5/4 B. C. to 33 A. C. Part 3
Physical Features of Galilee
There are several topographic features of Galilee that are worthy of special note.
The Jordan River has its origin near the foot of 9,100 foot Mount Hermon in the upper part of northern Galilee. It forms from three streams that eventually unite to form the one river. The three streams are from west to east: Senir (Hasbani), the Dan, and the Hermon (Banias).
In ancient times these three rivers discharged independently into a swampy region known as Lake Huleh. They then became one river after their exit from the swamp, which was about 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. In recent times, the swamp has been drained and the three streams unite into the Jordan only a few miles from their place of origin.
The Huleh Valley is part of the Great Rift Valley that stretches across the whole land of Palestine from the mountains of Lebanon to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Huleh Valley lies north of the Sea of Galilee, and extends about 15 miles from the foot of Mount Hermon to a basalt dam called the ‘Bridge of Jacob’s Daughters’. This dam constricts the Jordan just east of Hazor.
The valley is about 300 feet below sea level, and became a vast swamp sometime in antiquity when a basalt flow from the Golan Heights dammed the flow of the Jordan. The water rose quickly and began to overflow, allowing erosion to cut through the basalt. Today, most of Lake Huleh has been drained except for a small nature preserve.
The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater body that is located 685 feet below sea level. It is 12 miles long and more than 7 miles across at its widest point. It covers an area of about 170 square miles, and has a maximum depth of about 200 feet.
In the Old Testament, it was known as Chinnereth, meaning ‘harp’. This was apparently due to its shape. In the New Testament, it is referred to as the Lake of Gennesaret or Tiberias, after prominent cities on its western shore. It is know today as either Lake Kinneret or the Sea of Galilee. On its shores were located such biblical cities as Capernaum, Bethsaida, Magdala, and Tiberias.
Cities of Galilee
Below are some of the major cities and villages where Jesus traveled and ministered.
It was located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, and became the center for Christ’s ministry in Galilee after his rejection at Nazareth. Jesus performed some of His greatest miracles there and taught in its synagogue. Capernaum is noted for a well-preserved synagogue that dates from the late second or early third century A.D. Recent excavations have uncovered the floor of an earlier synagogue under the one presently standing. This may have been the one in which Jesus preached. There is also a first century house there that is believed to be the home of Peter.
This city is just three miles north of Capernaum. Jesus also performed many miracles there, but the people did not respond with repentance and were rebuked for their unbelief. Chorazin has a well-preserved synagogue made of the black basalt that is natural to the region. Among the finds in the synagogue was a basalt seat, the Throne of Moses, which was used during the reading of the Torah.
Here was the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter. It was a small fishing village on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee. In New Testament times, it was linked closely with Julias. This was a site that was located about two miles from the shore. Philip the Tetrarch elevated it to the status of a city and named it after the daughter of Augustus. A Roman road linked the site of Bethsaida and Julias. Jesus healed a blind man in this vicinity and later reproached the city for its unbelief. It was at a deserted site southeast of Bethsaida-Julias that Jesus fed the five thousand.
This city was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and named in honor of the emperor. It was established by Herod Antipas between 18 and 22 A.D., to serve as the capital of Galilee and Perea. The site was selected partly because of its hot sulphur springs, which served as a health spa for the Roman officials that were assigned to the city.
Josephus writes that the city was built on an old Jewish cemetery, which rendered the place unclean as far as Jewish law was concerned. Herod Antipas eventually populated the city with poor and landless people, freed slaves, and retired soldiers. This is no record in the Gospels of Jesus every having visited this city.
This was a very important place because it was the early home of Jesus. It is located in the hills that form the northern boundary of the Valley of Jezreel. Joseph and Mary settled there when they returned from Egypt after the death of Herod the Great. It was here that Jesus grew to adulthood. The city was not very highly esteemed by the Jews during this period. John 1:46 – Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Two factors probably contributed to the unfavorable reputation of the city. First, it was never mentioned in the Old Testament, and Second, it was located just four miles south of Sepphoris. This was the Roman capital of Galilee until Herod Antipas built Tiberias. The people of Nazareth were servants and workers for the Roman oppressors who ruled Galilee from their neighboring city. It is probably for the above reasons that the Nazarenes were thought so little of.
Cana of Galilee
Cana was the home of Nathanael, and where Jesus performed his first miracle. He later healed the nobleman’s son here. The city has been traditionally identified with the site of Kefr Kenna, which is located about four miles northeast of Nazareth. In a Greek Orthodox church there, tourists are shown two stone basins that are purported to be among the six waterpots used in the miracle of turning the water into wine.
The more likely site for Cana, though, is Khirbet Kana, located nine miles north of Nazareth in the Beth Netufa Valley, and still known to the natives of the region as ‘Cana of Galilee’. This site fits better with the description given by Josephus, who used Cana as his headquarters when preparing Galilee for the war against the Romans. Although Khirbet Kana has not been excavated, a survey has reported the presence of pottery that indicates Roman occupation during the time of Christ.
This city is located on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon at the headwaters of the Hermon River, which is one of the main sources of the Jordan. This area is where Peter made his great confession of faith to Jesus by telling Him that he knew Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
The city was first named Panion, but Herod the Great’s son Philip made it the capital of his tetrarchy and renamed it Caesarea in honor of either Augustus or Tiberius. It was called Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from the Caesarea that was on the Mediterranean Sea.
This city is only mentioned in the Old Testament, but was located only ten miles north of the Sea of Galilee and four miles west of the Jordan. Hazor had an upper city of 25 acres and a lower city of nearly 200 acres. It was the largest city ever built in Palestine during the early biblical period. The strategic importance of the city was due to its location just west of the main ford of the Jordan (“Bridge of Jacob’s Daughters”) north of the Sea of Galilee.
Thus Hazor was able to control the Via Maris as it angled through Galilee. It was the political and military hub of Palestine in the second millennium B.C., and entered into biblical history at the time of the conquest of Canaan. Joshua fought against Jabin, ruler of Hazor, and his coalition of kings and was victorious at the waters of Merom. The city was later fortified by Solomon to protect the northern entrance into Palestine.
The city had an intricate water system and multiple gates, as did the other Solomonic fortress cities of Megiddo and Gezer. The last biblical reference to Hazor records its conquest by Tiglath-pileser III in 732 B.C.