ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

The Sea of Galilee: Jesus’ Lake

The Sea of Galilee and its surroundings are a significant piece in the puzzle that is Christian history.

The pilgrim who seeks the tracks of Jesus at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem often feels frustrated.

He loses the trail in heavy clouds of incense, unfamiliar icons and mosaics, smoking lamps filled with olive oil, wall paintings in Arabic, Greek or Latin, and strange liturgies and vestments of the Eastern clergy.

But the pilgrim who searches for the tracks of Jesus around the shores of Galilee usually feels more comfortable.

There he finds the Jesus who calmed the waves, the Jesus who told them to cast out their nets again after they had caught no fish all night. This is the Jesus who loved the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the fruitful fig trees, and the Jesus who harvested a handful of grain on the Sabbath day.

The region around the Sea of Galilee was the center of Our Lord’s ministry, and the gospels are full of events that took place there. Here in Galilee there are still fish in the sea and still fruit in the orchards. This is a part of the Holy Land that still has every right to be called “the land of milk and honey.”

The spectacular lake can be whitecapped under a gale from the northwest, misty and golden from the sun rising over the Golan Heights, or sulky and humid when the sun bakes it under the summer heat.

The Sea’s constantly changing moods can be seen from almost any vantage point: high up over the road to Damascus; the Horns of Hattin where Saladin and his Sarccen army finally sounded the death knell for the Crusaders or the winding road up to Safed, the mythical old city of Jewish scholars.

The most prominent town on the lake is Tiberias, located on the western shore. It was built by Herod’s son Antipas who grew up in Rome and knew the pleasures of beautiful palaces, forums and baths. On this scenic promontory he laid out one of the most beautiful towns in the Holy Land, sometime between 18-22 A.D. During these years Jesus was helping support his family at Nazareth a few miles over the hill.

One of the major attractions at Tiberias then and now are the hot springs. These were famous in Herod’s day as a place to rest and recuperate.

Also on the western shore are Magdala, the fishing village that was once home to Mary Magdalene; Tabgha, where Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes; Capernaum, where Jesus preached in the synagogue, the town the gospel calls “his own city”; and Chorazin, the village Jesus cursed.

On the eastern shore, historic towns include Gergesa, where Christ drove the spirits out of the insane into a herd of swine, and Hippos, an old Greek town that was once an important center of Christianity in the Byzantine period.

Surrounded on all sides by mountains, with the Jordon flowing in at the north and out at the south, the Sea of Galilee has only a few miles of fertile land around the shores. But because it lies about 650 feet below the level of the ocean, it traps the sunlight and semitropical fruits grow easily. Grapes, almonds, bananas, oranges, avocadoes, walnuts and pecans are a few of the fruits growing in this lush climate. In the springtime the hillsides are covered with anemones, poppies, iris, daffodils and tulips, the same wildflowers Jesus knew.

The lake is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, and at its deepest point, about 300 feet. The depth and coolness of the water, remarkable for an area as warm and dry as the Holy Land, moderate the heat found in the surrounding mountains.

Fishing is as important a business as in Christ’s day, and much of the 1600 tons of fish that are harvested every year provide tasty protein not just for the local residents but for Jerusalemites as well.

The colorful sailboats, old fashioned fishing boats and the more businesslike ferries that ply the lake have not ruined its aura of calm and restfulness.

The lake is referred to as either Kinnereth, because it was shaped like a Jewish harp or kinnor, or Gennesareth, from the plain at the southwest shore in the Old Testament.

In New Testament times it was usually called the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias.

Whether called the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias the area is as inspiring to Christian, Moslem and Jew as it once was to Christ, who legend says, once He created all the other seas of the world, chose the Sea of Galilee as the one He wanted to live by.

Teddy Kleinhans is a retired Air Force officer living in the Midwest.

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