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Church of the 12 Apostles, Galilee

GALILEE (See also wiki article Galilee.)


1.Position | 2.Name | 3.History | 4.Physical Characteristics | 5.Population.

1. Position.

Galilee was the region of Palestine N. of Samaria. It was bounded southward by the Carmel range and the southern border of the plain of Esdraelon, whence it stretched eastward by Bethshean (Scythopolis, Beisan) to the Jordan. Eastward it was limited by the Jordan and the western bank of its expansions (the Sea of Galilee and Lake Semechonitis). Northward and to the north-west it was bounded by Syria and Phoenicia; it reached the sea only in the region round the bay of 'Akka and immediately north of it. Its maximum extent therefore was somewhere about 60 miles north to south, and 30 east to West.

2. Name.

The name Galilee is of Canaanitic or Hebrew origin, and signifies a 'ring' or 'circuit.' The name may be a contraction of a fuller expression, preserved by Is.9.1, namely, 'Galilee of the nations' though the possibility that the fuller expression is an expansion cannot be ruled out. It could originally have described a ring of cities lying about the hill country. The Hebrew form gallt is found Aramaized as Galila in the Greek Zenon Papyri (259 BC); the form Galilaia is a gentilic derived from Galila.

3. History.

In the system of tribal allotments in the Book of Joshua the territory of Galilee was divided among Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, and part of Issachar. In the OT history the tribal designations are generally used when subdivisions of the country are denoted; this is no doubt the reason why the name 'Galilee' occurs so rarely in the Hebrew Scriptures - though Is.9.1, as well as the references to Kedesh and other cities 'in Galilee' (Jos.20.7, 21.32, 1 K.9.11, 2 K.15.29, l Ch.6.76), show that the name was familiar and employed upon occasion. Some of the most important of the historical events of the early Hebrew history took place within the borders of Galilee. The region was devastated by Benhadad l. of Damascus (1 K.15.20), and again by Hazael (2 K.12.18). It was recovered by Jeroboam II. (2 K.13.22). From 2 K.15.29 and from the Assyrian inscriptions we learn that in 732 BC Tiglath pileser III. annexed Galilee and made it part of the Assyrian province of Megiddo. It seems improbable that the whole population was deported. The ancient rulers were interested in having agriculture continue and provide revenues. Much of Galilee seems to have become crown-land.

An expedition to rescue Jews of Galilee took place under Judas Maccabaeus, but apparently only the region near Acco and Mount Carmel is meant (1 Mac 5.21-23). It was not till its conquest, by John Hyrcanus, that Galilee was included in Jewish territory. Under the pressure of Egyptian and Roman invaders the national patriotism developed rapidly, and it became as intensely Jewish as Jerusalem itself. Under the Roman domination Galilee was governed as a tetrarchate, held by members of the Herod family. Herod the Great was ruler of Galilee in 47 BC, and was succeeded by his son Antipas, as tetrarch, in 4 BC. In the 3rd cent. AD, Galilee became the centre of Rabbinic life. Remains of Jewish synagogues of this era are to be seen among the ruins of Galilaean cities. But it is as the principal theatre of Jesus' life and work that Galilee commands its greatest interest. Almost the whole of His life was spent within its borders. The disciples no doubt were also natives of this area.

4. Physical Characteristics.

Owing to moisture derived from the Lebanon mountains, Galilee is the best watered district of Palestine, and abounds in streams and springs, though the actual rainfall is little greater than that of Judaea. The result of this enhanced water supply is seen in the fertility of the soil, which is far greater than anywhere in Southern Palestine. It was famous for oil, wheat, barley, and fruit, as well as cattle. The fisheries about the Sea of Galilee were also important. The formation of the country is limestone, broken by frequent dykes and outflows of trap and other volcanic rocks. Hot springs at Tiberias and elsewhere, and not infrequent earthquakes, indicate a continuance of volcanic and analogous energies.

5. Population.

Galilee in the time of Christ was inhabited by a mixed population. There was the Jewish element, grafted no doubt on a substratum of Israelites, Aramaeans, and Canaanites. Besides these there was the cultivated class - the inhabitants of the Greek cities and the military representatives of the dominant power of Rome. In Judaea the Galilaeans were looked down upon. 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' (Jn.1.46) was one proverb. 'Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet' (7.52) was another. The Galilaeans spoke an Aramaic dialect differing from the dialects used in Samaria and Judaea. It betrayed Peter when he endeavoured to deny his discipleship (Mt.26.73).

[Article: Dictionary of the Bible, J.Hastings, 2nd Ed., T&T.Clark, 1963 - R.A.S.M. - E.G.K.]