Column: Sea of Galilee: Israel’s sacred lake

Jesus forgiving Peter along Sea of Galilee. (Photo by Don Knebel)

Jesus forgiving Peter along Sea of Galilee. (Photo by Don Knebel)

The Sea of Galilee in northern Israel is one of the world’s most famous bodies of water because of its association with Jesus. Perhaps the best-known story about Jesus and the Sea of Galilee occurred after his death.

Only eight miles wide, with an area of less than 65 square miles, the harp-shaped Sea of Galilee is more accurately called a lake. Whatever its name (the Bible also calls it the Lake of Gennesaret, the Sea of Tiberias and the Sea of Kinnereth), the Sea of Galilee is the lowest fresh water lake in the world. Lying in the Jordan Rift resulting from the separation of the African and Arabian plates, its surface is about 700 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. The Sea of Galilee is fed primarily by the Jordan River, which flows into it from the north and then flows out of it for 88 miles south until it reaches the Dead Sea, the lowest lake in the world.

Jesus spent most of his earthly ministry preaching in and around the fishing villages along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, where his disciples lived and worked. His miraculous feeding of the 5,000 and the Sermon on the Mount took place on nearby hillsides. According to the “Gospel of John,” on a morning after his crucifixion in Jerusalem, Jesus suddenly appeared to some of his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after they had spent the night fishing, entirely without success. With guidance from Jesus, the fisherman filled their nets and joined Jesus for a fish breakfast ashore, where Jesus forgave Peter for having three times denied knowing him after his arrest. Today, a statue in Tabgha, an area on the northwest shore not far from Capernaum, remembers that event.