The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online
gal'-i-le (ha-galil, hagelilah, literally, "the circuit" or "district"; he Galilaia):
1. Galilee of the Nations:
Kedesh, the city of refuge, is described as lying in Galilee, in Mt. Naphtali (Joshua 20:7; compare Joshua 21:32). The name seems originally to have referred to the territory of Naphtali. Joshua's victorious campaign in the north (Joshua 11), and, subsequently, the triumph of the northern tribes under Deborah and Barak (Judges 4 f) gave Israel supremacy; yet the tribe of Naphtali was not able to drive out all the former inhabitants of the land (Judges 1:33). In the time of Solomon the name applied to a much wider region, including the territory of Asher. In this land lay the cities given by Solomon to Hiram (1 Kings 9:11). Cabul here named must be identical with that of Joshua 19:27. The Asherites also failed to possess certain cities in their allotted portion, so that the heathen continued to dwell among them. To this state of things, probably, is due the name given in Isaiah 9:1 to this region, "Galilee of the nations," i.e. a district occupied by a mixed population of Jews and heathen. It may also be referred to in Joshua 12:23, where possibly we should read "king of the nations of Galilee" (legalil), instead of "Gilgal" (begilgal). Yet it was within this territory that, according to 2 Samuel 20:18 (Septuagint) lay the two cities noted for their preservation of ancient Israelite religious customs in their purity--Abel-bethmaacah and Dan.
2. Ancient Boundaries:
There is nothing to guide us as to the northern boundary of Galilee in the earliest times. On the East it was bounded by the upper Jordan and the Sea of Galilee, and on the South by the plain of el-BaTTauf. That all within these limits belonged to Galilee we may be sure. Possibly, however, it included Zebulun, which seems to be reckoned to it in Isaiah 9:1. In this territory also there were unconquered Canaanite cities (Judges 1,30).
3. Before the Exile:
At the instigation of Asa, king of Judah, Benhadad, son of Tabrimmon of Damascus, moved against Israel, and the cities which he smote all lay within the circle of Galilee (1 Kings 15:20). Galilee must have been the arena of conflict between Jehoahaz and Hazael, king of Syria. The cities which the latter captured were recovered from his son Benhadad by Joash, who defeated him three times (2 Kings 10:32; 13:22 ff). The affliction of Israel nevertheless continued "very bitter," and God saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Joash, the great warrior monarch of the Northern Kingdom, under whom Galilee passed completely into the hands of Israel (2 Kings 14:25 ff). But the days of Israel's supremacy in Northern Palestine were nearly over. The beginning of the end came with the invasion of Tiglath-pileser III, who took the chief cities in Galilee, and sent their inhabitants captive to Assyria (2 Kings 14:29). Probably, as in the case of the Southern Kingdom, the poorest of the land were left as husbandmen. At any rate there still remained Israelites in the district (2 Chronicles 30:10 f); but the measures taken by the conqueror must have made for the rapid increase of the heathen element.
4. After the Exile:
In post-exilie times Galilee is the name given to the most northerly of the three divisions of Western Palestine. The boundaries are indicated by Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 1). It was divided into Lower and Upper Galilee, and was encompassed by Phoenicia and Syria. It marched with Ptolemais and Mt. Carmel on the West. The mountain, formerly Galliean, now belonged to the Syrians. On the South it adjoined Samaria and Scythopolis (Beisan) as far as the river Jordan. It was bounded on the East by Hippene, Gadara, Gaulonitis and the borders of the kingdom of Agrippa, while the northern frontier was marked by Tyre and the country of the Tyrians. The northern limit of Samaria was Ginea, the modern Jenin, on the south border of Esdraelon. Lower Galilee, therefore, included the great plain, and stretched northward to the plain of er-Rameh--Ramah of Joshua 19:36. Josephus mentions Bersabe, the modern Abu-Sheba, and the Talmud, Kephar Chananyah, the modern Kefr `Anan, as the northern border; the former being about a mile North of the latter. The plain reaches to the foot of the mountain chain, which, running East and West, forms a natural line of division. Upper Galilee may have included the land as far as the gorge of the LiTany, which, again, would have formed a natural boundary to the N. Josephus, however, speaks of Kedesh as belonging to the Syrians (BJ, II, xviii, 1), situated "between the land of the Tyrians and Galilee" (Ant., XIII, v, 6). This gives a point on the northern frontier in his time; but the rest is left indefinite. Guthe, Sunday and others, followed by Cheyne (EB, under the word), on quite inadequate grounds conclude that certain localities on the East of the Sea of Galilee were reckoned as Galilean.
5. Character of the Galileans:
In the mixed population after the exile the purely Jewish element must have been relatively small. In 165 BC Simon Maccabeus was able to rescue them from their threatening neighbors by carrying the whole community away to Judea (1 Macc 5:14 ff). Josephus tells of the conquest by Aristobulus I of Ituraea (Ant., XIII, xi, 3). He compelled many of them to adopt Jewish religious customs, and to obey the Jewish law. There can be little doubt that Galilee and its people were treated in the same way. While Jewish in their religion, and in their patriotism too, as subsequent history showed, the population of Galilee was composed of strangely mingled elements--Aramaean, Iturean, Phoenician and Greek In the circumstances they could not be expected to prove such sticklers for high orthodoxy as the Judeans. Their mixed origin explains the differences in speech which distinguished them from their brethren in the South, who regarded Galilee and the Galileans with a certain proud contempt (John 1:46; 7:52). But a fine type of manhood was developed among the peasant farmers of the two Galilees which, according to Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 2), were "always able to make a strong resistance on all occasions of war; for the Galileans are inured to war from their infancy .... nor hath the country ever been destitute of men of courage." Josephus, himself a Galilean, knew his countrymen well, and on them he mainly relied in the war with Rome. In Galilee also the Messianic hope was cherished with the deepest intensity. When the Messiah appeared, with His own Galilean upbringing, it was from the north-countrymen that He received the warmest welcome, and among them His appeal elicited the most gratifying response.
6. Later History:
In 47 BC, Herod the Great, then a youth of 25, was made military commander of Galilee, and won great applause by the fashion in which he suppressed a band of robbers who had long vexed the country (Ant., XIV, ix, 2). When Herod came to the throne, 37 BC, a period of peace and prosperity for Galilee began, which lasted till the banishment of his son Antipas in 40 AD. The tetrarchy of Galilee was given to the latter at his father's death, 4 BC. His reign, therefore, covered the whole life of Jesus, with the exception of His infancy. After the banishment of Antipas, Galilee was added to the dominions of Agrippa I, who ruled it till his death in 44 AD. Then followed a period of Roman administration, after which it was given to Agrippa II, who sided with the Romans in the subsequent wars, and held his position till 100 AD. The patriotic people, however, by no means submitted to his guidance. In their heroic struggle for independence, the command of the two Galilees, with Gamala, was entrusted to Josephus, who has left a vivid narrative, well illustrating the splendid courage of his freedom-loving countrymen. But against such an adversary as Rome even their wild bravery could not prevail; and the country soon lay at the feet of the victorious Vespasian, 67 AD. There is no certain knowledge of the part played by Galilee in the rebellion under Hadrian, 132-35 AD.
At the beginning of the Roman period Sepphoris (Cafuriyeh), about 3 miles North of Nazareth, took the leading place. Herod Antipas, however, built a new city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, which, in honor of the reigning emperor, he called Tiberias. Here he reared his "golden house," and made the city the capital of his tetrarchy. See TIBERIAS . After the fall of Jerusalem, Galilee, which had formerly been held in contempt, became the home of Jewish learning, and its chief seat was found in Tiberias where the Mishna was committed to writing, and the Jerusalem Talmud was composed. Thus a city into which at first no pious Jew would enter, in a province which had long been despised by the leaders of the nation, became the main center of their national and religious life.
7. Cities of Galilee:
Among the more notable cities in Galilee were Kedesh Naphtali, the city of refuge, the ruins of which lie on the heights West of el-Chuleh; Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, North of the Sea of Galilee; Nazareth, the city of the Savior's youth and young manhood; Jotapata, the scene of Josephus' heroic defense against the Romans, which stood at Tell Jefat, North of the plain of Asochis (BJ, III, vii, viii); Cana of Galilee; and Nain, on the northern slope of the mountain now called Little Hermon.
8. General Description:
In physical features Galilee is the most richly diversified and picturesque district in Western Palestine; while in beauty and fertility it is strongly contrasted with the barren uplands of Judah. Cut off from Mt. Lebanon in the North by the tremendous gorge of the Litany, it forms a broad and high plateau, sinking gradually southward until it approaches Cafed, when again it rises, culminating in Jebel Jermuk, the highest summit on the West of the Jordan. From Cafed there is a rapid descent by stony slope and rocky precipice to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The mountains of which Jebel Jermuk is the Northeast outrunner stretch westward across the country, and drop upon the plain of er-Rameh to the South. Irregular hills and valleys, with breadths of shady woodlands, lie between this plain and that of Asochis (el-Battauf]). The latter is split from the East by the range of Jebel Tor`an. South of Asochis rise lower hills, in a cup-like hollow among which lies the town of Nazareth. South of the town they sink steeply into the plain of Esdraelon. The isolated form of Tabor stands out on the East, while Carmel bounds the view on the West. The high plateau in the North terminates abruptly at the lip of the upper Jordan valley. As the Jordan runs close to the base of the eastern hills, practically all this valley, with its fine rolling downs, is included in Galilee. The plain of Gennesaret runs along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. From the uplands to the West, stretching from Qurun Chattin (the traditional Mount of Beatitudes) to the neighborhood of Tabor, the land lets itself down in a series of broad and fertile terraces, falling at last almost precipitously on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The descent toward the Mediterranean is much more gradual; and the soil gathered in the longer valleys is deep and rich.
The district may be described as comparatively well watered. The Jordan with its mighty springs is, of course, too low for purposes of irrigation. But there are many perennial streams fed by fountains among the hills. The springs at Jenin are the main sources of the river Kishon, but for the greater part of its course through the plain the bed of that river is far below the surface of the adjoining land. The dews that descend from Lebanon and Hermon are also a perpetual source of moisture and refreshment.
Galilee was famous in ancient times for its rich and fruitful soil, "full of the plantations of trees of all sorts, insomuch that it invites the most slothful to pains in its cultivation by its fruitfulness; accordingly it is all cultivated by its inhabitants, and no part of it lies idle" (BJ, III, iii, 2). See also GENNESARET, LAKE OF ,LAND OF . The grapes grown in Naphtali were in high repute, as were the pomegranates of Shikmona--the Sykaminos of Josephus--which stood on the shore near Mt. Carmel. The silver sheen of the olive meets the eye in almost every valley; and the olive oil produced in Galilee has always been esteemed of the highest excellence. Its wheat fields also yielded an abundant supply, the wheat of Chorazin being proverbial. The great plain of Esdraelon must also have furnished rich provision. It cannot be doubted that Galilee was largely drawn upon for the gifts in kind which Solomon bestowed upon the king of Tyre (2 Chronicles 2:10). At a much later day the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon depended upon the produce of Galilee (Acts 12:20).
Galilee was in easy touch with the outside world by means of the roads that traversed her valleys, crossed her ridges and ran out eastward, westward and southward. Thus she was connected with the harbors on the Phoenician seaboard, with Egypt on the South, with Damascus on the Northeast, and with the markets of the East by the great caravan routes (see "Roads" under PALESTINE, 1 ).
10. Contact with the Outside World:
In the days of Christ the coming and going of the merchantmen, the passing of armies and the movements of the representatives of the Empire, must have made these highways a scene of perpetual activity, touching the dwellers in Galilee with the widening influences of the great world's life.
The peasant farmers of Galilee, we have seen, were a bold and enterprising race. Encouraged by the fruitfulness of their country, they were industrious cultivators of the soil. Josephus estimates the population at 3,000,000. This may be an exaggeration; but here we have all the conditions necessary for the support of a numerous and prosperous people. This helps us to understand the crowds that gathered round and followed Jesus in this district, where the greater part of His public life was spent. The cities, towns and villages in Galilee are frequently referred to in the Gospels. That the Jewish population in the centuries immediately after Christ was numerous and wealthy is sufficiently proved by the remains from those times, especially the ruins of synagogues, e.g. those at Tell Chum, Kerazeh, Irbid, el-Jish, Kefr Bir`im, Meiron, etc. Near the last named is shown the tomb of the great Jewish teacher Hillel.
Galilee was not without her own heroic memories. The great battlefields of Megiddo, Gilboa, and the waters of Merom lay within her borders; and among the famous men of the past she could claim Barak, Ibzan, Elon and Tola of the judges; of the prophets, Jonah and Elisha at least; possibly also Hosea who, according to a Jewish tradition, died in Babylon, but was brought to Galilee and buried in Cafed (Neubauer, Geog. der Talmud, 227). When the chief priests and Pharisees said, "Search, and see that out of Galilee ariseth no prophet," it argued strange and inexcusable ignorance on their part (John 7:52). Perhaps, however, in this place we should read ho prophetes, "the prophet," i.e. the Messiah. It is significant that 11 out of the 12 apostles were Galileans.
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Edited by James Orr, published in 1939 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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