After my sermon on Sunday, a few of you asked some questions related to first century life around the Sea of Galilee. So, here are a few fun facts related to the area and the biblical stories that took place there. First, the Sea of Galilee is really a fresh water lake. In fact, it is the largest fresh water lake in modern day Israel (13 miles long and 8 miles wide). Its water source comes primarily from the Jordan River, which flows into the lake from the north. Sixteen ancient pier constructions have been identified around the lake, which speaks to the importance of boating and fishing during the biblical period. The six Jewish villages that I mentioned in the sermon all had ancient piers and were located on the northwestern shore. In other words, fishing was a key industry in this area.
The largest of these villages was Capernaum, which became the home of Simon Peter when he was an adult (and probably of Andrew, James, and John as well). In fact, biblical archaeologists are fairly certain that they have identified Peter’s home based on written documents of 4th century pilgrims to the Holy Land. Today there is a church with a glass floor built over the house so that tourists can see it.
Capernaum was by far the largest of the Jewish villages. It was located on a key crossroad and had a customs booth where taxes were levied on transported goods. This is where Jesus found Matthew the tax collector and called him to be his disciple. In addition, there was probably a Roman garrison stationed in Capernaum, which explains why there were a number of Roman soldiers from this area identified in the Gospel accounts. Furthermore, a beautiful 4th century synagogue was unearthed in Capernaum and there is some evidence that it was constructed over a 1st century synagogue, the one frequented by Jesus and his disciples.
Right next to Capernaum, was the village of Tabgha. This is where the seven springs were located that produced warm water that would attract large schools of fish. This is the area generally associated with the miraculous catch miracles. Tabgha is also thought to be the location of the feeding of the 5,000. In the background, between Tabgha and Capernaum was a steep hillside that according to ancient tradition is the site where Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount.
Until recently, the nation of Israel depended upon the Sea of Galilee for most of its drinking water and irrigation water. For the past several decades, however, the Sea of Galilee and all of Israel, are dealing with a severe water shortage. This shortage is the result of frequent droughts and the overuse of the limited fresh water supply. The situation is now critical. If the lake level drops much farther, permanent ecological damage will occur. In response, Israel has approved of a plan to pump desalinated water from the Mediterranean Sea (some 50 miles away) into the Sea of Galilee.
One benefit of the Sea of Galilee’s low water levels is that in 1986, an ancient fishing boat was found in the mud on the northwestern shores of the lake. This is the part of the lake frequented by Jesus and his fishermen disciples. Carbon dating along with pottery finds and coinage has verified that the boat dates back to the first century, to the time of Christ. The anaerobic environment created by the mud and the water has preserved the boat for 2,000 years. The boat was 24 feet long and 7 feet wide and was made of seven different types of wood. The main woods used were cedar and cypress. The boat had been repaired numerous times by 1st century expert craftsmen. The Galilee boat (also known as “The Jesus Boat”) can be seen in a museum located on the Sea of Galilee near where the boat was discovered. It is a must see for Christian travelers to the area. The picture of the boat displayed in Sunday’s sermon is a replica based on the dimensions, materials, and design of the Galilee Boat.
So, there you have it. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about the Sea of Galilee and life around the lake during the time of Jesus. I am thankful that he decided to make this area his headquarters during his three years of ministry. I am thankful for the amazing life that he lived on and near these waters. As we seek to follow in his footsteps, may we never forget the transformative events that occurred in and around the Sea of Galilee.
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