GALILEE gal’ə-lē [Heb gālîl—‘circuit, district, cylinder,’ in construct ‘the region of’; Gk galilaía]. The northern portion of Palestine, scene of most of the earthly ministry of Jesus.
The modern Hebrew name gelîl, according to its vowel pattern, is in construct and requires another term to follow it in the genitive (cf. the plural gelîlê kesep̱, “rings of silver” [Est. 1:6] and gelîlê zāhāḇ, “cylinders of gold” [Cant. 5:14]). Such a phrase occurs in Isa. 9:1 (MT 8:23), gelîl haggôyîm, “the region of the gentiles/nations.” The word became a proper name, however; cf. qeḏeš baggālîl, “Qadesh in (the) Galilee” (Josh. 20:7; 21:32; 1 Ch. 6:76 [MT 61]) and beʾereṣ haggālîl, “in the land of (the) Galilee” (1 K. 9:11), always written with the definite article. The feminine forms of the word, gelîlâ, pl gelîlôṯ, also occur, used of the region of the Philistines (Josh. 13:2), of the regions of the Jordan (Josh. 22:10f), and once of Galilee (2 K. 15:29). This last reference, as accented, appears to be with the -â directive (“toward the Galilee”), but the presence of the ʾeṯ of the direct object almost certainly requires the form to be a feminine singular with an erroneous accent. In the Greek of Josephus and the NT, the word Galilaía occurs regularly as a proper noun. It is reasonable to infer that the origin of the term is indicated in Isa. 9:1—that “Galilee” was at first a pejorative term or at least descriptive of the fact that it was occupied or traversed by a large number of foreigners, and that “the Region” (“the Galil”) subsequently became a proper name.
It is possible that Gôyim was originally the name of a people, for in Gen. 14:1 it appears in a list of kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, etc., as “Tidal king of Goiim,” and it would make little sense to speak of a “king of nations.” If so, Harosheth-ha-Goyim in Jgs. 4:2 could also be understood as “the wooded hills of the Goyim.” Later, because of gentile traffic in the region, gôyim came to be understood as meaning “gentiles.”
In the OT, Galilee was “in the hill country of Naphtali” (Josh. 20:7). Likewise in Josh. 21:32 and 1 Ch. 6:76 Qedesh in Galilee is a portion of Naphtali. In Isa. 9:1 “Galilee of the nations” is associated with “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,” but because of the structure of the passage it is not clear that identification is intended. (“The land beyond the Jordan” occurs in the same verse, immediately before the reference to Galilee.) According to 2 K. 15:29 Tiglath-pileser captured “Ijon and Abel-beth-maacah and Janoah and Kedesh and Hazor and Gilead and Galilee—all the land of Naphtali.” The repetition of the conjunction “and” is significant, for it connects the first seven names and sets them apart from the next phrase; in other words, it names them as constituting “all the land of Naphtali.” This, however, creates another problem, for while it places Galilee in Naphtali, as do the other texts mentioned above, it also places Gilead in Naphtali—which is not in accord with the boundaries of Naphtali given in Josh. 19:32–34. The northern border of Naphtali is not given, but it lay W of the Upper Jordan system (including lakes Huleh and Galilee) and was bounded on the west, southwest, and south by the tribal portions of Asher, Zebulun, and Issachar. The southern boundary was approximately from the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to (but not including) Mt. Tabor, and therefore did not include Nazareth. Nor did it include the Valley of Jezreel, which belonged to Issachar.
In the Hellenistic and Roman periods Syrophoenicia included the coastal strip which was the tribal allotment of Asher. Indeed, there is little if any evidence that Asher ever fully occupied this region. The kingdom of Herod the Great did not include the coastal region N of Caesarea, nor did the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. The plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel) was apparently included in Galilee during this period, but the eastern end, including Beth-shean (Scythopolis) was part of the Decapolis.
It is reasonable, therefore, to describe Galilee in NT times as consisting of Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, and the plain of Esdraelon. Thus it stretched from the Jordan system (the source rivers, Lake Huleh, the Upper Jordan, and the Sea of Galilee) westward to, but probably not including, the maritime plain.
There is some evidence that a portion of the land E of the Jordan system was also included in Galilee. As we have seen, “beyond the Jordan” is mentioned in Isa. 9:1, and Gilead is mentioned along with Galilee in 2 K. 15:29. According to Josephus, “Judas the Galilean” (cf. Acts 5:37), who stirred up a revolt against the Romans (BJ ii.8.1 ), was from Gamala in Gaulonitis (Ant. xviii.1.1 ). Accordingly, G. A. Smith states that “the eastern shores of Lake Gennesaret also fell within the province,” adding in a footnote that under the Turks it was part of Kada Tubariya, and that Palestine included a stretch along the eastern shore of the lake “from a minimum of 10 meters parallel with high-water mark to a maximum of about 2000” (HGHL, p. 271). The territory established by the United Nations (1947) for the Jewish state likewise includes such a strip.
It is not certain when the valley of Esdraelon was first considered a part of Galilee. Josephus described the western frontiers of Galilee as “the outlying territory of Ptolemais and Carmel, a mountain once belonging to Galilee and now to Tyre” (BJ iii.3.1 ). G. A. Smith states that the valley became part of Galilee at the time of the Samaritan schism, but his reference to Josephus (BJ ii.3.4) is erroneous (HGHL, p. 247).
Historically, Galilee has been divided into Upper Galilee and Lower Galilee (Josephus BJ iii.3.1 ), but for our purposes this oversimplifies the region. It is better to divide Galilee into five areas: (1) the coastal plain, (2) Upper Galilee, (3) Lower Galilee, (4) the plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel), and (5) the adjacent portions of the Rift (the Jordan system).
The tribal allotment of Asher included Carmel (Josh. 19:26) and extended “as far as Sidon the Great” (19:29). While it appears that Asher never controlled the coastal plain (cf. Jgs. 1:31), the limits mentioned cover roughly the same distance as is included in the other divisions we shall consider; hence this is a suitable starting-point.
The region is, generally speaking, a coastal plain, cut by numerous streams and wadis that drain the highlands on the east. One notable exception to this general description is the point where the mountains come right to the sea, between Naqûrā and Ras en-Naqûrā (Rōsh ha-Niqrāh), known from ancient times as “the Ladder of Tyre” (1 Macc. 11:59; Josephus BJ ii.10.2 ). Josephus located the Ladder 100 stadia (18.5 km, 11.5 mi) N of Ptolemais (which he included in Galilee)—remarkably close to the actual distance from Acco to Rōsh ha-Niqrāh. The outer limits of Great Sidon would possibly be the mouth of the Litani gorge and may have been an “ideal” boundary, much as was “the entrance of Hamath,” part of the “very much land” that remained to be possessed (Josh. 13:1). South of the Ladder of Tyre, the coastal plain is about 11 km (7 mi) wide, becoming much wider at the entrance to the plain of Esdraelon E of the Gulf of Haifa. This region is known today as ʿĒmeq Zevûlûn, “the plain of Zebulun.” The steep flank of Mt. Carmel forms a natural southern boundary and also interrupts the coastal plain. Most of the cities included in Asher’s allotment are on the slopes of the Galilean hills. Significant exceptions are Carmel and Acco (emending “Ummah” in Josh. 19:30, following LXX; cf. Jgs. 1:31).
The division between Upper and Lower Galilee can be made roughly by drawing a line from Acco to Rōsh Pinnāh, 10 km (6 mi) N of the Sea of Galilee. Upper Galilee is a distinctive region of high hills and numerous narrow valleys; in fact, the highest point in all Palestine, Jebel Jarmāq (Har Mêrôn, 1208 m or 3962 ft), lies in this region. D. Baly divides Upper Galilee into the western and eastern regions. The Great Rift, which runs from the Syro-Turkic region to the southern part of Africa, divides somewhat at the southern end of the Beqʿa (between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon), one part (the Lebanon Rift) being the valley of the Līṭânī River, the other (the Jordan Rift) draining the western slopes of Mt. Hermon into the Bereighith and Ḥasbânī rivers and ultimately into the Upper Jordan. The dividing line is approximately at the modern border of Israel and Lebanon, where a slight rise of about 200 m (660 ft), less than 4 km (2.5 mi) in width, divides the Bereighith from the Līṭânī. The western part of this rift can be traced southward through Wâdī Dubbeh, E of the mountains of Meron and Hillel, W of the Horns of Ḥattin, to where it joins the plain of Esdraelon E of Mt. Tabor. A modern road runs almost the entire length of this depression.
The northern limits of Upper Galilee, as we have seen, are not clearly defined. A case could be made for taking the Litani gorge as the edge of Galilee. Baly suggests a line running from Tyre to Tibnine as another possibility, noting that all land above 1000 m (3300 ft) lies S of this line. Much the same could be said if we used the northern boundary of the modern State of Israel as the northern limits of Upper Galilee. The highest peaks lie in the western part of Upper Galilee: Jebel Jarmāq (Har Mêrôm, 1208 m, 3962 ft), Jebel ʿArûs (Har Hillēl, 1071 m, 3513 ft), Jebel Haider (Har Haʾārî, 1048 m, 3437 ft), and Jebel ʿAdathir (Har ʿAddîr, 1008 m, 3307 ft). A cleft runs northwestward (ʿĒmeq Peqîʿin) from Har Haʾārî and then turns westward to empty into the coastal plain N of Nahariyya. The eastern part of Upper Galilee is less rugged but more irregular, as the tortuous road from Pārôd to Rōsh Pinnāh by the way of Mêrôn and Safed clearly indicates.
The northern limits of this region are fairly clearly defined, marked by the scarp of esh-Shagûr which begins about 10 km (6 mi) E of Acco and runs eastward to the Ghor near Rōsh Pinnāh. It consists of Har Gāmāl, Har Shēzôr, Har Hûd, Har Harʿārî, Har Kefîr, and Har Shimʿei in the western part of Lower Galilee, and Har ʿAkbārā (626 m, 2054 ft) and several Ramoth (hills) in the eastern part. The highway from Acco to Parod by way of Biqʿat Beit Kerem closely traces much of this northern border. The southern limits of Lower Galilee are less well defined, but for our purposes we may take the plain of Esdraelon as the boundary. In some works, this plain is included in Lower Galilee. No mountains in Lower Galilee are higher than 600 m (2000 ft). Moreover, the valleys and depressions in Lower Galilee are broader, providing for numerous roads. The most important of these valleys are Biqʿat Beit Kerem (the basin of esh-Shagûr), Biqʿat Beit Neṭôphāh (Sahl al-Baṭṭauf, the Baṭṭōf depression), Biqʿat Tirʿān through which the road runs from Nazareth to Tiberias, and Biqʿat Yabneʾēl in the hills above Tiberias. The road from Afula to Ṣômet Ḥanāniāh serves to mark the division between eastern and western Lower Galilee.
The plain of Esdraelon (Valley of Jezreel) is bounded on the north by the foothills of Lower Galilee, and on the south by Mt. Carmel, the hills of Samaria, and the mountains of Gilboa. With the exception of the hill of Moreh (Gibʿat ha-Môrêh or Jebel Daḥī, 515 m, 1690 ft), it is quite flat, rising from where it merges into the coastal plain between Mt. Carmel and Tel Meʿammēr to where it drops suddenly into the Ghor E of ʿÊn Ḥarôḏ; it is rarely more than 100 m (330 ft) above sea level.
The name “Valley of Jezreel” is sometimes used for the eastern part and “plain of Esdraelon” for the western (cf. GB [2nd ed. 1974], p. 147), but this is a somewhat artificial distinction. The western part, near Megiddo, was also the Valley of Jezreel in the OT, and “Esdraelon” was the Greek equivalent (Jth. 3:9, here actually used of the eastern portion). Josephus uses the term “the Great Plain” (Vita 24 ; BJ ii.10.2 ; here he states that Ptolemais was “built at the entrance to the Great Plain”; Ant.xx.6.1 ; etc.). A far more meaningful distinction would be the use of Biqʿaṯ Megiddô, “the broad valley of Megiddo” cf. 2 Ch. 35:22), and ʿĒmeq Yizreʿel, “the deep valley of Jezreel” (cf. Josh. 17:16), the former to refer to the western portion and the latter to the eastern, as do the texts cited.
The western portion is drained by the Kishon River, which originates somewhere S of Afula (the wadi at this point is seasonally dry, hence the indefinite statement). In the rainy season in times past the Kishon flooded the flat plain, and until systematic cultivation of the region by Jewish pioneers at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th cents, there were extensive marshes, hence the Arabic name Merj ibn ʿAmr, “the meadow of Amr’s son.” This portion is roughly triangular in shape, the southwestern side extending along the foot of Mt. Carmel from N of Jokneam to Jenin, a distance of 36 km (22 mi), the eastern side from Jenin to Tel ʿAdashim just below Nazareth, a distance of 22 km (13.7 mi), and the northern side closing the triangle, a distance of 18 km (11 mi). An extension of this plain spreads eastward about 12 km (7 1/2 mi) between the hill of Moreh and Mt. Tabor, so that the plain is often described as Y-shaped. The mountains of Gilboa extend northward in the area from Jenin to Jezreel and drop off sharply into the eastern part of the Valley of Jezreel and the Jordan Ghor.
The eastern portion (the true ʿĒmeq Yizreʿel, although modern Israeli maps use this name only for the broad plain), begins around Afula (biblical Ophrah?) and runs ESE for about 20 km (12.4 mi) to Beth-shean. It is drained by Nahal Harod (hence the modern name ʿĒmeq Ḥarôḏ), and is quite narrow (3 km, 2 mi) where it begins its decline, reaching sea level in the vicinity of ʿAin Ḥarôḏ, dropping to 150 m (500 ft) below sea level at Beth-shean, and then falling suddenly to the Ghor, which is about 300 m (1000 ft) below sea level at that point.
This eastern portion, ʿĒmeq Ḥarôḏ, is well watered by the many springs from the mountains of Gilboa, and, at this writing, is filled with fish ponds for the raising of protein food supplies. The biblical Beth-shean is identified with Tell el-Huṣn, a short distance N of the modern city. Biblical Jezreel is identified with Zerʿin, E of modern Jezreel.
We have already seen that the Great Rift divides at the lower end of the Beqʿa to form the Lebanon Rift and the Jordan Rift. The Jordan Rift (Arab Ghôr) develops into much the greater trough; hence the name “rift” properly belongs to it from the region of Mt. Hermon southward. The streams and underground springs fed by Mt. Hermon furnish a copious amount of water, which develops into four sources of the Jordan River. The well-watered meadows around Merj ʿAyûn (“the meadow of the springs”) at the southern end of the Lebanon Beqʿa are drained by the Wâdī Bereighith. In former times this river joined the other sources of the Jordan around Lake Huleh, but at present it is part of the drainage system of the Huleh basin. The longest of the sources is the Ḥasbânī (Nahal Shenir) which rises in the western part of the foot of Hermon. The other sources, which spring from the southern part of the foot of Hermon, are the Leddan (Nahal Dan), and the Bâniyâs (Nahal Hermon). These three join near the modern village of Śdêh Nehemyāh and become another part of the drainage system.
The upper end of the Jordan Rift has often been a meeting place of nations. In OT times, Phoenicia, Syria, and Israel met here (Dan, the northern limit expressed in the phrase “from Dan to Beer-sheba,” was located at the source of the Leddan). In NT times, the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, the Tetrarchy of Philip (who built Caesarea at Bâniyâs, the source of the Bâniyâs River), and Phoenicia met in this region. More recently, it was the meeting point of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel.
Biblical maps include a turnip-shaped lake, Lake Huleh or Lake Semechonitis, N of the Sea of Galilee. In 1952 traces of the lake were still visible in the marshy valley, but since then it has entirely disappeared, the result of the drainage system installed by the Israeli government to create a rich agricultural region. In the biblical period the lake was about 5 1/2 km (3 1/2 mi) long and 4 1/2 km (2 3/4 mi) wide, situated in the Huleh basin, a flat, low-lying region between the hills of Upper Galilee and the plateau of Gaulanitis (Jaulan, Golan). Neither “Huleh” nor “Semechonitis” occurs in the Bible, nor has any term been positively identified with the lake or the basin. In Josephus, the term Semechonitis (Semachonitis in Ant. v.5.1 ) is used of the lake above the “Lake of Genesar” (the Sea of Galilee; cf. BJ iii.10.8 ; iv.1.1 [2f]). Josephus described the region as one of marshes and lagoons, and gave the dimensions of Lake Semechonitis as 30 stadia (5 1/2 km, 3 1/2 mi) in breadth and 60 stadia (11 1/2 km, 7 mi) in length—considerably larger than its measurements in more recent times. Josephus also stated that the marshes extended as far as Daphne, “a delightful spot with springs which feed the so-called Little Jordan, beneath the temple of the golden cow” (BJ iv.1.1 ), obviously referring to the Leddan and the temple at Dan. In some works, the marshes of the Huleh basin are identified as the waters of Merom (Josh. 11:5f), but marshland is not suited to warfare such as is described in Josh. 11:1–9, and more recent scholars locate the waters of Merom near the village of Meron, WNW of Safed.
The elevation of Lake Huleh (from the Arabic name Baḥret el-Ḥûleh, “the little sea of Huleh”) has been a matter of considerable confusion, some atlases recording it as 2 m (7 ft) below sea level, others as 2 m (7 ft) above sea level. The modern survey map indicates that the elevation is 73 m (240 ft) above sea level, and because of the basalt plug at the bottom of the basin, it could never have been much lower. Just S of Lake Huleh there was an important ford across the Upper Jordan, which came to be known in the Middle Ages as “the Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob” (Jisr Banât Yaʿqûb; the name has no reference to the patriarch Jacob, but was taken from a convent of the Daughters of St. James located near this place in Crusader times). From just S of this crossing the Upper Jordan plunges through a basalt gorge, descending about 270 m (885 ft) in the next 12 km (7 1/2 mi), then spreading out over a grassy plain near the site of Bethsaida Julias (called simply Julias in BJ iii.10.7 ; Josephus gave the length of this portion of the Jordan as 120 stadia [22 km, 14 mi]), and emptying into the freshwater Sea of Galilee.
The Sea of Galilee is a harp-shaped lake, 21 km (13 mi) long by 12 km (7 1/2 mi) wide, lying at an altitude of 210 m (689 ft) below sea level (1976). In the OT it is called “the Sea of Chinnereth” (Nu. 34:11; etc., whence the modern Israeli name Yam Kinneret) and “the Sea of Chinneroth” (Josh. 12:3; etc.). In the NT it is called “the Sea of Galilee” (Mt. 4:18; etc.), “the lake of Gennesaret” (Lk. 5:1), “the sea of Tiberias” (Jn. 21:1; cf. the modern Arabic name Baḥr Ṭabarîyeh), “the lake” (Lk. 5:1; etc.), and “the sea” (Jn. 6:16, etc.). The name “sea of Gennesar” occurs in 1 Macc. 11:67, and “Lake of Gennesar” in Josephus (BJ iii.10.8 , etc.); Josephus also used the name “lake of Tiberias” (BJ iii.3.5 , etc.), and variants “Gennesaret” and “Gennesaritis” also occur.
Except for the northwestern area and the southern end, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by high hills, the Golan Heights on the east being higher and the shoreline steeper than the hills of Lower Galilee on the west. Thus when the wind is from the west, as customarily, it generates a high-pressure area over the lake and the water is calm; but when the wind shifts and blows from the east, it creates a venturi effect, resulting in a low-pressure area, and sudden and severe storms come up on the lake.
The northwestern shore is the plain of Gennesaret (Biqʿat Ginnesar), a well-watered and extremely fertile plain. The subtropical climate, caused by the altitude and the protection of the surrounding hills, enables almost continuous production of agricultural products in this plain. In an oft-quoted passage, Josephus described this region with a touch of hyperbole: “There is not a plant which its fertile soil refuses to produce, and its cultivators in fact grow every species” (BJ iii.10.8). The tetrarch Herod built a capital on the western shore of the lake about 5 km (3 mi) S of this plain, naming it Tiberias in honor of Tiberius Caesar (Ant. xviii.2.3 ; cf. Jn. 6:23). See Plate 15.
The Sea of Galilee empties into the Jordan River at the southwestern end, where the Jordan Ghor is broad. About 11 km (7 mi) S of that point, the Yarmuk enters the Jordan from the east, and about 15 km (9 mi) further south the Jezreel Valley empties into the Jordan Ghor from the west. In this region the Jordan system is entirely fresh water, salts being picked up from the soil as it progresses southward.
The route of Abraham (then known as Abram) from Haran to Shechem is not clearly traced (Gen. 12:4–6). If Eliezer was indeed from Damascus (Gen. 15:2, a problem text; see comms), the route was probably by the way of Ebla, Hamath, Damascus, and then along the southeastern flank of Mt. Hermon, across the ford where the Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob is located, through Lower Galilee, across the plain of Esdraelon, past Dothan to Shechem. Later, when the coalition of kings captured Sodom and Gomorrah, taking Lot with them, Abram pursued the enemy “as far as Dan” (Gen. 14:14), and indeed even to Hobah “north of Damascus” (14:15).
When Moses sent the twelve “spies” to survey the land of the Canaanites, they traveled “to Rehob, near the entrance of Hamath” (Nu. 13:21). The route is not described in detail N of the Valley of Eschol in Judea, but we may assume that they journeyed by the direct route, traversing Galilee from the plain of Esdraelon to its northern limits.
After Joshua had conquered the southern part of the land, Jabin king of Hazor formed a coalition of kings of the region which can roughly be described as Galilee (cf. Josh. 11:2f), and Joshua engaged them in battle “by the waters of Merom” (11:7). The following locations are of interest: “the northern hill country” (v 2) is probably Upper Galilee, “the Arabah south of Chinneroth” (v 2) is the broad Ghor of the Jordan just S of the Sea of Galilee; “the lowland” (v 2) is possibly the plain of Jezreel; “the land of Mizpah” which is “under Hermon” (v 3) is possibly the region around Merj ʿAyûn; Misrephoth-maim (v 8), which is connected in the context with Great Sidon and the valley of Mizpeh, may well be the Līṭânī gorge (cf. LBHG, p. 216); Hazor, which was formerly “the head of all those kingdoms” (v 10), guarded the main road which went from Acco to the Bridge of the Daughters of Jacob and on to Damascus, as well as the north-south road through Upper Galilee; Hazor is N of the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the Huleh basin. The names in Josh. 12:7–24 could be studied with profit in this connection.
In the tribal allotment, Galilee was divided among the tribes of Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar. Later the tribe of Dan moved from its original location in Philistine country to the northern end of Galilee (Josh. 19:40–47).
The battle with Sisera, described in Jgs. 4–5, took place in the plain of Jezreel in the vicinity of Mt. Tabor (Jgs. 4:6f.). Deborah was from Ephraim (= Samaria), but Barak was from Kedesh in Naphtali (4:5f.). Sisera, the commander of the army of Jabin of Hazor, “dwelt” (Heb yôšēḇ, perhaps meaning “had his headquarters”) in Harosheth-ha-goiim (4:2). No such city is known, and the suggestion has been made that the term means “the wooded hills of the Goyim,” synonymous with “Galilee of the Gentiles,” referring to Lower Galilee. The battle began at Taanach “by the waters of Megiddo” (Jgs. 5:19), and moved toward Tabor. “The stars” (Heb hakkôḵāḇîm, 5:20) fought Sisera, probably meaning rain (cf. J. Blenkinsopp, Bibl, 42 , 73f, for a Canaanite parallel) which caused the Kishon to flood and trap Sisera’s army (5:21). Sisera fled on foot, and took refuge in the house of Heb.er (4:17), located near Kedesh. Aharoni locates Kedesh-Naphtali in the plain of Jabneel in the hills above the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee (LBHG, Map 16, p. 202), to be distinguished from Tell Qades in Upper Galilee (p. 204). The description of Sisera’s flight on foot makes more sense if we accept such a location.
In the 11th cent. B.C. the “Midianites,” tribes from E of the Jordan, were making raids on the Israelites. Finally, Gideon was called to put a stop to these harassments (Jgs. 6:7, 11–16). He assembled an army from Asher, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Manasseh, and probably also from Issachar, for that is where he was located (6:11). The Midianites came up the deep Valley of Jezreel (6:33), i.e., from the direction of Beth-shean, and camped by the Hill of Moreh, N of Gideon’s band at the spring of Harod (7:1). Gideon and his three hundred put the Midianites to flight, and men from Naphtali and Asher joined in the rout, pursuing the Midianites “beyond the Jordan” (7:23, 25).
When Saul united the tribes into his kingdom, he apparently took control of the Via Maris (“the way of the sea”), the highway that connected Damascus with Acco and also, by way of Wâdī ʿAra next to Megiddo, with the Philistine region and Egypt. Such a situation would explain the Philistine attempt to seize the plain of Esdraelon. The Philistine army moved, it would seem, from Aphek in the Sharon plain (1 S. 29:1) via Wâdī ʿAra to Shunem at the base of the hill of Moreh (1 S. 28:4). Saul had visited the medium at EN-DOR, identified with the modern Ṣafṣefoth, 6 km (4 mi) S of Mt. Tabor, not far from the hill of Moreh (1 S. 28:7–19). Saul’s forces were in the mountains of Gilboa when the Philistines attacked. Saul and his three sons fell in the battle (1 S. 31:1–8), and their bodies were hung on the wall of Beth-shean (31:10, 12).
David subdued the Philistines, regaining the plain of Jezreel, but in his campaign to Damascus and the north, it appears that he marched through Transjordan (1 Ch. 19:7–19). There can be no doubt, however, that David controlled Galilee and beyond. The census conducted by Joab included “Kadesh in the land of the Hittites” (2 S. 24:6, which would be Qadesh on the Orontes), Dan-jaan (24:6 [MT], possibly Ijon N of Dan in the vicinity of Merj ʿAyûn), Sidon, the fortress of Tyre (the mainland city, not the island), and “all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites” (24:7, probably referring to the Phoenician coast from Tyre to Acco; cf. LBHG, pp. 264f).
Solomon fortified Megiddo and Hazor, important and strategic points on the Damascus-Gaza route (the Via Maris) along with Gezer (1 K. 9:15). His fifth, eighth, ninth, and tenth administrative districts were in the region that we have defined as Galilee (1 K. 4:7–19). He ceded twenty cities in Galilee to Hiram of Tyre, seemingly to pay for materials used in his building program (1 K. 9:10f.). According to modern consensus the cities were in the coastal plain and foothills of Galilee.
When the monarchy was divided, Galilee became part of the kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam (cf. 1 K. 12:20), who built altars and erected golden calves, one at Bethel and the other at Dan (12:29). Dan was known as Laish (Jgs. 18:29) or Leshem (Josh. 19:47); cf. Lus (i) in Egyptian texts of the 19th cent. B.C.
Shishak (Sheshonq) of Egypt invaded Palestine in the fifth year of Rehoboam (ca 926 B.C.; cf. 1 K. 14:25). According to Shishak’s list, he also invaded the northern kingdom, naming among other places the Emeq, Rehob, Beth-shean, Shunem, Taanach, and Megiddo (LBHG, p. 285). A fragment of a stele erected by Shishak has been recovered at Megiddo.
Ben-hadad of Damascus, responding to a payment by Asa of Judah, invaded Galilee in the days of Baasha (ca 885 B.C.), conquering Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, all Chinneroth, and all the land of Naphtali (1 K. 15:18–20). The growing strength of the Aramean city-states, allied with Ahab of Israel, led to the confrontation with Shalmaneser III at Qarqar in 853 B.C. Elijah the prophet came from Tishbe, which has sometimes been identified with a place in Naphtali, but 1 K. 17:1 clearly locates it in Gilead. (In the light of Jn. 7:52 it is hard to believe that there was any Jewish tradition that Elijah came from Galilee!) His ministry, however, included locations in Galilee. The miracle at Zarephath took place near Sidon (1 K. 17:9). The contest with the prophets of Baal took place on Mt. Carmel (18:20–40), which, as we have seen, was at one time attributed to Galilee. The death penalty on the false prophets was exacted at the river Kishon in the plain of Esdraelon (18:40). Naboth’s vineyard was in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab (1 K. 21:1), and it was there that Elijah rebuked the king. It was at Naboth’s property that Jehu put to death Joram king of Israel (2 K. 9:21, 24). Jehu shot Ahaziah king of Judah with an arrow at the ascent of Gur near Ibleam, but the king died at Megiddo (9:27). At Jezreel Jehu caused the death of Jezebel (9:30–37). The prophet Elisha also performed part of his ministry in Galilee: the episode with the Shunammite woman (2 K. 4:8–37) took place at Shunem in the plain of Esdraelon.
Shalmaneser III continued his campaigns against the Arameans, defeating Hazael at Mt. Senir, possibly Mt. Hermon (cf. Dt. 3:9; but in Cant. 4:8 and 1 Ch. 5:23 the two names seem to refer to different places), probably destroying Hazor at that time (Level VIII), and reaching the mountain Ba’li-ra’si (= Baal Rosh, or Mt. Carmel), where he set up a monument (ANET, p. 280).
Tiglath-pileser III captured much of Galilee ca 732 B.C., as described in 2 K. 15:29. The route apparently was down the Lebanon Beqʿa and into the upper Jordan Valley, but Tiglath-pileser’s own account is devoid of details, stating simply, “… the wide land of (Naphta)li, in its entire extent, I united with Assyria” (ANET, p. 283; ARAB, I, § 815). The region that we know as Galilee became the Assyrian province of Megiddo. (Y. Aharoni, in Macmillan Bible Atlas, p. 95, takes the phrases in Isa. 9:1 to refer to the three Assyrian provinces, “the Way of the Sea” = Dor, “Galilee of the Nations” = Megiddo, and “Beyond the Jordan” = Gilead.) After the capture of Samaria, the province of Dor was incorporated into the province of Samaria.
When Pharaoh Neco went to the aid of Aššur-uballiṭ at Carchemish (609 B.C.), Josiah of Judah attempted to intercept him and was killed at Megiddo (2 K. 23:29). Neco probably continued through the Lebanon Beqʿa to Riblah (where he appointed Jehoiakim king of Judah, 23:33f), then to Hamath, Aleppo, and Carchemish.
Simon the Maccabee (ca 163 B.C.) led a band against enemies from Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon who had attacked the Jews in Galilee (1 Macc. 5:14–23). In 161 B.C. Demetrius I sent Bacchides at the head of an army to Judea and, passing through Galilee, he punished the Jews of Arbela near the Sea of Galilee (1 Macc. 9:1–4; Ant. xii.11.1 [420–22]). In 144 B.C. Jonathan defeated the forces of Demetrius at Cadasa near Hazor (1 Macc. 11:63f.; Ant. xiii.5.7 [158–162]). Tryphon marched against Jonathan in 143 B.C. from Damascus, and the two forces met at Beth-shean. By a series of ruses, Tryphon led Jonathan to Ptolemais, where Jonathan was captured (1 Macc. 12:39f.; 13:1–30; Ant. xiii.6.1–6 [187–212]).
In 104 B.C. Aristobulus conquered Galilee, making it a Jewish land and putting most of Galilee under the Maccabeans. In a very short time Sepphoris and Asochis were Jewish cities (Ant. xiii.11.3 ; BJ i.3.3 ). The coastal plain remained outside the Maccabean kingdom. In 63 B.C. Pompey conquered Palestine for Rome, “liberated” the cities that had been taken by the Jews, and established the Decapolis, including Scythopolis (Beth-shean). An attempt was made to partition Judea into five synedria, but this was short-lived. Galilee and Judea (except for a large coastal portion), together with Perea, formed the new Judea. Herod was made king of the Jews by Caesar Augustus and gradually accumulated almost all of Palestine as well as large portions of Transjordan. On the death of Herod in 4 B.C. Galilee and Perea were made the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas (Ant. xvii.11.4 [317–321]; BJ ii.6.3 [93–98]).
- Galilee in the New Testament
Since the major part of the ministry of Jesus was conducted in Galilee, it is not possible to review all of the NT references to Galilee. In general we should note that Jesus’ boyhood and the opening of His ministry took place in Nazareth in Lower Galilee, and much of the rest of His public ministry took place at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. A number of locations should be singled out for special mention.
Cana of Galilee, where the first miracle occurred (Jn. 2:1, 11), according to most modern scholars was not at the modern site of Kefr Kenna on the road from Nazareth to Tiberias, but more likely at Khirbet Qânā N of Nazareth on the far side of Biqʿat Beit Neṭofa; the old road would have gone through Sepphoris. On the other hand, Jesus’ “second visit” to Cana (Jn. 4:46), in context, would appear to be on the Nazareth-Capernaum road, which would favor Kefr Kenna.
The call of the disciples took place on the shore of Galilee near Capernaum (Mk. 1:16, 21, 29). The site of Capernaum was formerly hotly debated, but since World War II scholars are generally agreed on the modern Kefr Nahum, where excavations have uncovered foundations of a house believed to be that of Simon Peter’s family.
Synagogue at Capernaum, built on the site of the synagogue where Jesus worshiped (W. S. LaSor)
The raising of the widow’s son occurred in the village of Nain, on the northern foot of the hill of Moreh, SE of Nazareth. The “hill of precipitation,” to which Jesus was taken by an unruly mob that would have lynched him (Lk. 4:29), would seem to be nearer to Nazareth than the precipice that today marks the traditional site. Perhaps it was at this time that Jesus withdrew from Nazareth and relocated at Capernaum.
His ministry around the lake involved a number of locations. The “Sermon on the Mount” (the envelope-pattern context of Mt. 4:25 and 8:1 suggests that it was a specific event at a specific place) probably occurred on the slopes above Capernaum. The feeding of the 5000 (Jn. 6; Mt. 14:13–21 par) took place on “the other side of the Sea of Galilee” (Jn. 6:1), which probably means on the east side of the Upper Jordan, where there is a large, gentle, grassy slope, and not at Tabgha, where the modern site is located. Bethsaida presents a problem, for Bethsaida Julius was E of the Upper Jordan, but Mk. 6:45 suggests that the disciples were sent from a place E of the Jordan “to the other side, to Bethsaida” (6:45), to which a further note indicates that they were proceeding toward the plain of Gennesaret (6:53). It has therefore been proposed that there were two Bethsaidas, the second a “Bethsaida of Galilee” (Jn. 12:21) perhaps W of Capernaum. The woes pronounced against Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin (which is 4 km [2 1/2 mi] N of Capernaum) would seem to require a Bethsaida near the other two cities (Mt. 11:21–23).
The drowning of the swine, caused by exorcising demons, is difficult to locate due to the textual problems (various readings are “Gadarenes,” “Gergesenes,” and “Gerasenes”; see Mt. 8:28). Gergasa was on the east side of the lake, N of Hippos, where the slope is not too steep to fit the story. Gerasa has been identified with Jerash, and is thus out of the question. Gadara is SE of the Sea of Galilee, on the slopes of the Yarmuk River. See GERASA.
The Gospels report that Jesus visited the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mk. 7:24; Mt. 15:21), but the expression does not necessarily imply that Jesus actually visited those cities. The border of Sidon, we have seen, may have been at the Litani gorge, which could also have been the northern border of the region of Tyre. It would therefore be possible to interpret the statement by proposing that Jesus traveled from the region of the sources of the Jordan along the Litani to an unknown place, or even to assume that the regions of Tyre and Sidon extended eastward to the vicinity of Merj ʿAyûn. After healing the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee through the region of the Decapolis (Mk. 7:31), which may simply indicate the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee.
At a critical point in His ministry, Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi (Mt. 16:13; again, since “the region of” is used, it is not necessary to understand that they actually went into that city). There Peter made his great profession of faith. A week later Jesus took Peter, James, and John and “led them up a high mountain” (Mt. 17:1), where the Transfiguration occurred. The traditional site of the Transfiguration is Mt. Tabor or “Little Hermon,” E of Nazareth. But this is by no stretch of the imagination “an unusually high mountain” (óros hypsēlón); nor is it likely that Jesus could have found the necessary solitude so close to Nazareth. Caesarea Philippi is on the southern side of Mt. Hermon, near the source of the Bâniyâs, one of the tributaries of the Jordan. Mt. Hermon, furthermore, rises to an elevation of 2814 m (9235 ft), and in comparison with the mountains in Galilee, which are never above 1208 m (3964 ft), this is exceptionally high. Mt. Tabor, by way of contrast, is only 580 m (1903 ft), a little sugarloaf hill scarcely higher than the hills of Nazareth a short distance to the west.
There is no mention of evangelizing Galilee after the Resurrection, and Galilee is not mentioned in Jesus’ parting instructions (Acts 1:8).
Since Josephus was a general of Jewish forces located in “both Galilees” (BJ ii.20.4), we could easily lose our objective if we were to track down his many references. Furthermore, for this article it would serve no useful purpose. Suffice it to say that Vespasian quickly conquered Galilee, taking Josephus prisoner in the process. Jotapata, Sepphoris, and Gischala were already important Jewish cities. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the religion of the Jews might have come to an end. But Johanan ben Zakkai escaped from Jerusalem, according to tradition smuggling a copy of the Holy Scriptures with him, and obtained permission from Vespasian to set up an academy at Jabneh (Jamnia, the OT Jabneel in the Sharon plain). He organized a Beth Din to take the place of the Sanhedrin, which had ceased to exist. After the defeat of Bar Cochba in A.D. 135 the council moved to Sikhnin N of Jotapata, and due to the persecution under Hadrian other schools that had developed moved to Galilee, with locations at Usha, Peqiʿin, Sepphoris, Beth-shearim, and Tiberias. Galilee thenceforth became a strong center of Judaism. The teachings of the Tannaʾim were gathered, the codification of the Mishnah was accomplished by Judah ha-Naśiʾ, and the traditional pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible was preserved by the Tiberian masoretic pointing. Thus the foundations of modern Judaism were securely laid—in Galilee of the Gentiles.
Bibliography.—GB (rev ed. 1974), esp pp. 152–163; S. Freyne, Galilee from Alexander The Great to Hadrian, 323 B.C.E. to 135 C.E. (1979); N. Glueck, The River Jordan (1946), pp. 1–59; GP, I, 27–30; II, 13–18, 60–67; E. Hoade, Guide to the Holy Land (7th ed. 1973), pp. 823–954; HGHL, pp. 413–436; LBHG, passim.
W. S. LASOR