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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Beersheba

Israel

The patriarch Abraham pitched his tent and dug a well at Beersheba, a wilderness location identified in the Scriptures as the southern limit of the Promised Land.

Beersheba

Ancient well outside Tel Beersheba’s city gate (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

More than 1000 years before Christ, God had called Abraham, originally from Mesopotamia, to leave his family and possessions and journey to a new land — with the promise that his descendants would become a great nation.

At Beersheba Abraham’s well, on which he depended to water his flocks, was seized by servants of the king of the Philistines, Abimelech.

Abraham complained to Abimelech and struck an oath with the Philistine king, giving him seven ewe lambs for affirming that Abraham had dug the well. To symbolise the covenant affirming his ownership of the well, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree and “called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God”. (Genesis 21:25-33)

The name Beersheba (also called Beersheva and Be’er Sheva) means “well of the oath” or “well of the seven [lambs]”. (In Hebrew, the word sheva or sheba means both seven and oath.)

Beersheba

Abraham’s Well at Beersheba in mid-1900s, its stones grooved by ropes (© Matson Photo Service)

Whenever the writers of Scripture wanted to speak of all Israel from north to south, they would use the expression “from Dan [the northern-most city] to Beersheba” (for example, 1 Samuel 3:20).

 

Setting for many biblical events

Beersheba, on the northern edge of the barren Negev desert and about 75 kilometres south of Jerusalem, features in several other events of Bible history:

•   Abraham and his wife Sarah evicted her slave-girl Hagar and Hagar’s son Ishmael (fathered by Abraham) to wander in the wilderness. But God promised Hagar he would also make Ishmael’s descendants a great nation. (Genesis 21:8-21)

•   It was from Beersheba that Abraham journeyed with his son Isaac to Mount Moriah at Jerusalem, where God had ordered him to sacrifice the boy as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1-19)

Beersheba

Abraham with his family and flocks (József Molnár, Hungarian National Gallery)

•   Isaac, who built an altar to the Lord at Beersheba, also had a dispute with the Philistines over water, and he too resolved it in a covenant with Abimelech. (Genesis 26:18-31)

•   Isaac’s son Jacob stole the birthright from his brother Esau while the family camped at Beersheba (Genesis 27:1-40). Fleeing from Esau, Jacob had a dream about angels on a ladder reaching up to heaven (Genesis 28:1017)

•   When the elderly Israel (formerly Jacob) was on his way to Egypt, he stopped at Beersheba to offer sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to him “in visions of the night” and encouraged him on his journey. (Genesis 46:1-7)

 

Ancient settlement contains a well

Of the several wells in and around Beersheba, one known as Abraham’s Well is on the southern edge of the old town, where Ha’azmaut Street joins Hebron Road. It is 26 metres deep.

Beersheba

Excavated ancient city at Tel Beersheba (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Nearby is the site of a colourful Bedouin market that has operated each Thursday since 1905.

But the ancient settlement from biblical times was located at Tel Beersheba, some 4 kilometres east of the city, on highway 60.

This World Heritage Site also contains a well — dated to the 12th century BC, the time of the patriarchs, and an impressive 69 metres deep — just outside the city gate.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered public buildings, private houses, stables, and a large and impressive water system and reservoir. Extensive reconstruction in mudbrick has been done.

Beersheba

Reconstructed altar at Tel Beersheba (David Q. Hall)

Also on display is a replica of a horned altar, whose hewn stones were found reused on the site. It obviously belonging to an unlawful cult, because it does not comply with the law that an altar should be of “stones on which you have not used an iron tool” (Deuteronomy 27:5).

The altar was probably one of those broken up during the religious reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:8).

The burgeoning modern city of Beersheba is peopled largely by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other countries. But the past is always present: Redevelopment of the bus station in 2012 uncovered remains of a Byzantine city, including two well-preserved churches.

 

In Scripture:

Abraham makes a covenant with the Philistines: Genesis 21:25-33

Hagar and Ishmael are sent into the wilderness: Genesis 21:8-21

Isaac makes a covenant with the Philistines: Genesis 26:18-31

Jacob steals Esau’s birthright: Genesis 27:1-40

Israel receives a vision on his way to Egypt: Genesis 46:1-7

King Josiah destroys Beersheba’s high places: 2 Kings 23:8

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Last stop and a point of departure”, Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2011

 

External links

Beersheba (Near East Tourist Agency)
Beersheba (Wikipedia)
Beersheba — the Southern Border of the Kingdom of Judah (Jewish Virtual Library)
Tel Be’er Sheva (BibleWalks)
Beersheba (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Excavations at Beersheba Bus Station Expose the Heart of the Byzantine City (Bible History Daily)

Beit She’an

Israel

Beit She'an

Colonnaded street leading to tell at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

Beit She’an offers the most extensive archaeological site in Israel, with some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East, but its memory will forever be linked to one of the most ghoulish events in the Bible.

On nearby Mount Gilboa in 1004 BC, the army of King Saul, Israel’s first king, was defeated by the Philistines and Saul’s three sons were killed. To avoid capture, the wounded Saul fell on his sword.

The triumphant Philistines took the bodies of Saul and his sons and fastened them to the wall of Beit She’an. They put Saul’s armour in their temple.

David, who was to succeed Saul as king, composed a memorable lament over the tragedy, with the recurring line “How the mighty have fallen . . . ” (2 Samuel 1:17 – 27).

Beit She’an is about 13 kilometres south of the Sea of Galilee. Its location at the strategic junction of the Jezreel and Jordan valleys made it a coveted prize for conquerors.

Beit She'an

Columns toppled by the AD 749 earthquake at Beit She’an (Kasper Nowak)

Apart from the Philistines, its rulers included Egyptians, Israelites (though the Canaanite inhabitants initially rebuffed them), Greeks and Romans.

In the Roman period — under the name of Scythopolis — it was the leading city of the Decapolis and the only one of these 10 semi-autonomous cities west of the Jordan River.

From the 4th century until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 749, the formerly pagan city was a flourishing Christian centre, with a bishop and several churches.

 

City’s population grew to 40,000

Beit She’an began on the flat-topped hill that stands behind the ruins of the Roman-Byzantine city. This ancient tell, 80 metres high, contains 18 levels of occupation down to the first settlers around 4000 BC.

Beit She'an

Ruins of Beit She’an from the tell, with modern town in background (Steve Peterson)

In Roman times the inhabitants moved to the flat area at the foot of the hill. Here the city expanded to around 150 hectares in area, with wide colonnaded streets leading to elegant shops with marble facades and mosaic floors.

The population of Scythopolis grew to 40,000 and the linen it produced made it one of the leading textile centres of the Roman empire. Centuries later it became a centre for processing cane sugar.

Excavations have revealed:

•  A three-tiered theatre for dramatic performances, seating 7000 people.

•  An amphitheatre holding 6000, where gladiatorial contests entertained soldiers of the Sixth Legion which was based here.

•  A huge bath and gym complex with swimming pools and halls heated by hot air from furnaces. Its public toilets had channels underneath with running water.

Beit She'an

Remains of Roman theatre at Beit She’an, which seated 7000 people (Seetheholyland.net)

•  A Roman basilica that served as a courthouse and administrative centre.

•  A nymphaeum, an elaborate monumental building with a decorative fountain.

•  A mosaic of Tyche, the Roman goddess of good fortune, wearing the walled city of Scythopolis as a crown and holding the horn of plenty in her hand.

 

Circular church replaced temples

On the summit of the tell, a steep climb obtains a sweeping panorama of the ruins below, the Jordan and Harod valleys and Mount Gilboa.

Beit She'an

Very public toilets at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

Here a great circular church, with a cloister around an open court, replaced the earlier Canaanite and Philistine temples during the Byzantine era.

Among the other churches in the lower city, one was dedicated to Procopius, a local martyr. Its location is unknown, but remains of other church buildings have been found and a striking red cross can be seen on the plaster wall of a niche in a bathhouse, probably used as a baptistry.

The modern town of Beit She’an has encroached on some of the ancient ruins. One of these is the Monastery of the Lady Mary, founded in 567 and named after a donor, perhaps the wife of a Byzantine official.

This complex — not usually open to the public — contains a series of rooms with beautiful mosaic floors. The mosaic in the central hall of the chapel depicts animals such as lions, camels, boars and ostriches around a zodiac illustrating the months of the year.

Beit She'an

Cross motif from the Monastery of the Lady Mary, Beit She’an (Yair Talmor)

Interestingly, the remains of Jewish and Samaritan synagogues have been found along with churches from the time when Scythopolis was a Christian city. And after a Muslim army conquered the city in 634 and renamed the city Baysan, Christians and Muslims lived together until the disastrous earthquake of 749.

 

In Scripture

Canaanites of Beit She’an resist Manasseh: Judges 1:27

Philistines fasten Saul’s body to Beit She’an wall: 1 Samuel 31:10

 

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: +972-4-658-7189

Open: Apr-Sept 8am-5pm (except Friday 8am-4pm); Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (except Saturday 8am-5pm). Last entry to site one hour before closing time.

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Where happy explorers go to dig”, Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2011
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg: Beit She’an: Capital of the Decapolis (Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, 1996)

 

External links

Beit She’an (Jewish Virtual Library)
Beit Shean, Archaeology in Israel (The Jewish Magazine)

Map of the Holy Land

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Click here to load a full-resolution version of the map as a PDF, ready for A4 printing (1.2MB).

Jordan River

Israel/Jordan

Jordan River

Jordan River near Chorazin (Seetheholyland.net)

The Jordan River runs through the land and history of the Bible, giving its waters a spiritual significance that sets it aside from other rivers.

The Jordan is significant for Jews because the tribes of Israel under Joshua crossed the river on dry ground to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert.

It is significant for Christians because John the Baptist baptised Jesus in the waters of the Jordan.

The prophets Elijah and Elisha also crossed the river dry-shod; and the Syrian general Naaman was healed of leprosy after washing in the Jordan at Elisha’s direction.

 

River flows below sea level

Jordan River

Excavated baptismal site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan (Seetheholyland.net)

Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. A large part of its 320-kilometre length forms the border between Israel and Jordan in the north and the West Bank and Jordan in the south.

The river falls 950 metres from its source to the Dead Sea. For most of its course down the Jordan Rift Valley, it flows well below sea level. Its name means “Dan [one of its tributaries] flows down”.

Though an old song says the River Jordan is “deep and wide”, the modern river is neither. In places it is more like a creek than a river — less than 10 metres across and 2 metres deep.

From Jesus’ time until the mid 20th century, seasonal flooding in winter and spring expanded its width to 1.5km. Dams in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel now preclude flooding.

 

Site identified in former military zone

Jordan River

Yardenit baptism site (Seetheholyland.net)

The place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist is believed to be in Jordan, on the east bank of a large loop in the river opposite Jericho.

A site less than 2km east of the river’s present course, at Wadi Al-Kharrar, has been identified as Bethany Beyond the Jordan. This is where John lived and baptised, and where Jesus fled for safety after being threatened with stoning in Jerusalem.

Until the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, the area was a Jordanian military zone. After clearing nearby minefields, the Jordanian government has made the place accessible to archaeologists, pilgrims and tourists.

Jordan’s new Baptism Archaeological Park contains the remains of a Byzantine-era monastery featuring at least four churches, one of which is built around a cave believed to be the one that ancient pilgrims called “the cave of John the Baptist”.

While the Jordanian location was inaccessible, a modern site commemorating Christ’s baptism was established at Yardenit in Israel, at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.

Maintained by a kibbutz, it is a popular place for Christian pilgrims to renew their baptismal promises — or for new Christians to be baptised, often in white robes and undergoing total immersion in the mild waters of the Jordan.

 

Various

The course of the Jordan River (Wikimedia)

Jordan is diverted and polluted

Because its waters are a vital resource for the dry lands of the region, the Jordan has been a source of contention among Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

In modern times more than 90 per cent of its natural flow has been diverted for domestic and agricultural use. The lower Jordan is heavily polluted by sewage and industrial run-off.

In 2007 the World Monuments Fund listed the lower Jordan in the top 100 most “endangered cultural heritage sites”. In support, a regional environmental organisation, Friends of the Earth Middle East, said: “The region’s current policies treat the river as a backyard dumping ground.”

Related site:

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

 

In Scripture:

The Israelites cross the Jordan on dry ground: Joshua 3:14-17

Elijah crosses the Jordan on dry ground: 2 Kings 2:8

John baptises Jesus: Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34

Naaman’s leprosy is cured in the Jordan: 2 Kings 5:1-14

 

 

References

McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Khouri, Rami: “Where John Baptized: Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, Exploring Jordan: The Other Biblical Land (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008)
Waldocks, Ehud Zion: “Jordan River to run dry by next year”, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2010

 

External links

The Baptism Site of Jesus Christ (official site)
Jordan, the Land and River of the Baptism (Franciscan Cyberspot)
Yardenit Baptismal (BibleWalks)
Yardenit Baptismal Site

Dead Sea

Israel/Jordan/West Bank

Dead Sea

Bathers by the shore of the Dead Sea (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Dead Sea, which shimmers like a blue mirror under all-day sunshine, is one of the most unusual bodies of water in the world.

It is set in the lowest dry land on earth, so it has no outlet. It is so loaded with minerals that no fish can live in it. It is so dense that bathers can lie back on its surface and read a newspaper.

The Dead Sea is located about 25km east of Jerusalem, along the border between Israel and Jordan. About half of it is actually in Jordanian territory.

The ancient Hebrews called this body of water the Sea of Salt. Other ancient names include the Sea of Solitude, the Sea of Arabah and the Asphalt Sea. The Crusaders called it the Sea of Satan.

The Dead Sea’s therapeutic qualities attracted Herod the Great. Its minerals and sticky black mud provided balms for Egyptian mummies and cosmetics for Cleopatra.

Now its health resorts treat psoriasis and arthritis, its skin-care products are marketed worldwide, and its industrial evaporation pans harvest potash and other minerals.

 

Wicked cities were destroyed

Dead Sea

Pillar of salt, on Jordanian side of Dead Sea, known as Lot’s Wife (© Visitjordan.com)

The region has many biblical connections. Here, though their locations are unknown, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God with “sulphur and fire” and Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction (Genesis 19:24-26). Among the salt encrustations around the sea is an unusual column at the southern end called Lot’s Wife (though it is 20 metres high).

On the eastern side, the highest peak visible is Mount Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. Further south stands the fortress of Machaerus, where Herod Antipas imprisoned and then executed John the Baptist.

On the western side, from north to south, are Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (and cut off a corner of the king’s cloak when he entered the cave to relieve himself); and Herod the Great’s fortress of Masada.

 

Evaporation concentrates the minerals

Dead Sea

Afloat in the Dead Sea (David Niblack)

By 2013 the Dead Sea was 50km long, 15km across at its widest point, and 430 metres below sea level. Its area was constantly shrinking and the water level was dropping by more than a metre a year.

Because it has no exit, water is lost only through evaporation, which leaves behind the minerals. The Dead Sea is nearly 10 times as salty as the open seas. The high concentration of minerals (predominantly magnesium chloride) provides the buoyancy that keeps bathers suspended — as well as a bitter taste.

A low promontory of land called el-Lisan (“the tongue”) projects across the sea from the east, dividing the southern third from the northern section. The southern part is now devoted to evaporation pools for mineral extraction.

Most of the water that once flowed from the Jordan River into the Dead Sea is being diverted for drinking water and agricultural purposes, so there is not enough to offset the high evaporation rate.

Since the late 1980s the landscape around the sea has been reshaped by thousands of sinkholes — caused by fresh water from the mountains dissolving underground levels of salt. This phenomenon has caused some tourist beaches in Israel to close.

Rescue proposals to prevent the sea drying up have included canals to bring water from the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea.

If the Dead Sea becomes rejuvenated with fresh water, this could fulfil a prophecy in Ezekiel 47:8-10, that it will “become fresh . . . and there will be very many fish”.

In December 2013, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority agreed on a long-term desalination project in which brine would be piped about 180 kilometres from Aqaba, Jordan, to replenish the Dead Sea.

 

Related sites:

Qumran

Masada

In Scripture:

God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 19:24-26

Prophesy that the Dead Sea will become fresh: Ezekiel 47:8-10

 

 

References

Anonymous: “The Dead Sea”, Holy Land, summer 2005
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Frumkin, Amos: “How Lot’s Wife Became a Pillar of Salt”, Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2009
Kershner, Isabel: “A Rare Middle East Agreement, on Water”, New York Times, December 9, 2013
Lidman, Melanie: “As the Dead Sea dries, its collapsing shores force a return to nature”, Times of Israel, February 13, 2017
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

 

 

External links

Dead Sea (Wikipedia)

Sea of Galilee

Israel

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes (James Emery)

Among Holy Land sites, the Sea of Galilee has changed comparatively little since Jesus walked on its shores and recruited four fishermen as his first disciples.

A picturesque, heart-shaped lake set among hills in northern Israel, it is one of the lowest-lying bodies of water on earth (some 210 metres below sea level).

This freshwater “sea” is 21km long and 13km across at its widest point, with a maximum depth of 43 metres. Its other names include the Sea of Tiberias, the Lake of Gennesaret and (in Hebrew) Lake Chinnereth or Kinneret.

Fed mainly by the Jordan River and drained by it, the lake serves as Israel’s chief water reservoir.

In modern times tourism has become the major local industry. In Jesus’ time it was fishing, with 230 boats regularly working the lake and their catch dried and exported all over the Roman world.

Jesus made the fishing town of Capernaum the centre of his itinerant ministry in Galilee, using the lake, its boats and its shores to spread his Good News. He calmed a storm, he walked on the water and probably even swam in the lake.

 

Miracles on the shore

It was around the usually serene waters of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus began his public ministry, teaching in the synagogues and curing the sick. Crowds flocked to him, “for he taught as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29).

Sea of Galilee

Boatman demonstrates fishing technique on the Sea of Galilee (Seetheholyland.net)

Perhaps his best-known discourse, the Sermon on the Mount, is believed to have been delivered on the Mount of Beatitudes (also known as Mount Eremos). This small hill is on the lake’s northwestern shore, between Capernaum and Tabgha.

Tabgha is also the traditional site where Jesus fed a crowd of 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Later, across the lake near Kursi, he performed a second miraculous feeding.

The Heptapegon (“Seven Springs”) fishing ground off Tabgha was also the scene of a memorable post-Resurrection appearance.

The apostles had fished all night with empty nets. Just after daybreak Jesus appeared and told them where to find a miraculous catch. When the apostles came ashore, they found the risen Lord had cooked breakfast for them.

 

Acoustics aided parable

Sea of Galilee

Visitors look down on Sower’s Cove (© BiblePlaces.com)

About 1km northeast of Tabgha is a small bay with exceptional acoustic qualities. Here it is believed Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9) from a boat moored in the bay.

The semicircular bay, at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes, is one of the most attractive places along the shoreline. It is called Sower’s Cove or the Bay of the Parables.

The slope of the hill forms a natural amphitheatre, rather like a Roman theatre. Acoustical research has demonstrated that as many as 7000 people could hear a person speaking from a boat in the bay.

Pilgrims who test the acoustics, usually by reading the Gospel account, are amazed at how far the voice carries.

This location was also an appropriate setting for the story of the sower and his seeds. There is fertile black earth, rocky ground and plenty of thorns and thistles.

 

Sudden squalls are common

Sea of Galilee

Waves on the Sea of Galilee (David Niblack)

Because it lies low in the Great Rift Valley, surrounded by hills, the Sea of Galilee is prone to sudden turbulence. Storms of the kind that Jesus calmed (Mark 4:35-41) are a well-known hazard for Galilee fishermen.

With little warning, mighty squalls can sweep down the wadis (valleys) around the lake, whipping its tranquil surface into treacherous waves.

Such storms often arrive in mid-afternoon, as the heat of the rift valley (averaging mid-30s Celsius in the shade) sucks down the cool air of the heights.

After half an hour, the wind drops and the waves subside, restoring calm to the lake.

In 1986, during a severe drought when the water level dropped, the remains of an ancient fishing boat were found in the lakebed. It was old enough to have been on the water in the time of Jesus and his disciples. Dubbed the Jesus Boat, it is now on permanent display at the lakeside Kibbutz Ginosar.

 

A fish with a coin in its mouth

Modern times have still seen fishermen standing in the shallow waters near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, casting their nets in the traditional manner, with others setting off in boats at sunset to fish through the night. Because of falling fish stocks, the Israel government was to impose a two-year ban on fishing from March 2011, but this was reduced to a four-month annual ban (April 15 to August 15).

Sea of Galilee

St Peter’s fish from the Sea of Galilee (© David Q. Hall)

Of the 27 species of fish in the lake, the best-known is nicknamed St Peter’s Fish. This species (Sarotherodon galilaeus galilaeus) belongs to the genus tilapia. Its Arabic name of musht (comb) refers to its comb-like tail.

The nickname refers to the Gospel passage in which Temple collectors ask Peter whether Jesus pays the Temple tax.

When Peter returns home, Jesus tells him to go fishing — “go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me”. (Matthew 17:24-27)

A peculiarity of this species of tilapia is that it is a mouthbrooder. The female holds her eggs in her mouth until they hatch; then, for a time, the immature fry swim back into her mouth when danger threatens. The fish is also known to pick up small stones or bottle tops in its mouth.

But not everyone agrees that St Peter’s Fish was a musht. Mendel Nun, an authority on the Sea of Galilee, and a veteran fisherman, says musht feed on plankton and are therefore caught by net, not hook. The fish Peter caught, he believes, was a barbel.

Even Mark Twain was impressed

Sea of Galilee

Sunrise over the Sea of Galilee (© Tom Callinan/Seetheholyland.net)

The first-century Roman historian Flavius Josephus was so impressed by the beauty of the Sea of Galilee and the fertility of its setting that he wrote, “One may call this place the ambition of Nature”.

Even the satirical Mark Twain, who visited Galilee on horseback in 1867, was moved by the significance of the place. In The Innocents Abroad he wrote:

“In the starlight, Galilee has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens, and is a theatre meet for great events; meet for the birth of a religion able to save a world; and meet for the stately Figure appointed to stand upon its stage and proclaim its high decrees.

“But in the sunlight, one says: Is it for the deeds which were done and the words which were spoken in this little acre of rocks and sand eighteen centuries gone, that the bells are ringing to-day in the remote islands of the sea and far and wide over continents that clasp the circumference of the huge globe?”

 
Related sites:

Bethsaida

Capernaum

Chorazin

Jesus Boat

Mount of Beatitudes

Tabgha

In Scripture:

Jesus calls his disciples: Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9; Mark 1:16-20

The miraculous catch of fish: Luke 5:1-11

Jesus calms the storm: Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25

Jesus walks on the water: Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52

The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-7:28

The Parable of the Sower: Mark 4:1-9

The feedings of the crowds: Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-9; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

Paying the Temple tax: Matthew 17:24-27

 

 

References

 

Ashkenazi, Eli: “Two-year fishing ban cut down to four-month annual break”, Haaretz, February 16, 2011
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Jeffay, Nathan, and Singh, Anita: “Fishing banned on the Sea of Galilee”, The Telegraph, April 3, 2010
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Nun, Mendel: “Cast Your Net Upon the Waters: Fish and Fishermen in Jesus’ Time”, Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1993
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Sea of Galilee (BiblePlaces)
Sea of Galilee (Wikipedia)
Sea of Tiberias (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Cove of the Sower (BiblePlaces)
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