An Overview of Lake Kinneret, the Biblical Sea of Galilee

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Wooden longboat in the Sea of ​​Galilee, Tiberias, Israel.

Today Lake Kinneret, the Biblical Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias (and historically by many other names), still plays an important role in the lives of not only the people who live close to its shores but also those who are thankful for its supply of drinking water.

For those interested in the region, one of the most confusing aspects of its long history are the many names that this important body of water has been known by. In order to try to avoid confusion, this writer has used Kinneret, which is believed to have Canaanite origins, when not drawing or quoting from other sources, otherwise when directly quoting or referencing a piece of existing work other names may have been used.

Geographical and Historical Names of Lake Tiberias

A paper, by Ibrahim Musa Zoqurti, “Geographical and Historical Names of Lake Tiberias” presented at the 15th International Seminar on Sea Names (2009), held in Sydney, Australia considers the, “current and old names of this lake, trying to find the origin of each name and the circumstances and events that played a role in the naming.”

However the paper goes further and looks at the very early history of Lake Tiberias. For example it says, “During a former geological epoch, the Lake Tiberias (and the Dead Sea) was part of a great inland sea extending from Hula Marshes (25KM) north of Tiberias Lake, to a point some 64 KM south of the Dead Sea.”

Since 1964, Lake Kinneret, fed by the Meshushim and Jordan Rivers, has become the primary reservoir for Israel’s National Water Carrier (NWC) and as such plays a crucial role in the development of the area. Not just in terms of the supply of fresh water but also as a source of fish and as a key player in Israel’s historical tourism sector.

Sea of Galilee and its Ancient Sites

In recognition of its unique historical status, the “Sea of Galilee and its Ancient Sites” has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, a register of properties the State Party, in this case Israel, intends to consider for nomination to the World Heritage List at some point in the future.

Galilee Journeys of Jesus and the Apostles

Closely associated with this proposed UNESCO site is the “Galilee Journeys of Jesus and the Apostles”, also on the Tentative list, which UNESCO says represents the ministering of Jesus and the Apostles between Tiberias and Nazareth.

For many, the area is most closely associated with Jesus, and a number of passages from the Bible add substance to this. For example: The New Testament book of Mathew: 12-13 says, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went away to Galilee. He did not stay at Nazareth but went to live in Capernaum, a town by Lake Galilee…” Mark 1:21 says, “Jesus and his disciples came to the town of Capernaum, and on the next Sabbath Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach…”

There are a number of important historical and archaeological locations within the designated area, including Capernaum and Tabgha.

Capernaum

Capernaum was a Jewish village throughout the Second Temple and Byzantine periods and according to Biblical sources was the birthplace of Peter and the spot where Jesus preached and performed miracles.

Tabgha

Tabgha is most closely associated with the miracle of the loaves and fishes. UNESCO cites the 4th century pilgrim Egeria as the first to document the site.

Over the millennia a number of other societies have also lived and contributed to the region’s legacy: Canaanites, Babylonians, Akkadians, Sumerians, Phoenicians, Romans and others have all played their part in the historical Galilee landscape.

Sources:

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List (Israel)
  2. Zoqurti IM, “Geography and Historical Names of Lake Tiberias”, 15th International Seminar on Sea Names
  3. Hambright KD, Ragep FJ and Ginat J (Eds), Water in the Middle East, Sussex Academic Press 2006
  4. Good News Bible, Mathew: 12-13 and Mark 1:21