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Sea of Galilee
View from the Galilee
Coordinates 32°50′N 35°35′E / 32.833°N 35.583°E / 32.833; 35.583Coordinates: 32°50′N 35°35′E / 32.833°N 35.583°E / 32.833; 35.583
Lake type Monomictic
Primary inflows Upper Jordan River and local runoff [1]
Primary outflows Lower Jordan River, evaporation
Catchment area 2,730 km2 (1,050 sq mi) [2]
Basin countries Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine
Max. length 21 km (13 mi)
Max. width 13 km (8.1 mi)
Surface area 166 km2 (64 sq mi)
Average depth 25.6 m (84 ft)
Max. depth 43 m (140 ft)
Water volume 4 km3 (0.96 cu mi)
Residence time 5 years
Shore length1 53 km (33 mi)
Surface elevation -209 m (690 ft)
Islands 2
References [1][2]
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

The Sea of Galilee, also Lake of Gennesaret, Lake Kinneret or Sea of Tiberias (Hebrew: ים כנרת‎, Arabic: بحيرة طبريا‎), located near the Golan Heights, is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km (33 miles) in circumference, about 21 km (13 miles) long, and 13 km (8 miles) wide. The lake has a total area of 166 km², and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m (141 feet).[3] At 209 metres below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake).[4]

The Kinneret is situated deep in the Jordan Great Rift Valley, the valley caused by the separation of the African and Arabian Plates and is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south. Consequently the area is subject to earthquakes and, in the past, volcanic activity. This is evident by the abundant basalt and other igneous rocks that define the geology of the Galilee region.



The lake often appears on maps and in the New Testament Bible as Lake Galilee or Lake Tiberias (John 6:1) while in the Old Testament Bible, it is called the "Sea of Chinnereth" (or spelled as "Kinnereth") (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 13:27).

The name may originate from the Hebrew word kinnor ("harp" or "lyre") in view of the shape of the lake. Christian religious texts call it Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1) or Sea of Gennesaret[5] after a small fertile plain that lies on its western side. The Arabic name for the lake is About this sound Buhairet Tabariyya (بحيرة طبريا) meaning Lake Tiberias. Other names for the Sea of Galilee are Ginnosar, Lake of Gennesar, Sea of Chinneroth and Sea of Tiberias (Roman).


The Sea of Galilee, which is land locked lies on the ancient Via Maris which linked Egypt with the northern empires. The Greeks, Hasmoneans, and Romans founded flourishing towns and settlements on the lake including Gadara, Hippos and Tiberias. The first-century historian Flavius Josephus was so impressed by the area that he wrote, "One may call this place the ambition of Nature." Josephus also reported a thriving fishing industry at this time, with 230 boats regularly working in the lake.

Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. In those days, there was a continuous ribbon development of settlements and villages around the lake and plenty of trade and ferrying by boat. The Synoptic gospels of Mark (1:14-20), Matthew (4:18-22), and Luke (5:1-11) describe how Jesus recruited four of His apostles from the shores of Lake Galilee: the fishermen Simon and His brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus' famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of His miracles are also said to have occurred here including His walking on water, calming a storm, and His feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha).

The Sea of Galilee.

In 135 CE the second Jewish revolt against the Romans was put down. The Romans responded by banning all Jews from Jerusalem. The center of Jewish culture and learning shifted to the region of the Kinneret, particularly the city of Tiberias. It was in this region that the so-called "Jerusalem Talmud" is thought to have been compiled.

In the time of the Byzantine Empire, the lake's significance in Jesus' life made it a major destination for Christian pilgrims. This led to the growth of a full-fledged tourist industry, complete with package tours and plenty of comfortable inns.

Panoramic from Amnon, north of the sea

Medieval times

Political map of the Sea of Galilee region today.

The lake's importance declined when the Byzantines lost control and area came under the control of the Umayyad Caliphate and subsequent Islamic empires. Apart from Tiberias, the major towns and cities in the area were gradually abandoned. The palace Khirbat al-Minya was built by the lake during the reign of the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I (705-715 CE). In 1187, Saladin defeated the armies of the Crusades at the Battle of Hattin, largely because he was able to cut the Crusaders off from the valuable fresh water of the Sea of Galilee.

Modern times

Sea of Galilee seen from Spot Satellite.
Fishermen in the Sea of Galilee, 1890-1900.
Water level during 2007-2008.
Astronaut photograph of the lake.

In 1909 Jewish pioneers built their first cooperative farming village (kibbutz), Kvutzat Kinneret which trained Jewish immigrants in farming and agriculture. Later, Kinneret pioneers established Kibbutz Degania. It was fitting, therefore, that the Kinneret was the cradle of the Kibbutz culture of early Zionism and the birthplace of Naomi Shemer and the burial site of Rachel - two of the most prominent Israeli poets.

The Preamble of the League of Nations Mandate [6] required the Principal Allied Powers to fix the boundaries. In 1923 an agreement between the United Kingdom and France established the border between the British Mandate of Palestine and the French Mandate of Syria. The Zionist movement pressured the French and British to assign as many water sources as possible to Palestine during the demarcating negotiations. These constant demands influenced the negotiators and finally led to the inclusion of the whole Sea of Galilee, both sides of the Jordan river, Lake Hula, Dan spring, and part of the Yarmouk. The High Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel, had demanded full control of the Sea of Galilee.[7] The new border followed a 10-meter wide strip along the northeastern shore.[8] Thus Syria became landlocked in the southwest. These following provisos were set up:

  • Any existing rights over the use of the waters of the Jordan by the inhabitants of Syria shall be maintained unimpaired.
  • The Government of Syria shall have the right to erect a new pier at Semakh on Lake Tiberias or to have joint use of the existing pier
  • Persons or goods passing between the existing landing-stage or any future landing-stages on the Lake of Tiberias and Semakh Station shall not by reason of the mere fact that they must cross the territory of Palestine be deemed persons or goods entering Palestine for the purpose of Customs or other regulations, and the right of the Syrian Government and their agents to access to the said landing-stages is recognised.
  • The inhabitants of Syria and of the Lebanon shall have the same fishing and navigation rights on Lakes Huleh and Tiberias and on the River Jordan between the said lakes as the inhabitants of Palestine, but the Government of Palestine shall be responsible for the policing of the lakes.[9]

Israel's National Water Carrier, built in 1964, transports water from the lake to the population centers of Israel, and is the source of much of the country's drinking water. Israel also supplies water from the lake to Jordan (under the terms of the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace). Increasing water demand and some dry winters have resulted in stress on the lake and a decreasing water line, at times to dangerously low levels.

Today, tourism is again the Kinneret's most important economic activity with the entire region being a popular holiday destination. The many historical and spiritual sites around the lake, especially its main town Tiberias, are visited by millions of local and foreign tourists annually. Other economic activities include fishing in the lake and agriculture, particularly bananas, in the fertile belt of land surrounding it.

A key attraction is the site where the Kinneret's water flows into the Jordan River to which thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to be baptized every year.

Fauna and flora

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

The warm waters of the Sea of Galilee allow a variety of flora and fauna to thrive, which have supported a significant commercial fishery for over two millennia. Local flora includes a variety of reeds along most of the shoreline as well as Phytoplankton. Fauna includes Zooplankton and Benthos, as well as a fish population which notably includes Tilapia (locally known as St. Peter’s Fish).[10]

Tilapia zilli ("St. Peter's fish") - typical serving in a Tiberias restaurant

Environmental Issues

Water levels are dangerously low, putting the Sea of Galilee at risk of becoming irreversibly salinized by the salt water springs under the lake that are limited by the weight of the freshwater on top of them.[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b Aaron T. Wolf, Hydropolitics along the Jordan River, United Nations University Press, 1995
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Data Summary: Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)
  4. ^ The 1996 discovered subglacial Lake Vostok challenges both records; it is estimated to be 200 to 600 m below sea level.
  5. ^ Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller editor, 1992, translation note to Mark 4:35-41: "...Mark calls this lake the sea, using a word (thalassa) that most Greek writers reserve for the much larger Mediterranean (Luke uses the more proper term for a lake, limne, in Luke 5:1; 8:22-23, 33. ..."
  6. ^ The Preamble of the League of Nations Mandate
  7. ^ - (The boundaries of modern Palestine, 1840-1947, Page 130)
  8. ^ (The boundaries of modern Palestine, 1840-1947, Page 145, 150)
  10. ^ World Lakes Database entry for Sea of Galilee
  11. ^

External links


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