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Sea of Galilee

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Sea of Galilee
Coordinates 32°50′N 35°35′E Coordinates: 32°50′N 35°35′E
Lake type Monomictic
Primary inflows Upper Jordan River and local runoff
Primary outflows Lower Jordan River, evaporation
Catchment area 2,730 km2 (1,050 sq mi)
Basin countries Israel, Syria, Lebanon
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 (141 ft)
Water volume 4 km3 (0.96 cu mi)
Residence time 5 years
Shore length1 53 km (33 mi)
Surface elevation -212.07 m (695.8 ft)
Islands 2
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias (Hebrew: יָם כִּנֶּרֶת, Judeo-Aramaic: יַמּא דטבריא, Arabic: بحيرة طبرية‎), is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km (33 mi) in circumference, about 21 km (13 mi) long, and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide. The lake has a total area of 166 km2 (64 sq mi), and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m (141 feet). At 211.315 metres (693.29 ft) below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake overall (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake). The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.


The Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) is situated in northeast Israel, near the Golan Heights, in the Jordan Rift Valley, the valley caused by the separation of the African and Arabian Plates. 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 modern name, Kinneret, comes from the Old Testament or Hebrew Tanakh "sea of Chinnereth" in Numbers 34:11 and Joshua 13:27, and spelled "Chinneroth" in Joshua 11:2. This name was also found in the scripts of Ugarit, in the Aqhat Epic. Chinnereth was listed among the "fenced cities" in Joshua 19:35. The name Kinneret may originate from the Hebrew word kinnor ("harp" or "lyre")), in view of the shape of the lake.

In the New Testament the term "sea of Galilee" is used in the gospel of Matthew 4:18; 15:29, the gospel of Mark 1:16; 7:31, and in the gospel of John 6:1 as "the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias", the late first century name. Sea of Tiberias is also the name mentioned in Roman texts and in the Jerusalem Talmud, and was adopted into Arabic as Buhairet Tabariyya (بحيرة طبريا).

All Bible writers use the term "sea" (Hebrew yam or Greek thalassa) except the gospel of Luke, written to Theophilus of Macedonia, where it is called "the lake of Genneseret" in Luke 5:1, from the Greek λίμνη Γεννησαρέτ, (limne Gennesaret), the "Grecized form of Chinnereth" according to Easton, who says Genneseret means "a garden of riches". The Babylonian Talmud, as well as Flavius Josephus mention the sea by the name "Sea of Ginnosar" after the small fertile plain of Gennesereth that lies on its western side.



Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael
The beach of the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee 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 land-locked 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. Archaeologists discovered one such boat, nicknamed the Jesus Boat, in 1986.

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 the storm, the disciples and the boatload of fish, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha).

In 135 CE the second Jewish revolt against the Romans was put down. The Romans responded by banning all Jews from Jerusalem. The centre 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.

The lake's importance declined when the Byzantines lost control and the 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 era

On the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, 1891
Kinneret landscape

In 1909, Jewish pioneers established the first cooperative farming village ( kibbutz), Kvutzat Kinneret. The settlement trained Jewish immigrants in farming and agriculture. Later, Kinneret pioneers established Kibbutz Degania Alef. The Kinneret is considered 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.

In 1917, the British defeated Ottoman Turkish forces and took control of Palestine, while France took control of Syria. In the carve-up of the Ottoman territories between Britain and France, it was agreed that Britain would retain control of Palestine, while France would control Syria. However, the allies had to fix the border between the British Mandate for Palestine and the French Mandate of Syria. The boundary was defined in broad terms by the Franco-British Boundary Agreement of December 1920, which drew it across the middle of the lake. However, the commission established by the 1920 treaty redrew the boundary. The Zionist movement pressured the French and British to assign as many water sources as possible to Palestine during the demarcating negotiations. The High Commissioner of Palestine, Herbert Samuel, had sought full control of the Sea of Galilee. The negotiations led to the inclusion into the Palestine territory of the whole Sea of Galilee, both sides of the River Jordan, Lake Hula, Dan spring, and part of the Yarmouk. The final border approved in 1923 followed a 10-meter wide strip along the lake's northeastern shore, cutting Syria off from the lake.

The British and French Agreement provided that existing rights over the use of the waters of the Jordan by the inhabitants of Syria would be maintained; the Government of Syria would have the right to erect a new pier at Semakh on Lake Tiberias or jointly use the existing pier; persons or goods passing between the landing-stage on the Lake of Tiberias and Semakh would not be subject to customs regulations, and the Syrian government would have access to the said landing-stage; the inhabitants of Syria and Lebanon would have the same fishing and navigation rights on Lakes Huleh, Tiberias and River Jordan while the Government of Palestine would be responsible for policing of lakes.

On May 15, 1948, Syria invaded the new State of Israel, capturing territory along the Sea of Galilee. Under the 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Syria, Syria occupied the northeast shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. The agreement, though, stated that the armistice line was "not to be interpreted as having any relation whatsoever to ultimate territorial arrangements." Syria remained in possession of the lake's northeast shoreline until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Water use

Sea of Galilee water levels January 2004 – February 2012
View of the Sea of Galilee from space

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.

In 1964, Syria attempted construction of a Headwater Diversion Plan that would have blocked the flow of water into the Sea of Galilee, sharply reducing the water flow into the lake. This project and Israel's attempt to block these efforts in 1965 were factors which played into regional tensions culminating in the 1967 Six-Day War. During the war, Israel captured the Golan Heights, which contain some of the sources of water for the Sea of Galilee. Under the terms of the Israel–Jordan peace treaty, Israel also supplies 50,000,000 cubic metres (1.8×109 cu ft) of water annually from the lake to Jordan.

Increasing water demand and dry winters have resulted in stress on the lake and a decreasing water line to dangerously low levels at times. The Sea of Galilee is at risk of becoming irreversibly salinized by the salt water springs under the lake, which are held in check by the weight of the freshwater on top of them.

The Israeli government monitors water levels and publishes the results daily at this web page. The level over the past eight years can be retrieved from that site. By early April 2012, having risen almost 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) over the winter, the water level of the Kinneret was at its highest level in five years. The Water Authority partly attributes the improvement to the expansion of desalination technology as a water source. By early 2013, the Kinneret water level was at a 8 year high.


Tiberias hotels on the waterfront
Tilapia zilli (redbelly tilapia, "St. Peter's fish"), served in a Tiberias restaurant

Today, tourism is the Sea of Galilee'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. The Sea of Galilee attracts many Christian pilgrims, because, according to the New Testament, many of the miracles of Jesus occurred on its shores—including his walking on water, calming the storm, and feeding five thousand people in Tabgha.

In April 2011, Israel unveiled a 40-mile (64 km) hiking trail in the Galilee for Christian pilgrims, called the " Jesus Trail". It includes a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples. It ends at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus espoused his teachings.

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

Israel's most well-known open water swim race, the Kinneret Crossing, is held every year in September, drawing thousands of open water swimmers to participate in competitive and noncompetitive events.

Tourists also partake in the building of rafts on Lavnun Beach, called Rafsodia. Here many different age groups work together to build a raft with their bare hands and then sail that raft across the sea.

Other economic activities include fishing in the lake and agriculture, particularly bananas, in the fertile belt of land surrounding it.

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