The Roman gates of the city of Tiberias – photograph by Hanay

On the Sea of Galilee there are frequent storms. During one such storm, Jesus slept while sailing across to the Gadarenes (Mark 5:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-24) and when he awoke the sea was suddenly becalmed.

The location of the incident of the “Gadarene swine” has been much disputed (the usual version ‘Gerasene’ is impossible, for there was no territory of Gerasa on the lake shore). The two possibilities are ‘Gergasene’, pointing to Gergasa (Kursi) on the eastern shore of the lake in the territory of Hippus – and ‘Gadarene’. Gadara might have possessed a stretch of the shore situated between the River Jordan and Kefar-semah. The shore there is steep, so the plunging of the herd of‘ swine into the waters of the lake is plausible. The inhabitants of Gadara, being Gentiles, did not share Jewish scruples regarding the raising of swine.

Other events recorded in the Gospels relating to the Sea of Galilee and its surroundings are

  • the multiplication of the loaves and fishes at a lonely spot near the town of Bethsaida
  • the story of Jesus’ walking on the water
  • and Peter‘s attempt to follow his example (Mark 6:45-51; Matthew 15:22-23; and John 6:15-21).

Other journeys of Jesus include a visit to ‘Magadan’ (‘Dalmanutha’ In Mark 8: 10); in both cases we should read Magdala, the most important town on the sea shore after Tiberias, and famous for its fish-curing industry. This locality was the home of Mary Magdalene, who followed Jesus to Jerusalem; she was one of a group of women “who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities … who provided tor him out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3).

Gospel texts: Matthew 4:18, 5:1, 8:18, 23-34, 9:1, 13:1, 14:13-34, 15:29-39
Mark 2:16-20, 2:13, 4:1, 35-41, 5:1-21, 6:32-53, 8:1-10, 22
Luke 5:1-11, 8:22-39, 9:10-17
John 6:1-25

Remains of an ancient fishing boat found preserved in the mud of Lake Galilee

Remains of an ancient fishing boat found preserved in the mud of Lake Galilee

Reconstruction of the same boat (see above)

Reconstruction of the same boat (see above)