Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Sea of Galilee |
From a sea that is a lake came the men who changed a world

Sea of Galilee is drawn from Chapter Two, beginning on page 43, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Out of the tiny villages around Galilee’s sometimes stormy waters, unassuming men and women became the founders of Christianity

Sea of Galilee - From a sea that is a lake came the men who changed a world

Sea of Galilee - From a sea that is a lake came the men who changed a world
Fishermen still harvest the depths of the Sea of Galilee, known today as Lake Tiberias or Lake Kinneret. Not a “sea” but, in reality, a small lake (fourteen by eight miles), it lies 686 feet below the level of the Mediterranean and has a maximum depth of 157 feet. Fishing for sardines and tilapia still affords a livelihood for some, but of the thriving market towns that circled the lake in Peter’s day, only Tiberias on the western shore still exists.

The ministry of Jesus focuses strongly on events that occurred on and around the Sea of Galilee (called Yam Kinneret today), a forty-thousand-acre freshwater lake fed out of and flowing into the Jordan River, and the only significant body of water in the landlocked tetrarchy of Galilee. (The shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea to the west of Galilee was part of the Roman province of Syria).

The “sea,” or lake, was the economic center of Galilee, an agriculturally rich but culturally provincial district. It was also an administrative center: Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great who ruled Galilee from Jesus’ boyhood to a few years after his death, had his palace in Tiberias, a city he built on the lake’s southwestern shore. Major roads linked the sea to Damascus in Syria and to ports along the Mediterranean. But the lake itself was primarily known for its abundance of fish, which supplied the local inhabitants with food and was a major export commodity, consumed as far away as Rome by some accounts. Sardines, tilapia (also known as St. Peter’s fish), and a large kind of carp called the barbel were the most common. They in turn fed on the mollusks that proliferated on the bottom of the sea and on smaller fish. According to Jewish tradition, the general Joshua gave fishing rights on the lake to the tribe of Naphtali in about 1,300 b.c., and it had probably been fished by others for many millennia before that.

In Jesus’ day, the lake was ringed by fishing boats, fishing villages, and sixteen harbors, with the important fishing centers the prosperous towns of Capernaum at the lake’s northwestern tip, and Bethsaida-Julias, about five miles east on the other side of the Jordan. The Jordan River marked Galilee’s eastern boundary, and Bethsaida-Julias lay within a territory called Gaulanitis (roughly contiguous to today’s Golan Heights) belonging to Antipas’s half brother Philip. Jesus knew both towns well. His own home town, hilly and landlocked Nazareth, was about twenty-five miles southwest of Capernaum, not far from another major city, Sepphoris. In Capernaum lived four of Jesus’ chief disciples among the Twelve, fishermen all–the brothers Peter and Andrew and the brothers James and John. Another of the Twelve, Philip, was from Bethsaida-Julias, where Jesus visited often.

Peter, who had a wife and mother-in-law in Capernaum, and his brother Andrew were partner-owners of a commercial fishing boat with Zebedee, the father of James and John. As such, recent archeological excavations have revealed, these disciples would have been relatively prosperous men. A large first-century fisherman’s house containing a sail needle, net weights, and a fisherman’s seal recently uncovered in Bethsaida-Julias also contained many animal bones, indicating that its inhabitants ate well. The five disciples who came from these towns undoubtedly gave up comfortable, if physically strenuous, lives to follow Jesus.

In 1986, members of an Israeli kibbutz on Yam Kinneret, walking on the lake bottom after a drought, discovered a twenty-seven-foot long first-century fishing boat that was probably much like the ones Jesus’ disciples used in their trade. The boat, now carefully preserved, together with a first-century mosaic depicting a fishing boat found at the site of another ancient village, Magdala, has given us a clear picture of what these craft were like: They typically had a single mast, a square sail (supplemented by oars), a curved stern, and decks fore and aft on top of which the fishermen could cook if they wished, and under which they could sleep, as Jesus did on at least one occasion. They held crews of at least five, together with a skipper-helmsman.

Fishing was accomplished by using a parachute-like throw net, cast by someone standing on the boat, a dragnet pulled across the sea bottom by the crew, or a trammel, a kind of stationary net-trap set up at night. The fisherman also used hooks and lines, spears, and wicker traps, and frequented small ponds in the marshes on the shoreline. Most of the fish caught were shipped straight to a processing center for salting, smoking, or pickling and thence for export. Magdala, about eight miles down the Galilean coast from Capernaum, and the home of Jesus’ female follower Mary Magdalene, was a major fish-processing town with a reputation for boisterous and decadent living. Its Hebrew name, Migdal Nunia, means “tower of fish.”

In 1986, low water levels on the Sea of Galilee exposed the remains of a first-century cedar-and-oak boat of the sort with which Jesus and his disciples would have been familiar. It measured 27 by 71/2 feet. Used for both fishing and transportation, it was large enough to hold more than a dozen people.

There are forty-five references in the Gospels to boats or fishing in connection with Jesus’ activities. He preaches to a crowd on the beach as he sits in a boat. He instigates a miraculously large catch of fish for his disciples. He slips off in a boat to pray in a deserted place along the shoreline. Once, as his disciples are on a boat battling a sudden storm, he walks upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee to calm them. And when he sees the brothers Peter (Simon) and Andrew casting a net into the Sea of Galilee, he offers to make them fishers of men.

This is the end of the Sea of Galilee category article drawn from Chapter Two, beginning on page 43, of Volume One, The Veil is Torn. To continue reading more about Sea of Galilee from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at