Archaeology and the Sea of Galilee



       Biblical Archaeology is digging into the soil or rock to discovery the fantastic remains of Old and New Testament history. Sometimes, however, the archaeologist must use wading boots or boats to investigate his site in order to confirm his suspicions. With this thought in mind we introduce to you this lesson's archaeological location. About 60 miles north-east of Jerusalem lies a flourishing, pristine body of water known as the Sea of Galilee. This body of water receives its name from the Hebrew word “galil” meaning circle but is also known as the Sea of Chinnereth in the Old Testament (Num. 34:11), the lake of Gennesareth (Luke 5:1) and the Sea of Tiberias (named after Tiberias Caesar by Herod Antipas who enlarged and beautified the lake; John 21:1). This fresh water lake, 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, is a home to various kinds of fish which were harvested and sent throughout the Roman Empire. Mountains 300 ft high surround the Sea of Galilee and small villages dot the shore line, creating a continuous population circle (hence the name?) around the lake. The combination of high mountains, and the fact that the lake is 700 feet below sea level, produces fierce and rapid storm systems which catch many fishermen off guard. In the northern part of the lake rests the remains of the ancient city of Capernaum which was the ministry headquarters of Christ by fulfillment of O.T. prophecy ( Mt. 4:13, “And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast”). While at this town, Jesus preached at a synagogue (one was recently discovered; four colonnades grace the front of the structure and this could be the synagogue Jesus visited) and healed a man stricken with paralysis (Mk. 2:3-12). Later the Master healed “many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils (Mk. 1:34). To the east of Capernaum lies the fishing village of Bethsaida, the home town of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John 1:44), where Jesus healed the blind man of Mark 8:22. Recently, the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine (July/August, 1999; 1-800-678-5555), reported that because of drought conditions the water level of the sea is unusually low and several ancient fishing docks have been discovered. Medel Nun reports (p. 18-29) that piers, sidewalks, and breakwaters of the ports are easily visible and accessible to the jogger or tourist. Also discovered are ancient anchors, mooring stones with which the sailors tied their boats, and weights used by fishermen on their nets. In the days of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee possessed at least sixteen ports used by fishermen, travelers, and traders to transport their wares or passengers across the waters.


       The first port discovered was the site of Kursi (Biblical Gergesa) located on the eastern side of the lake. According to scripture (Luke 8:22-39; Mk. 5:1-20; Mt. 8:28-32), Jesus came to this port after stilling the storm. Here He met a man possessed by demons and permitted them to occupy a herd of swine which ran down the slope into the lake and perished. Along the shore of Galilee, breakwaters were built first (walls constructed underwater and extend above the highest level of the tide by two feet; protects the shore from erosion from waves) followed by repair shops, toll houses, and watch towers (BAR, p. 19). Another ancient harbor was discovered in a popular modern day tourist site, the city of Magdala (lit. a tower). In view of tall apartment buildings and luxury hotels, excavators uncovered the main square, streets, and buildings of the town Mary Magdalene called home (Mt 27:56; Mt 15:39). A beautiful mosaic of a sailing boat was found in one residence (BAR, p. 28-29). Not far from Magdala, on the western shore, a 2,000 year old boat was found sunk in the mud, protected from the elements and preserved for study. The ancient vessel is approximately 25-30 feet long and was equipped for rowing and sailing. 


       The Sea of Galilee was an important geographical point in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The boyhood home of Jesus, Nazareth, lies about 12-15 miles west from the sea which was perhaps a common vacation site for Him and His family. On the shores of this popular fishing and recreational lake, Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and John into discipleship. He then sent them away to become “fishers of men” (Mt. 4:18,22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:1-11). The Gospel of John (chapter 21) records our Lord’s visit to the Sea of Galilee for the last time. Along the sandy beach, the resurrected Christ prepared a meal of fish and bread for His weary, discouraged disciples and challenged Peter to a deep, effective ministry. 


       In conclusion, the quest of Biblical archaeology is the confirmation of Old or New Testament truth where ever it may be found. The site of the find might be high in the mountains, low in the valleys, or along the shore at the Sea of Galilee.

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