SEA OF GALILEE is a very famous lake, well known mainly from the Bible. It is one of the landmarks of Israel, located in the northern part of the country. This lake is especially significant for the Christians because most of the written stories about the life of Jesus happen here. And indeed, like many other places in Israel, Sea of Galilee is a Biblical scene, where we can see the pictures of many New Testament stories happened alive. Although there are many new and modern roads, buildings, constructions, developed cities, and tourism, we can still sense the ancient atmosphere in this place.
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION OF THE SEA OF GALILEE
Sea of Galilee is unique not only historically, but also geographically. It is located in the middle of a long tectonic fault, called Dead Sea rift (part of the longer Afro-Arabian rift), which stretches from the middle part of Western Syria, through Hula basin, Sea of Galilee, Jordan river valley, Dead Sea, to the Gulf of Aqaba of the Red Sea. It is average on 210 m altitude below sea level, thus it is the lowest freshwater lake on the Earth, and second lowest lake at all (after the Dead Sea).
Since the ancient times, the Sea of Galilee has been located in the northern areas of the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel)- a territory, described in the Bible as the Holy Land. In 15th century BC, when Eretz Israel is shared between the 12 Israeli tribes, the Sea of Galilee is part of the territories of Naphtali and Zebulun tribes. Most of the Old Testament events happened outside of Galilee (mainly in Jerusalem or Samaria, which is in the northern part of today’s Palestinian West Bank), so the people of Galilee remained relatively separated from the main activity in Old Testament times. That’s why it is written in the Book of Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”, when Jesus starts His ministry there.
When Jesus begins working in this area, He preaches the Gospel, makes a lot of miracles, healing of people and training His disciples, most of whom are also from Galilee. Most prominent destinations of His ministry are the cities of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida, and the countryside and hills between them, on the northern shores of the lake.
After the unsuccessful revolt of Bar Kochba against the Romans in 135 AD, since the Jews are restricted of living and visiting Jerusalem (at that time turned into a pagan city, named Aelia Capitolina), they move their center of culture and activity here, in Galilee.
Later throughout the centuries the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding area loses its importance and is just included in the territories of various empires, controlling the Land of Israel. There were also few serious revolts at Tiberias, and the city has been destroyed for almost two centuries as a result. Later is was rebuilt and a significant Jewish community settled there.
First, an important kibbutz is established in Kinneret, on the southern coast of the lake. After the end of the Ottoman rule, the Sea of Galilee is shared between British Palestine and French Syria, but later the whole lake is taken by the British. In 1948, after the war between Syria and the newborn State of Israel, the northeastern coast of the lake is a possession of Syria. But after the 6 days war in 1967, the whole lake is in the territory of Israel.
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SEA OF GALILEE AND WAS WRITTEN IN THE BIBLE?
So, the most important historical events of the Sea of Galilee are those written in the New Testament. And most of the destination to visit around the lake are related with them. Actually, all these events happened within a very short period of time, for around 3 years, somewhere between 27 and 30 AD. And they are all related to Jesus and His disciples:
Calling a few of Jesus' disciples (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). Location: Bethsaida or Tabgha Meeting with Philip and Nathaniel (John 1:43-51). Location: Bethsaida or Capernaum The Sermon in the Synagogue and casting out a demon from an obsessed (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:31-37). Location: Capernaum The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7; Luke 6:17-49). Location: Mount of Beatitudes Cleansing of the leper (Matthew 8:1-4: Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16). Location: Tabgha Healing of the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Location: Capernaum Healing of Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39). Location: Capernaum or Bethsaida Requesting people to follow Jesus (Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:57-62). Location: East coast of the lake Calming the storm (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). Location: In the lake, near Tabgha Chasing the demons from the obsessed (Matthew 8:28-28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). Location: Kursi Healing the paralyzed (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26). Location: Capernaum Jesus guides His disciples where they can find fish (Luke 5:1-11). Location: Ginosar Matthew's calling (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:13-14; Luke 5:27-32). Location: Capernaum Feast in a house (Matthew 9:10-12; Mark 2:15-17). Location: Capernaum, Chorazin or Bethsaida The question of the followers of John the Baptist (Matthew 9:13-17). Location: Northwest coast The resurrection of the dead daughter and healing of the woman with bleeding (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56). Location: Northwest coast, probably Capernaum Healing of the two blind people (Matthew 9:18-31). Location: Northwest coast Casting out the demon from the dumb (Matthew 9:32-34). Location: Northwest coast Condemning the three cities (Matthew 11:20-24). Concerning: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin Multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish (Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). Location: Tabgha Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:46-52; John 6:16-21). Location: In the lake near Tabgha, on the way to Bethsaida The Sermon about the bread of life (John 6:25-59). Location: Capernaum (in the Synagogue) Healings in Ginosar (Mark 6:53-56). Location: Ginosar The question of the Pharisees about hands washing (Matthew 15:1-15; Mark 7:1-23). Location: Ginosar Multiplying 7 loaves and a few fish (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-9). Location: Tabgha Request for an omen (Matthew 16:1-4; Mark 8:10-13). Location: Dalmanutha, or Magdala Healing of the blind (Mark 8:22-26). Location: Bethsaida Coin in the fish's mouth (Matthew 17:24-27). Location: Capernaum Questions from the disciples who is higher in the Kingdom of God, and about the forgiveness (Matthew chapter 18; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-48). Location: Capernaum Jesus meets His disciples after His resurrection (John chapter 21). Location: The Northwest coast of the lake, probably Tabgha
There are some more events, written in the Bible, which probably happened at the coasts of the Sea of Galilee, but since their location is not mentioned, it is unsure where actually they happened.
Now there is a convenient road, making a circle around the whole lake. Its length is 82 km, and it connects all the destinations, related to those Biblical events. The best way to explore this circle and its destinations is to set Tiberias as a starting point since Tiberias is the largest city in the lake area. Although the destinations are quite a lot, it is possible to pass the whole circle within one day. The length of the route includes also the short detour to Chorazin and the Mount of Beautitudes. You can see it here:
MAIN BIBLICAL DESTINATIONS
So, here I give a list of the basic destinations of the Sea of Galilee:
It is the largest city at the coast of the Sea of Galilee. It is founded during the reign of Herod Antipas, so at the time of Jesus, it has been still quite a new city. After the two unsuccessful revolts of the Jews against Rome, Tiberias becomes one of their main cultural centers, since Jerusalem has been destroyed and a new pagan Aelia Capitolina city, restricted for the Jews was founded.
At the beginning of the 7th century, there were revolts and massacres between the local Jews and Christians, which finally ended with eliminating of the almost whole Jewish population in the area. However, during the reign of the Muslims later, Tiberias gradually restores its reputation as an important Jewish center. Conquered by the following empires: Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluk, and Ottomans, it faced wars, golden ages, destruction, and restoration.
Now Tiberias is mainly a Jewish city, presenting some attractions, such as the ancient Roman walls (they can be seen near the center), the Tomb of Maimonides and the Hot springs.
Biblical events related to Tiberias: The city is mentioned only once in the Bible (in John 6:23), for the boats that crowd used to search Jesus in Capernaum.
This is an ancient city, about 6 km north of Tiberias, on the western coast lake, under Mount Arbel. Better known as Magdala Nunayya, now only ruins remained from it. Today there is a Jewish village near the site, called Migdal.
Biblical events, related with Magdala: The most important fact about Magdala is that it is considered to be the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples. Another possible Biblical event, related with Magdala is the arriving of Jesus there after feeding the crowd with 5 loaves and 2 fish in Tabgha. However, in the Gospel of Matthew the name is mostly translated as “Magadan”, and in the Gospel of Mark- “Dalmanutha”, and it is not confirmed whether it is Magdala.
Opening hours: Every day from 8:00 to 18:00
Entrance fee: 15 NIS, for children- free
It is a kibbutz, today built on the place of a small ancient town, called Gennesaret. Ginosar is significant mainly with its Yigal Allon museum and the ancient Galilean boat, exposed inside. This boat is found in 1986 and dated back to the times of Jesus. Although it can’t be confirmed whether it is exactly the boat, used by Him and His disciples, it can give us an image of how these boats look like.
There is also a pier behind the museum, from where you can make a cruise on the lake. A good choice is a cruise by Sea of Galilee Worship Boats, where you can sail 1 hour and some of the cruises are with a live worship concert.
Biblical events, related to Ginosar: Here Jesus guides His disciples to a place with fish. Also here Jesus performed a lot of healing.
Opening hours of Yigal Allon museum: from 8:00 to 17:00
Entrance fee: 25 NIS
Chorazin is one of the three cities, where Jesus spent most of His ministry and condemned by Him for their disbelief. Now it is an archaeological complex with well-preserved remains, where you can see some more significant buildings, such as an ancient Synagogue. Almost nothing more is known about this city. It is only mentioned in a few other historical sources. Now there is a modern village nearby, called Korazim, but the main site is about 1 km further on the road.
To reach Chorazin, you have to make a detour from the main road circle, turning left from Tabgha, then at Korazim village turn right.
Biblical events, related with Chorazin: No specific Biblical events are mentioned, but it is said that Jesus had a lot of active ministry actions there. He condemns the city, along with Capernaum and Bethsaida for their disbelief and rejection of His witness.
Opening hours: Summer: from 8:00 to 17:00; Winter: from 8:00 to 16:00
Entrance fee: For adults: 21 NIS, for children: 9 NIS
Mount of Beatitudes
It is actually not a mountain, but only a plain place on the slope, descending from Chorazin area. Now there is a Roman Catholic chapel, built on this place, as well as some remains of an older Greek Orthodox church. The site is located near the detour road from Tabgha to Chorazin.
Biblical events, related with the Mount of Beautitudes: The Sermon of the Mount, written in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapters 5th to 7th. It is interesting to mention, that here Jesus says “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14), as an allegory to the righteous people who are like a “city on a hill”. Saying that in this place has its meaning. While people hear His words, they can see the nearby hills. And there has been a city, built on one of those hills, which could be seen at that time exactly picturing those words of Jesus- it was Chorazin, seen from the Mount of Beatitudes.
Opening hours of the Roman Catholic chapel area: from 8:30 to 12:00 and from 14:30 to 17:00 (on winter to 16:00)
Entrance fee: Free (but there is a parking fee for the car park)
It is an area between Ginosar and Capernaum, best known as the place, where Jesus multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish, then again 7 loaves and a few fish. A few more Biblical events happened in this place too. The site is known with the Greek name Heptapegon, later changed by the Arabs into Tabgha.
There is a big Church of Multiplication, built in this place, as well as a Church of the Primacy of St.Peter. The Church of Multiplication is interesting with its pool, where you can see the highly rare blind shrimp, which is an endangered species. And there is also a small waterfall on the northeast side of Tabgha, called Ein Eyov.
Biblical events, related with Tabgha: The two multiplications, Jesus walking on the water near Tabgha, cleansing the leper, calming the storm, and probably the last meeting of Jesus with His disciples after His resurrection.
Opening hours: from 8:00 to 17:00
Entrance fee: Free (10 NIS for a car in the parking lot)
It has been a small fishing town, founded during the Hasmonean period. But in the 1st century AD, Capernaum is chosen by Jesus as a center of His ministry. So it is the second most important site from the New Testament (after Jerusalem). It has been populated until the 10th century, then gradually abandoned. Now the site is an archaeological complex, presenting the scene of those Biblical events, related to Jesus.
There are two main buildings among the remains of Capernaum. The first one is the Synagogue. Actually, there has been a first Synagogue, where Jesus actively did His work, and a second Synagogue, dated from 4-5th century, built on the foundation of the first one. Another important building is the House of Peter- a house remnant, considered to be the home of apostle Peter, where his mother-in-law has been healed by Jesus. Now there is a modern Christian shrine over the House of Peter, used for Christian activities, such as prayers, sermons, and worship.
Biblical events, related with Capernaum: Since it has been the main place of Jesus’ public ministry, there has been a lot of events, happened there. And the Bible especially speaks about few of them: the public sermon of Jesus and the casting out of a demon from an obsessed man in the Synagogue, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the healing of the paralyzed man, descent from the roof of a house. Capernaum is also one of the three cities, along with Chorazin and Bethsaida, condemned by Jesus for its disbelief.
Opening hours: from 8:00 to 17:00
Entrance fee: 10 NIS
It is another small town near the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee, at the place, where Jordan river flows into the lake. It is best known as the birthplace of apostles Peter and Andrew. This is the third of the three main cities of the active ministry of Jesus, and the third one, which is condemned by Him for their disbelief, along with Chorazin and Capernaum.
Now there is an archaeological site with the ruins of the town. Today there is a hypothesis that there were two towns, named Bethsaida because some of the Biblical descriptions looks like not exactly correspondent with the place of the current archaeological site. There are also three natural parks nearby: Jordan Park, Magrase Nature reserve, and Nahal Meshushim Nature reserve.
Biblical events, related with Bethsaida: Same as Capernaum, since it is mentioned that it is one of the three cities with the most active work of Jesus, many events have happened there. But only one event is exactly mentioned- the healing of a blind man. There are few other events, which however are not certainly happened in Bethsaida.
It is reachable from Bethsaida junction on the road, turning left and following the road signs for about 1,5 km. Another way to reach Bethaida is directly from Chorazin, but skipping Capernaum.
Opening hours: from 8:00 to 17:00
Entrance fee: Free (but there is a 50 NIS car fee, for the parking lot, however, we were allowed to park free, for less than 30 mins)
It is a small archaeological site, located on the east coast of the Sea of Galilee. There are remains of a monastic complex and a synagogue. Currently, the area is popular as a camping site, used in summer for relaxing tourists.
Biblical events, related with Kursi: This place is well known for one event, written in three of the Gospels- the casting out of the demons of one or two possessed men. The Bible says that there has been a cemetery nearby, where the possessed used to live. And when Jesus free him (or them), He sends the demons into a herd of 2000 swine, which jump into the lake and drown.
Opening hours: from 8:00 to 17:00
Entrance fee: Adults: 14 NIS, children: 7 NIS
After Kursi, the road proceeds south to Kinneret and nearby villages. There is the Tsemach junction, from where the beautiful Jordan valley road starts, leading to the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. It is located at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jordan river flows out heading to the Dead Sea. Finally, the road returns to Tiberias, closing the circle.
The best way of transport around the Sea of Galilee is by car. Since we included our trip around the lake as a part of our route in Israel, we rent a car from Tel Aviv and dropped it in Jerusalem. But if you go to Tiberias by other transport (it is usually by bus), you can rent a car for one day (24 hours) there. The best company is Hertz, where you can find cars, starting from 30 USD per day.
There are buses between the main destinations too. You can take buses 450 or 541, and stop on the following stations:
– For Magdala- to Magdala Junction
– For Ginosar- to Ginosar
– For Chorazin- to Korazim Junction, then walk 15-20 mins to the archaeological site
– For Mount of Beatitudes- back to Korazim Junction and take the bus to Mt.HaOsher station, then walk 15 mins.
– For Tabgha- to Kfar Nahum Junction, then walk 5 mins
– For Capernaum- to Kfar Nahum Intersection, by buses 142 or 52 or just walk 32 mins
– For Bethsaida- by bus 52 to Bethsaida Junction, then walk about 10-15 mins
– For Kursi- by bus 12 to Kursi Junction
– Back to Tiberias- by bus 51
All these buses are relatively cheap, and the final price can be around 10-15 USD
However, have in mind that the buses are now so often. If you are not ready to sleep somewhere on the road (in a hotel, hostel or AirBnB accommodation in some of the villages, or camping in Kursi), be ready for taxi to back to Tiberias.
A round trip of the Sea of Galilee by bicycle is also an amazing experience. Bicycles can be rent from most of the hotels and hostels in Tiberias, for around 80 NIS for 24 hours. It is possible to travel the whole circle within one day, including stops in all these destinations and the detour to Chorazin. However, it would be better to start earlier. Rent the bike at the evening on the previous day, start on the next day around 6:30-7:00 and enjoy the spectacular views and the Biblical history. And don’t forget to bring a lot of water, especially in summer!
Hiking trail around the Sea of Galilee
Now there is a trail, arranged for those, who want to enjoy this beautiful place by hiking. It is established around the whole lake, and can be taken for 4 days:
Day 1: From Tiberias to Tabgha, visiting Mt Arbel, Magdala, Ginosar, and Mount of Beatitudes
Day 2: From Tabgha to Dugit beach, visiting Capernaum and Bethsaida
Day 3: From Dugit beach to kibbutz Ha’on, visiting Kursi
Day 4: From kibbutz Ha’on back to Tiberias, through Kinneret
For more information see here:
Check out your accommodation options on the shores of the Sea of Galilee here:
Sea of Galilee also has a lot of opportunities for a cruise (as I mentioned about the pier in Ginosar), and kite surfing. It is not uncommon to appear strong winds, raising relatively high waves on the lake. The story about the storm on the lake, written in the Bible, is something very real that you may see there.
As almost everywhere in Israel, Sea of Galilee is not only a great natural place with stunning landscapes and many opportunities for adventures, but again it has a deep historical background, mainly related with the Bible. And a combination of the historical and Biblical exploration, with an exciting traveling, biking, hiking, cruising or just relaxing at the lake coast can be an unforgettable journey.
Check out some travel guides and books about the Sea of Galilee and Israel:
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