Tag Archives: Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee now 703 feet below sea level

A headline in a recent The Times of Israel reads,

“Thirsty Sea of Galilee sinking toward lowest level ever recorded.”

The article by Melanie Lidman reports that…

Northern Israel is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 100 years, leaving the country’s water tables with a deficit of 2.5 billion cubic liters of water, compared to non-drought years, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor announced on Monday.

Lidman says,

The Sea of Galilee is currently at 214.13 meters (703 feet) below sea level, or 1.10 meters (3.6 feet) below the lower red line.

She adds that the Sea of Galilee reached a similar level in 2001 and 2008. When I first studied Bible Geography back in 1953 we learned from popular Bible atlases that the Sea of Galilee was 596 feet below sea level.

This gauge at Tiberias measures the level of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This gauge at Tiberias measures the level of the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The article discusses the social and climatic problems Israel is facing today, and is well-worth the read.

The late Mendel Nun, of En Gev, discovered no less than 16 bustling ports from the time of Jesus. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level, considerably lower than in recent time. (See “Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999).

Droughts in recent years have brought about changing water levels. We know that the famous Roman boat now displayed at Nof Ginosar was found when the water level was low in 1986. This also allowed the discovery of additional ports.

During the time I have been visiting Israel (since 1967), I have seen these changes in the water level of the lake and have mentioned it in several posts. Here I wish to use Tabgha (Heptapegon = the place of seven springs) as an illustration.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter was built in 1933. A good case can be made for this being the location where Jesus called some of His disciples to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11), and where Jesus met His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). The issue of the primacy of Peter over the other apostles is a matter for theological and exegetical study which I think comes up short.

The chapel is built on a large rock called the Mensi Domini (the Lord’s Table) where it is said Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples.

In this 1980 photo you see the water reaching the building.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The rock-cut steps were mentioned by Egeria (about AD 383), but we do not know when they were cut. Now take a look at the same location in December of 2009 when the water was low.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

These 2009 photos were made during a personal study trip with Leon Mauldin. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

These photos were made during a personal study trip that Leon Mauldin and I made in 2009. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hopefully this illustration from Tabgha will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time could become known in the past few years.

Fishing the Sea of Galilee

In previous posts we have looked at the fish of the Sea of Galilee, ports of the Sea of Galilee, and Tabgha (Heptapegon) which has been called the fishermen’s suburb of Capernaum.

In this post we will concentrate on how the fishing was done.

  • Some fishing was done by casting a hook into the sea (Matthew 17:27).
  • The cast-net could be thrown by an individual fisherman (Matthew 4:18).
  • The seine or dragnet required several workers (Matthew 13:47).
  • The trammel net involved tying together several nets (Mark 1:19-20).

The Hook. I suppose fish hooks are common enough not to need a photo but I will include them in this photo made in the Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv. it shows a cast-net and some fishing hooks in the lower right corner. Note the lead weights on the bottom of the net. Lead weights such as these have been found at various archaeological excavations.

Cast-Net and fish hooks. Eretz Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cast-Net and fish hooks. Eretz Israel Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Cast-Net. This photo shows a fisherman casting a net in the warm, shallow water near Tabgha. The cast-net can be thrown from the edge of the water or from a boat.

Fisherman casting a net in the warm water at Tabgha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Fisherman casting a net in the warm water at Tabgha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Seine or Dragnet. In the parable of the net in Matthew 13:47-50, the Greek word for net is sagene. I note that the NAU and the NKJ use the term dragnet, while other versions use the generic net. This is clearly the seine which gathers all kinds of fish that must then be sorted by the fishermen.

I understand about the seine. As a youngster I visited an uncle and aunt who lived near New Hope, Alabama. My uncle set a seine on the Flint River. In the morning he would say, “Let’s go down to the river and see if we have caught anything.” But, I have not seen the seine in use on the Sea of Galilee except in older photos. Here is a photo from the American Colony and Eric Matson collection available from Life in the Holy Land.

Fishermen bringing in a seine (or dragnet). Photo: Life in the Holy Land.

Fishermen bringing in a seine (or dragnet). Photo: Life in the Holy Land.

The next photo is one that I have enhanced from the Eric Matson collection at the Library of Congress.

Fishermen using a seine. Photo: Eric Matson Collection, LOC.

Fishermen using a seine. Photo: Eric Matson Collection, LOC.

A modern adaptation of the seine or dragnet is seen in modern times. I learned that it is called the Purse Seine. The first photo, scanned from a 1992 slide, shows the seine is heavy with the catch of the night.

Fishing boat getting ready to unload a purse seine at Tiberias. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, 1992.

Fishing boat getting ready to unload a purse seine. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The next photo shows the fishermen getting ready to unload the catch.

Fishing boat using purse-seine on Sea of Galilee - March 1992

Fishing boat using purse-seine on Sea of Galilee – March 1992

The Trammel Net. Nun says that the net being used by the early disciples of Jesus is the trammel net (Mark 1:19-20). This type of net was made by tying together several cast-nets. You can locate many photo illustrations by searching for “trammel nets” in Google. Here is another photo from the Matson collection showing the mending of nets at Ain Geb (En Gev).

Girls of Ain Geb, a Jewish settlement on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Girls of the settlement mending fishing nets. Photo: Eric Matson collection LOC.

Girls of Ain Geb, a Jewish settlement on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Girls of the settlement mending fishing nets. Photo: Eric Matson collection LOC.

 

Tabgha (Heptapegon) – a good place for fishing

Mendel Nun describes Tabgha as “The Fishermen’s Suburb of Capernaum.” Tabgha is a corrupted form of the name Heptapegon which means “seven springs.” Why would someone who lived at Capernaum, like Simon Peter and Andrew (Matthew 4:13-20), think of going west 1½ miles to fish?

Nun explains the importance of Tabgha for fishing.

The springs of Tabgha have great economic importance. In the winter, the warm water draws schools of warmth-loving musht, tropical in origin, to the vicinity. The waters of the springs were once used to operate several flour mills. The Capernaum fishermen stayed in this area during winter and early spring, making Tabgha an important industrial suburb of Capernaum. A small harbour which served the millers and fishermen was found in the nineteen seventies. (The Sea of Galilee and Its Fishermen in the New Testament, 14).

Just a few yards west of the Church of the Primacy, which we showed in the previous post, one of the seven warm springs was flowing freely during our 1992 visit to the site. When the water is high one would not notice this spring.

One of the seven springs at Heptapegon (Tabgha). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

One of the seven springs at Heptapegon (Tabgha). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We are not told where Peter and Andrew were fishing when Jesus called them, but Tabgha certainly would be a good place.

As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). (Matthew 4:18 NET)

As he went along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen). (Mark 1:16 NET)

And this would be a good place for the events of John 21, or the earlier account recorded in Luke 5:1-11. Rousseau and Arav (Jesus and His World, 97) conflate these two accounts into one and conclude that John “was written by a different author or editor.” A reading of both texts shows that the one in Luke is at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus when He calls the disciples, and the one is John is at the close of His earthly ministry after His resurrection (21:14).

It would be common for fishermen to stand on the shore or in the edge of the water and cast a net into the warm water where the fish gathered.

Our final photo this time is an aerial view showing the north shore of the Sea of Galilee from Tabgha on the right (west) to the entrance to Capernaum on the left (east). The traditional Mount of Beatitudes is on the hill above. The distance from the entry to Capernaum to Tabgha is 1.25 mile on a straight line. Add another .4 mile to reach the archaeological site of Capernaum.

North shore of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum to Tabgha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

North shore of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum to Tabgha. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

 

Ports of the Sea of Galilee

Mendel Nun contrasts the knowledge of 19th century explorers with what has become known as a result of his work.

Early 19th-century explorers, searching for places where Jesus had walked, attempted to locate the ancient harbors of the Sea of Galilee but failed. Now, after 25 years of searching and researching, we have found them. We have recovered the piers, promenades and breakwaters of the ports. We have also uncovered the ships’ anchors, the mooring stones the sailors tied their ships to, and even the weights fishermen once fastened to their nets. We always knew the harbors must be there, but we had no idea we would find so many remains. (“Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999.

In the 1999 article Nun says that we now have only four small ports serving the motorboats, ferries, and fishing boats, but in ancient times there were no less than 16 bustling ports. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level. As a result of natural changes about a thousand years ago, the water level gradually rose about 3 feet, but the water level this week is 698 feet below sea level (Kinneret Bot, Dec. 2, 2014).

The first ancient port discovered by Nun was the port of Kursi on the eastern side of the lake in 1970.

Droughts in recent years have brought about changing water levels. We know that the famous Roman boat now displayed at Nof Ginosar was found when the water level was low in 1986. This also allowed the discovery of additional ports.

During the time I have been visiting Israel (since 1967), I have seen these changes in the water level of the lake and have mentioned it in several posts. Here I wish to use Tabgha (Heptapegon = the place of seven springs) as an illustration.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter was built in 1933. A good case can be made for this being the location where Jesus called some of His disciples to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11), and where Jesus met His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). The issue of the primacy of Peter over the other apostles is a matter for theological and exegetical study which I think comes up short.

The chapel is built on a large rock called the Mensi Domini (the Lord’s Table) where it is said Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples.

In this 1980 photo you see the water reaching the building.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The rock-cut steps were mentioned by Egeria (about AD 383), but we do not know when they were cut. Now take a look at the same location in December of 2009 when the water was low.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murphy-O’Connor gives this explanation about the heart-shaped stones.

Below the steps, sometimes under water if the lake level is high, are six heart-shaped stones. They are double-column blocks designed for the angle of a colonnade, and never served any practical purpose in their present position. Known as the Twelve Thrones and first mentioned in a text of AD 808, they were probably taken from disused buildings and placed there to commemorate the Twelve Apostles. It takes little insight to appreciate the mental jump from John 21:9 … to ‘You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Luke 22:30). – Murphy-O’Connor, Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 319

These 2009 photos were made during a personal study trip with Leon Mauldin. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hopefully this illustration will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time have become known in the past few years.

Mount Arbel and the Sea of Galilee

Our photo today was made from NW of the Sea of Galilee. The formation on the right is known as Mount Arbel. The agricultural area you see slopes down to the Plain of Gennesaret which stretches about 2½ miles to the Sea (Matthew 14:34).

View of Mount Arbel and the Sea of Galilee from the NW. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Mount Arbel and the Sea of Galilee from the NW. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Across the Sea of Galilee is a portion of the Golan Heights, known in Old Testament times as Bashan. This territory was taken by Israel from Og the king of Bashan and eventually became territory belonging to the tribe of Manasseh.

Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the LORD said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land. (Numbers 21:33-35 ESV)

A city within the territory of Bashan was named Golan, and became one of the Israelite Cities of Refuge (Joshua 20:8).

Mount Arbel has its own history outside the Biblical text, but I will save that for another time.

Another sunset photo on the Sea of Galilee

In response to our recent post on Sunset from En Gev on the Sea of Galilee here, Randy Myers tried to post an image of a photo he made of a sunset on the Sea of Galilee about two weeks ago.

I contacted Randy and asked permission to post his photo on the blog. It is a beautiful photo with Tiberias in the shadows. The bird in flight adds a really nice touch.

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Randy Myers.

Sunset on the Sea of Galilee. Photo by Randy Myers.

Much of the activity of Jesus during His earthly ministry involved the Sea of Galilee and the various ports on its shore. Here is one example.

After Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees and the Herodians made a plan to destroy Him.

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. (Mark 3:7-8 ESV)

Randy, thanks for sharing this photo with us.

 

Sunset from En Gev on the Sea of Galilee

Travelers to the Sea of Galilee are always delighted to get a sunrise photo from Tiberias. If you travel around the lake to the eastern shore in the late afternoon you might see two things. Because the winds from the Mediterranean come from the north east you might see the stormy waves on the sea. And you might see a beautiful sunset.

The photo below is made from Kibbutz En Gev. The small village, home to some of the fishing and touring boats that ply the Sea of Galilee, is located in the shadow of the impressive mound of Hippos (Susita).

Sunset from En Gev. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sunset from En Gev. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The harbor of Hippos (Susita) is located immediately south of En Gev. It is one of 15 or more ancient harbors now known to have existed in the time of Jesus.

Jesus taught the crowds from a boat

What kind of boat did Jesus sit in when he spoke parables to the multitudes gathered around the cove of the sower?

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach.  (Matthew 13:1-2 ESV)

We can not know details about the boat mentioned in this text. Only one boat from the Roman period has been discovered in the Sea of Galilee.

A boat that belonged to the Roman period (dated from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D.) was discovered buried in the mud on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in January, 1986, by two members of the Kibbutz Ginosar. Two years of drought made possible the discovery. The discovery was made south of the Kibutz and north of the Migdal, the traditional site of Magdala (or Tarichea in Greek).

The boat measures 26.90 x 7.55 feet. Shelly Wachsmann, nautical archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority and Museums, says,

The boat was most likely used for fishing and transport of people and cargo. It could have been sailed, or rowed by a crew consisting of four oarsmen and a helmsman. – (An Ancient Boat Discovered in the Sea of Galilee, a brochure once sold at the Museum.)

The boat is now displayed in the Yigal Allon Centre at Kibbutz Ginosar.

The Roman boat discovered in the Sea of Galilee in 1986. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman boat discovered in the Sea of Galilee in 1986. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below shows the side view of the boat. The display on the wall informs us that,

The boat is made mostly of oak and cedar, together with other types of wood, some recycled from disused boats. Thus far, laboratory tests have found eleven types of wood in the boat. Some were used to build the hull and others were added in smaller pieces later, to replace missing parts or repair faulty ones. The result is an intricate wooden patchwork vessel.

Twelve, not eleven, trees are shown on the display: Cedar, Tabor Oak, Christ Thorn, Carob, Aleppo Pine, Hawthorn, Plane Tree, Atlantic Terebinth, Sycomore, Laurel, Willow, and Judas Tree.

The Roman boat displayed in the Yigal Allon Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman boat displayed in the Yigal Allon Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A pottery lamp was found inside the overturned boat, and a cooking pot was found outside the boat near the prow. These vessels, along with some nails from the boat, are displayed at the museum.

Pottery found in association with the boat, and nails from the boat. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pottery found in association with the boat, and nails from the boat. Photo by FJ.

At first the boat was placed in a tank in a temporary building while the conservation took place. It is now beautifully displayed in the Yigal Allon Centre, a museum at Kibbutz Ginosar on the east shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Entrance to the Yigal Allon Center where the Roman boat is displayed. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Entrance to the Yigal Allon Centre where the Roman boat is displayed. Photo by FJ.

The boat used by Jesus and the disciples would have been larger (John 6:22; Mark 4:38). But on some occasions Jesus had a boat standing ready for Him (Mark 3:9). Perhaps one like this one.

The story of the discovery of the boat is told by Shelly Wachsmann in the Biblical Archaeology Review (14:05; Sept/Oct 1988). This little tidbit might be of interest here:

On Sunday [February 9, 1986], we were startled to read newspaper reports of a wreck from Jesus’ time that had been discovered in the Sea of Galilee. Somehow the news had leaked. By Monday the press was writing in front page stories about the discovery of the “boat of Jesus.”

The media hype was soon overwhelming. The Ministry of Tourism actively promoted the “Jesus connection” in the hope of drawing pilgrims to Israel. In Tiberias, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, fearful that excavation of the boat would promote Christian missionary work, demonstrated against it.

During the Jewish War in Galilee the Roman Emperor Vespasian made headquarters in Tarichea (= Magdala) for a period of time. The Romans engaged the Jews in a fierce naval battle. The outcome was not good for the local residents. I suggest you consult Josephus’ Wars of the Jews, book 3, for details. Notice this brief account of the outcome.

529 but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the arrows upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and killed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. 530 And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrefied, they corrupted the air, insomuch that the misery was not only the object of pity to the Jews, but to those who hated them and had been the authors of that misery. 531 This was the upshot of the naval battle. The number of the slain, including those who were killed in the city before, was six thousand and five hundred. (Jewish Wars 3:529-531)

The Ginosar about which we speak is on the shore of the region called the land of Gennesaret in the Gospels (Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:53). The lake is called the lake of Gennesaret in Luke 5:1.

A mosaic with a similar boat had been found earlier at nearby Magdala. The original has been displayed at Capernaum for many years, but it was in poor condition the last time I saw it there. A modern replica, pictured below, may be seen in the Yigal Allon Centre.

Replica of a mosaic discovered at Magdala. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Replica of a mosaic discovered at Magdala. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Boats played an important role in life around the Sea of Galilee in the time of Jesus. They were important in His ministry as well.

Roman Roads and Milestones

A new website devoted to Roman Roads and Milestones in Judaea/Palaestina has recently come to our attention. This site is co-sponsored by the Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee Department of Holy Land Studies and Tel Aviv University IMC-Israeli Milestone Committee. Most readers will know that Kinneret is the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee. The website includes articles by the late Israel Roll and others, as well as maps showing the location of the roads. Many of the articles are in Hebrew or another language other than English. The maps, however, should be useful to those who do not read Hebrew.

The English website is available here. (If it links to the Hebrew page look in the upper left hand corner and click on EN.)

Good Bible atlases include a map of the known roadways. See, for example, the following:

  • Rasmussen, Zondervan Atlas of the Bible. Rasmussen includes a map showing the Natural Routes/Roads, and a discussion of International Routes.
  • Beitzel, The New Moody Atlas of the Bible. Beitzel includes a map showing The Roads of Palestine and a discussion of the principles back of making decisions about the roads.
  • Schlegel, Satellite Bible Atlas. The second map in this atlas shows the Regions and Routes of the Land of Israel.

Our photo below shows remains of the Roman road that Jesus might have taken from near Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee. These roads are often in danger of destruction by careless builders and farmers.

The Roman Road near Golani Junction in Galilee. This road collected Diocaesarea (Zephoris) and Tiberias. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman Road near Golani Junction in Galilee. This road connected Diocaesarea (Zephoris) and Tiberias. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jesus taught His disciples about the attitude they should have toward the Roman authorities.

And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.(Matthew 5:41 ESV)

New Testament writers gave distances in their descriptions of travel from one city to another. Luke says that Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13). John says that Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).

Milestones were common in Roman times and numerous ones have been found throughout the land of Israel. I understand that the milestone below is from the Jezreel Valley. It is one of many displayed on the grounds of the Beit-Sturman Museum near En Harod.

Roman Milestone from the Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Roman Milestone from the Jezreel Valley. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

HT: Jack Sasson

The Sea of Galilee and Mount Arbel from the NW

This photograph of the Sea of Galilee and Mount Arbel was made from highway 807.

Sea of Galilee and Mount Arbel from the NW. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Sea of Galilee and Mount Arbel from the NW. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

From this point we can see the east side of the Sea of Galilee. Today we know it as the Golan Heights. In Old Testament times it was known as Bashan (Joshua 21:27). Golan was one of the cities of Refuge located in the area. In New Testament times this was the area of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31), and probably the country of the Gadarenes (Matthew 8:28).

Below Mount Arbel runs the Via Maris, the main road leading from the Turan Valley to Capernaum. This road allowed travel and commerce between Capernaum, Magdala, and Tiberias with the cities of Nazareth, Cana, Sepphoris, and Jotapata.