Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. (Matthew 15:29)
The Sea of Galilee is also called Lake of Gennesaret, Lake Kinneret or Sea of Tiberias. It is Israel’s largest freshwater lake. The Sea of Galilee is also the lowest freshwater lake on Earth (209 meters below sea level).
The main source for the Sea of Galilee is the Jordan River. It is situated in the Jordan Great Rift Valley, and as a result is often plagued by earthquakes. The earthquakes and the volcanic activity in the past have created an abundance of basalt and other igneous rocks all around the Sea of Galilee.
In the Old Testament, the Sea of Galilee was called Sea of Kinnereth. It is named after the “lyre” or “kinnor” instrument of the ancient Hebrews. From the high elevation looking down, the Sea of Galilee is the same shape as the kinnors the ancient Israelites would have played.
The Sea of Galilee lies on the ancient Via Maris which connected Egypt with the northern territories. As a result of its centrality, the Romans, Hasmoneans, and Greeks all founded cities of trade along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. The historian Josephus reported a bustling fishing industry and called the area the “ambition of Nature.”
Jesus Christ’s ministry was centered around the Sea of Galilee. He recruited apostles from its shores. (Andrew, Simon, James and John were all fisherman in Lake Galilee.) Jesus Christ delivered his most famous speech, the Sermon on the Mount, on a hill overlooking the lake. Walking on water and calming a storm at sea were both miracles of Jesus Christ recorded to have happened on the Sea of Galilee.
By the Byzantine Empire, many Christians made pilgrimages to the lake so central to Jesus Christ’s life and ministry. As a result, the tourist industry flourished in the area.
Jewish pioneers built their first cooperative farming village (kibbutz) in 1909 along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Later, Kinnereth Pioneers built other kibbutz. In this way, the Sea of Galilee became the center of kibbutz culture, Zionism and the home of many prominent Israeli poets.
In 1923, the Sea of Galilee became property of the Palestinians. However, Israel is allowed to use the lake to provide drinking water to its most populated areas. Israel also provides water to Jordan, according to the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.
Tourism is growing again and has become the area’s most prominent industry. The spiritual and historical sites along the banks of the Sea of Galilee draw millions of tourists (both foreign and local) every year! Fishing and agriculture along the fertile belt around the lake are also thriving. The main attraction remains the point where the Sea of Galilee flows into the Jordan River. Pilgrims come to this spot to see where Jesus Christ was supposedly baptized by John the Baptist.