1902 Encyclopedia > Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee




THE SEA OF GALILEE, with its surrounding shores, de-serves a more special description than that given of the rest of the district, as being the part of Palestine which most interests modem students and travellers. The lake was also called the Sea of Chinnereth or Chinneroth, and the Lake of Gennesaret or Tiberias; and by Pliny it is said to have been once called Lake of Taricheae. In form it is pear-shaped, 12J English miles in length, and 1\ at its greatest width. The level is now known to be682-5 feet below the Mediterranean. The water is fresh and clear, and large shoals of fish abound in it. The formation of the lake basin occurred later than the Chalk period, and was due to a subsidence of the strata, which appears to have been sud-den and violent, and probably accompanied by extensive volcanic eruptions from three centres east, west, and north of the lake. The district has always been liable to volcanic disturbance and to earthquakes. In 1837 Safed and Tiberias were destroyed by earthquake, and the tempera-ture of the hot springs round the lake was then observed to rise considerably for a time.

The Sea of Galilee is best seen from the top of the western precipices, and presents a desolate appearance. On the north the hills rise gradually from the shore, which is fringed with oleander bushes and indented with small bays. The ground is here covered with black basalt. On the west the plateau of el Ahma terminates in precipices ] 700 feet above the lake, and over these the black rocky tops called " the Horns of Hattin " are conspicuous objects. On the south is a broad valley through which the Jordan flows. On the east are furrowed and rugged slopes, rising to the great plateau of the Jaulan (Gaulonitis). The Jordan enters the lake through a narrow gorge between lower hills. A marshy plain, 2\ miles long and \\ broad, called el Batihah, exists immediately east of the Jordan inlet. There is also on the west side of the lake a small plain called el Ghuweir, formed by the junction of three large valleys. It measures 3^ miles along the shore, and is 1 mile wide. This plain, naturally fertile, but now almost uncultivated, is recognized to be the plain of Gennesareth, described by Josephus (B. J., iii. 10, 8). The shores of the lake are of fine shingle. On the east the hills approach in one place within 40 feet of the water, but there is generally a width of about f of a mile from the hills to the beach. On the west the flat ground at the foot of the hills has an average width of about 200 yards. A few scattered palms dot the western shores, and a palm grove is to be found near Kefr Harib on the south-east. Thermal springs are found on each side of the lake, with an average temperature of about 80° Fahr. The hot baths south of Tiberias include seven springs, the largest of which has a temperature of 137° Fahr. The plain of Gennesareth, with its environs, is the best watered part of the lake-basin. North of this plain are the five springs of et Tabghah, the largest of which was enclosed about a century ago by Aly, son of Dhahr el 'Amr, in an octagonal reservoir, and the water led off by an aqueduct 52 feet above the lake. The Tabghah springs, though abundant, are warm and brackish. At the north end of the plain is 'Ain et Tineh (" spring of the fig-tree "), also a brackish spring with a good stream; south of the plain is 'Ain el Bardeh ("the cold spring"), which is sweet, but scarcely lower in temperature than the others. The most important spring remains still to be noticed, namely, 'Ain el Madawerah (" the round spring"), situated 1 mile from the south end of the plain and half a mile from the shore. The water rises in a circular well 32 feet in diameter, and is clear and sweet, with a temperature of 73° Fahr. The bottom is of loose sand, and the fish called coracinus by Josephus (B. J., iii. 10, 8) is here found in abundance. Dr Tristram was the first explorer to identify this fish, and points out that it could not exist in the other springs. We are thus able to identify the "round spring" with the fountain of Capharnaum, which, according to Josephus, watered the plain of Gennesareth.

The principal sites of interest round the lake may be enumerated from north to west and from south to east. Kerazeh, the undoubted site of Chorazin, stands on a rocky spur 900 feet above the lake, 2 miles north of the shore. Foundations and scattered stones cover the slopes and the flat valley below. On the west is a rugged gorge. In the middle of the ruins are the remains of a synagogue of richly ornamental style built of black basalt. A small spring occurs on the north, Tell Hum is an important ruin on the shore south of the last mentioned site. The remains consist of foundations and scattered stones (which in spring are concealed by gigantic thistles) extending about half a mile along the shore. The foundations of a fine synagogue, measuring 75 feet by 57, and built in white limestone, have been excavated. A conspicuous building has been erected close to the water, from the fragments of the Tell Hum synagogue. Since the 4th century Tell Hum has been pointed out by all the Christian writers as the site of Capernaum, but the fatal objections to such an identification are—(1) the great distance from the fountain of Capharnaum, and (2) the fact that Jewish tradition preserves another site. The ruins at Tell Hum are not of necessity as old as the time of Christ. The name Hum means " black," and is probably connected with the surrounding black basalt. The place seems to be mentioned in the Talmud under the titles Caphar Ahim and Caphar Tanhumin (see Neubauer's Geog. Tal., p. 220). Minyeh is a ruined site at the north end of the plain of Gennesareth, 2J? miles from the last, and close to the shore. There are extensive ruins on flat ground, consisting of mounds and foundations, with traces of a wall once surrounding the site. Masonry of well-dressed stones has also been here discovered in course of excavation. Near the ruins are remains of an old khan, which appears to have been built in the Middle Ages; and above this a curious hillock, with an artificial rock-platform, called el 'Oreimeh, " the little knoll." Immediately to the north-east a preci-pice projects to the lake, and the aqueduct from the Tabghah spring is led to an ancient rock-cut channel, which seems to have been once intended for a road in the face of the cliff. In the 17th century Quaresmius speaks of this place, Minyeh, as the site of Capernaum. In the 14th Isaac Chelo was apparently shown the same site as containing the tomb of Nahum, and as being the " city of the Minai." The " Minai," or " sorcerers," are mentioned in the Talmud, and by this title the Jews stigmatized the early Christians; and these " Minai" are called in one passage of the Talmud "sons of Capernaum." There is thus a close connexion between this Minyeh—named from the Minai—and the town of Capernaum. The position of the site is also suitable for that of Capernaum, being in the plain of Gennesareth, two miles from the "round spring," or fountain of Capharnaum. No other site of any importance exists in the plain of Gennesareth. See CAPERNAUM.





South of the plain of Gennesareth is the undisputed site of the New Testament town of Magdala. A few lotus trees and some rock-cut tombs are here found beside a miserable mud hamlet on the hill slope, with a modern tomb-house or kubbeh. Passing beneath rugged cliffs a recess in the hills is next reached, where stands Tabariya, the ancient Tiberias or Eakkath, containing 3000 inhabitants, more than half of whom are Jews. The walls, flanked with round towers, and now partly destroyed by the earthquake of 1837, were built by Dhahr el 'Amr, as was the serai or court-house. The two mosques, now partly ruinous, were erected by his sons. There are remains of a crusading church, and the tomb of the celebrated Maimonides is shown in the town, while Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Meir lie buried outside. The ruins of the ancient city, including granite columns and traces of a sea-wall with towers, stretch southwards a mile beyond the modern town. An aqueduct in the cliff once brought water a distance of 9 miles from the south.

Kerak, at the south end of the lake, is an important site on a peninsula surrounded by the water of the lake, by the Jordan, and by a broad water ditch, while on the north-west a narrow neck of land remains. The plateau thus enclosed is partly artificial, and banked up 50 or 60 feet above the water. A ruined citadel remains on the north-west, and on the east was a bridge over the Jordan; broken pottery and fragments of sculptured stone strew the site. The ruin of Kerak answers to the description given by Josephus of the city of 'Taricheae, which lay 30 stadia from Tiberias, the hot baths being between the two cities. Tarichese was situated, as is Kerak, on the shore below the cliffs, and partly surrounded by water, while before the city was a plain (the Ghor). Pliny further informs us that Taricheae was at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. Sinnabreh, a ruin on a spur of the hills close to the last-mentioned site, is undoubtedly the ancient Sinnabris, where Vespasian (Joseph., B. J., iii. 9, 7) fixed his camp, advanc-ing from Scythopolis (Beisan) on Tarichese and Tiberias. Sinnabris was 30 stadia from Tiberias, or about the dis-tance of the ruin now existing.

The eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee have been less fully explored than the western, and the sites are not so perfectly recovered. The town of Hippos, one of the cities of Decapolis, was situated 30 stadia from Tiberias, and 60 stadia from Gadara (Umm Keis). It is conjectured that the town Susitha, mentioned in the Talmud, is the same place, and the name Susyeh seems to have existed east of the Sea of Galilee at a late period. Susitha from " sus," meaning " horse," is, etymologically at least, suggestive of the Greek " hippos." The site is at present unknown. Kalat el Hosn ("castle of the stronghold") is a ruin on a rocky spur opposite Tiberias. Two large ruined buildings remain, with traces of an old street and fallen columns and capitals. A strong wall once surrounded the town; a narrow neck of land exists on the east where the rock has been scarped. Rugged valleys enclose the site on the north and south; broken sarcophagi and rock-cut tombs are found beneath the ruin. This site answers to the description Josephus gives of Gamala, an important fortress besieged by Vespasian (Bell. Jud., iv. 1, 1). Gersa, an insignificant ruin north of the last, is thought to represent the Gerasa or Gergesa of the 4th century, situated east of the lake; and the projecting spur of hill south of this ruin is conjectured to be the place where the swine "ran violently down a steep place " (Matt. viii. 32). The site of Bethsaida Julias, east of Jordan, is also unknown. It has been supposed (and the theory is supported by even so important an authority as Beland) that two separate places named Bethsaida are mentioned in the New Testa-ment. The grounds for this conclusion are, however, very insufficient; and only one Bethsaida is mentioned by Josephus. It was near the Jordan inlet, on the east side of the river, and under its later Greek name of Julias, it is mentioned, with Hippos, by Pliny. The site usually pointed out is the ruin of et Tell, north of the Batihah plain; the remains are, however, modern and insignificant. Just south of the same plain is a ruined village called Mes'aidiyeh, the name of which approaches Bethsaida in sound but not in meaning. This is the site pointed out by Vandevelde, and it is possible that the course of Jordan has shifted west-wards, and that the old mouth is marked by the two creeks running into the shore on the east, in which case the site of Mes'aidiyeh might be accepted as the Bethsaida of the gospels, which appears to have been east of Jordan.

Literature.—The most important works on the subject of Galilee and the Sea of Galilee are the following:— Robinson's Biblical Researches; Stanley's Sinai and Palestine; Tristram's Land of Israel; Warren and Wilson's Recovery of Jerusalem; Conder's Tent Work in Palestine; and the Memoirs of the Survey of Palestine (sheets 1-6, 8, 9). (C. E. C.)







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