1. Name.—The English form of the name ‘Galilee’ is derived from the Hebrew וָּלִיל (âlîl), Aram.
נלילא (Gâlîla or Gelîla), through Gr. Γαλιλαία and Lat. Galilœa. The Heb. word denotes simply a ‘circuit’ or ‘district’, and in Isaiah 9:1
Galilee is called ‘Galilee ((Revised Version margin) ‘the district’) of the nations,’ and in 1 Maccabees 5:15
Γαλιλαία ἀλλοφύλων (‘Galilee of the strangers’). In other passages of the OT it is simply called ‘the district.’
2. History.—When the Hebrew invasion of Palestine took place, the main part of Galilee was allotted to Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali. According to Judges 1:30-33,
Zebulun was not altogether successful in driving out the inhabitant of their portion, while Asher and Naphtali had to be content to settle as best they could among the inhabitants, ‘for they did not drive them out.’ These inhabitants seem to have been Amorites and Hivites from the Lebanon. An account of one (or two) of the battles fought in this country is found in Judges 4-5. In the days of the Monarchy, Galilee always suffered in the Syrian wars. It was ravaged by Ben-hadad (1 Kings 15:20
), probably won back by Ahab, taken again by the Aramaeans under Hazael (2 Kings 12:18
; 2 Kings 13:22
), and recovered by Jeroboam ii. It was also on the high-road of the Assyrian invasion, and was won for Assyria by Tiglath-pileser iii. in 734 (2 Kings 15:29
), many of its inhabitants being carried into captivity. From this time up to the end of the 2nd cent. b.c. the population was heathen, with a small number of Jewish settlers, who attached themselves to Jerusalem after the return from the Exile. About the year 164, Simon the brother of Judas Maccabaeus pursued the Syrians to Ptolemais, and on his way back brought the Galilaean Jews and their property to Judaea (1 Maccabees 5:21-23
). Some 60 years later the whole state of affairs in Galilee was changed. According to Strabo, on the authority of Timagenes (Josephus Ant. xiii. xi. 3), Aristobulus (b.c. 104–103) conquered much of Galilee, and compelled the inhabitants to be circumcised and live according to Jewish laws. This work had probably been already begun by John Hyrcanus (b.c. 135–105). Herod at his death bequeathed Galilee to Herod Antipas, who succeeded after much opposition in having his legacy confirmed at Rome.
3. Extent.—The amount of territory covered by the name ‘Galilee’ varied in different times. Originally it comprised the hilly and mountainous country to the north of the Plain of Esdraelon or the smaller plain of cl-Buttauf. The boundaries were probably not well defined, but on the north it included Kedesh (Joshua 20:7
; Joshua 21:32
). It was later spoken of in two divisions—Upper and Lower Galilee (cf. Judith 1:8, 1 Maccabees 12:49
), and in the Mishna is divided into three parts, these corresponding to the natural divisions of plain, hill-country, and mountain.
The boundaries of Galilee at the time of Christ are thus given by Josephus:
‘Now Phœnice and Syria surround the two Galilees, which are called Upper and Lower Galilee. They are bounded on the W. by the borders of the territory belonging to Ptolemais, and by Carmel, which mountain of old belonged to the Galilaeans, but now to the Tyrians; and next it is Gaba (Jebâta*
), which is called “the city of horsemen,” because those horsemen that were dismissed by Herod the king dwelt therein; they are bounded on the S. by Samaria and Scythopolis, as far as the streams of the Jordan; on the E. by Hippene (the district of Hippos, Sâsiyeh) and Gadaris (the district of Gadara, Umm Keis), and also by Gaulanitis (Jaulân) and the borders of the kingdom of Agrippa; and their N. parts are bounded by Tyre, and the country of the Tyrians. As for what is called Lower Galilee, it extends in length from Tiberias to Chabulon (Kâbûl), and Ptolemais is its neighbour on the coast; and its breadth is from the village called Xaloth (Iksâl), which lies in the great plain, to Bersabe, from which beginning the breadth of Upper Galilee is also taken to the village Baca, which divides the land of the Tyrians from Galilee; its length is also from Meloth (Meiron) to Thella (probably Tell Thala), a village near the Jordan’ (BJ iii. iii. 1).
4. Geography.—The southernmost division of Galilee was Esdraelon (G. A. Smith, HGHL
p. 379). It consists of (1) the triangular plain about 200 feet above sea-level, 29 miles long from the foot of Carmel to Jenîn, 15 from Jenîn to Tabor, and 15 from Tabor to the foot of Carmel; (2) the valley of Jezreel (Nahr Jalûd), running down for 12 miles from Jezreel to Bethshean, some 400 feet below sea-level. The Plain of Esdraelon is watered by the Kishon flowing to the Mediterranean; but, as the edges are somewhat higher than the centre, it is often marshy. It played a great part in the history of Palestine (cf. HGHL
p. 391 ff.), but has no mention in the story of the Gospels.
On the other hand, the middle division of Galilee, known as Lower Galilee, contains nearly all the important sites of the Gospel record. Nazareth, Capernaum, Shunem, Nain, Cana, etc., are within its borders. It is bounded on the W. by the Plain of Ptolemais, on the S. by the Plains of Esdraelon and Jezreel, on the E. by the Sea of Galilee (though sometimes a part of the country east of the sea was considered Galiliean), and on the N. by a line passing from the N. end of the Sea of Galilee through Ramah to the coast. It consists of four chains of hills running east and west, intercepted by valleys and plains. The hills reach a height of about 1200 feet. The southern chain consists of the Nazareth hills, with Mt. Tabor; the next range contains the Karn Hattin of Crusading fame; the third, the city of Jotapâta; while the fourth consists of the southern slopes of the mountains of Upper Galilee. The central plain of cl-Buttauf is about 500 feet above sea-level, while the coast of the Sea of Galilee is nearly 700 feet below sea-level. The whole country is well watered by streams flowing east or west, and was extremely fertile. The grass of the plains was green, and evergreen oaks grew on the hills. The cornfields gave a plenteous harvest, and pomegranates abounded.
Upper Galilee ranged from the N. boundary of Lower Galilee to the Tyrian boundary, which seems to have been at the time of Christ just south of Kedesh, which according to Josephus was a Tyrian fortress on the borders of Galilee (Ant. xiii. v. 6; BJ ii. xviii. l, iv. ii. 3). It is a land of mountains, where the hills run from 2000 to 4000 feet in height. It too was a fertile land, with thick woods, sycamores, olives, vines, and green pastures by its waters.
5. Roads.—‘Judaea was on the road to nowhere; Galilee is covered with roads to everywhere’ (G. A. Smith, HGHL
p. 425). Roads in the East even now are often mere tracks, scarcely recognizable by the Western. They are repaired for great occasions, and soon allowed to fall again into their natural condition. Remains of pavements, however, show that at the time of Christ the Roman genius for road-making had been at work in the district of Galilee. Especially was this the case on the great high-road, the ‘Way of the Sea,’ as it was called in the Middle Ages (from an interpretation of Isaiah 9:1
), which crossed the middle of Lower Galilee. The eastern termini of the main roads were the two bridges which crossed the Jordan. These were (1) the bridge about half-way between Merom and the Sea of Galilee, now called the ‘Bridge of Jacob’s Daughters.’ To this came the road from Damascus and the intervening country. Westward from the river the road ran by Safed and Ramah to Ptolemais. From this a branch struck off a few miles west of the river, passed by Arbela (Irbid), and rejoined the highroad near Ramah. Another branch went southwards to the west coast of the Sea of Galilee at Khân Minych, and proceeded to Bethshean, where it joined the road from (2) the bridge a few miles south of the Sea of Galilee, now called the Jisr cl-Mujâmia. Over this bridge came the traffic from Arabia and Gilead. From it one road passed through Bethshean, the Valley of Jezreel, and the Plain of Esdraelon, to the coast of the Mediterranean, and so on to Egypt; another by Cana and Sepphoris to Ptolemais. The main road from the shore of the Sea of Galilee to the highlands went by the Wady cl-Hammâm past Arbela, then between Tabor and the Nazareth hills to Esdraelon. Along these and many other roads flowed a ceaseless stream of traffic, and the fulness of their life is reflected in the parables of Christ (cf. Encyc. Bibl. iv. 5191; HGHL
p. 430 f.).
6. Government.—Galilee was a part of the Roman Empire; that is, in the days of Christ it was under the emperors Augustus and Tiberius. Roman garrisons were in towns all round the country. Roman influence was felt everywhere. But the mass of the people had little or nothing to do with the Roman Empire directly. The direct government of the land was in the hands of Herod Antipas, to whom, with the title of ‘tetrarch,’ it was assigned by Augustus after the death of Herod. Antipas was 17 years old at his accession to power, and established his capital at Sepphoris. About the year 22, however, he built a new city on the shore 6f the Sea of Galilee, named it Tiberias in honour of the emperor, and made it his capital. This city was governed after the Greek model by a council of 600, with an Archon and other officers. In these two cities was centred the chief legal administration of affairs in Galilee during the life of Christ. But in Galilee, as elsewhere, the chief details of life were regulated by the Jews’ own religious laws rather than by ordinary civil enactments. The chief authority was the Sanhedrin (see Sanhedrin) at Jerusalem, to which appeals could be made when local doctors differed. The chief local difficulties were usually satisfied by the decisions of local councils (cf. Matthew 10:17
), probably associated more or less closely with the local synagogues (see Synagogue).
7. People.—Galilee was a populous country. ‘The cities lie very thick, and the very many villages are everywhere so populous from the richness of the soil, that the very least of them contains more than fifteen thousand inhabitants’ (Josephus BJ iii. iii. 2). In another place Josephus says there were 240 cities and villages in Galilee (Life, 45), and that many of these had strong walls. From each of these to the others must have been a network of tracks and roads in addition to the main roads (see above). and the land was a scene of constant activity. The bracing air of the hills and the activity of everyday life formed a people of energy and vigour. ‘The Galilaeans are inured to war from their infancy, and have been always very numerous; nor has their country ever been destitute of men of courage’ (Josephus BJ iii. iii. 2). Regarded with a certain amount of patronizing contempt by the pure-blooded and more strictly theologically-minded Jews of Jerusalem and its neighbourhood, they still had the religions zeal of country-folk. This zeal was quickened by their pilgrimages to Jerusalem, which made a greater impression on their active minds than on those who were more familiar with the life of the Holy City. At any apparent insult to their religion they were ready to break out in revolt. Before, during, and after the life of Jesus, Galilaean leaders arose and flew to arms in the vain attempt to secure religious autonomy. Yet they differed in many respects from their Judaean brothers. The very technical terms of the market and the details of their religious customs varied from those of the South (cf. Schürer, HJP
ii. i. 4). Their pronunciation of the Aramaic language had peculiarities of its own (Matthew 26:73
), one of these being the confusion of the guttural sounds. Besides, however, the natural bodily vigour and mental freshness of these highlanders, the most important difference between them and the people of Judaea lay in the different attitude in daily life towards the larger world of the Roman Empire and Hellenistic influence. Knowledge of, at any rate spoken, Greek was to them a necessity of business, and no attempt could be made, as in Jerusalem, to avoid the study of it (cf. Moulton, Prolegomena to Gram, of NT Greek, 1906, p. 8). Many must have been, like Matthew, in Government employ. All were brought into daily contact with Greek and Roman modes of life and thought. It was to this people of larger experience of life and broader ways of thinking that Jesus appealed in the greater part of His earthly ministry, and from it that He chose the men who were first to make His message known to the world. See also art. Sea of Galilee.
Literature.—Artt. ‘Galilee’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible. and ‘Galilaa’ in PRE
; Neubauer, Géog. du Talmud; Guérin, Galilée; Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ; G. A. Smith, HGHL
, chs. xx, xxi.
G. W. Thatcher.