swimming area at Ein Gev on the east shore in the Golan across from Tiberias 

Sea of Galilee

Lake Gennesareth

Large fresh-water lake (40,000 acres) about 15 miles long & 8 miles wide in the central Jordan valley. Its surface lies 640 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea about 25 miles to the east. Except for narrow strips of fertile coastal plain on its northwestern & southern shores, it is ringed by steep slopes on all sides. Valleys through the mountains to the west & east provide natural routes for commerce, but also channel winds that still produce sudden storms that raise 7 foot waves on the normally placid lake. 

In the Hellenistic & Roman era the lake was called Gennesareth, after the west shore plain that in the time of ancient Israel had been dominated by the fortified city of Kinnereth. In the 1st c. CE the west bank was in the province of Galilee, while the east bank was divided between Golan in the north & the Decapolis in the south.

Fed by the mountain waters of the Jordan & nurtured by the spawning grounds of the swampy Lake Huleh 10 miles to the north, Lake Gennesareth has been the base of a prosperous fishing industry since pre-historic times. The towns on the northwestern shore from Bethsaida to Capernaum to Magdala were originally fishing villages, which had developed a regional network of commerce. Seasonal flooding & silting, enhanced by a subtropical climate, made the coastal plain exceptionally fertile. 

The population around the lake increased dramatically in the 1st c. CE, sparked by Philip's transformation of Bethsaida into a major city & Antipas' foundation of Tiberias on the southwestern shore. Except for occasional trips across the lake into the Golan or Decapolis, the center of Jesus' public activity reported in the gospels was the 10 mile strip on the northwestern shore of the lake.

loaves & fishes mosaic from church at Tabgha 3 miles south of Capernaum

For further geographical & historical information, see:

  • Buttrick, G. A., ed. Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. vol. 2 (NY/Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962) pp. 348-350.

Other resources on line:

 Perspective on the World of Jesus 

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