GENNESARET, LAND OF.—Thither Jesus and His disciples repaired after the feeding of the 5000 (Matthew 14:22, Mark 6:45
). This miracle probably took place on the N.E. shore of the Sea of Galilee. When evening came, the Synoptists tell us, His disciples entered into a boat, and crossing over the sea, came to the land, unto Gennesaret, ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν εἰς Γεννησαρέτ (Matthew 14:34, Mark 6:53
1. Name.—The ‘Land of Gennesar, or Gennesaret,’ is mentioned but twice in the Bible (Matthew 14:34, Mark 6:53
). The name ‘Gennesaret,’ however, occurs elsewhere: once as the name of the Lake, παρὰ τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ (Luke 5:1
), once in 1 Maccabees 11:67
τὸ ὕδωρ τοῦ Γεννησάρ, and is frequently found in Josephus, who uses both λίμνη Γεννησαρῖτις (Ant. xviif. ii. 1) and λίμνη Γεννησάρ (BJ iii. x. 7); in the Targums, , נִּנּוֹסַר, נִּנֵיסִר, and נִנּיסַר; and in Pliny’s writings, (v. 15). The name of the Lake was derived from that of the Plain, and that in turn from the name of a city supposed by the Jews to have been situated on the W. shore of the Sea of Galilee; that portion of the plain bordering on Mejdel being called el-Mejdel. On the derivation of the word , see art. Sea of Galilee.
2. Situation.—It is usually identified with the little plain situated on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, and known to the Arabs as el-Ghuweir, ‘little Ghor or hollow.’ This identification is as good as certain. The description of it as given by Josephus can apply to no other. Several years ago an attempt was made by Thrupp and Tregelles (in the Journal of Classical and Sacred Philology, ii. 290–308) to identify it with the plain of el-Batihah, on the N.E. shore of the Lake, but without success (cf. Stanley’s ‘Note’ in refutation, SP
3. Size.—Shut in by the hilly promontory of Khân Minyeh on the N. and the still more prominent hills by Magdala on the S., and extending westward from the Lake only to the base of the rugged uplands of Galilee, its total area is exceedingly small. Its approximate measurements are about 3 miles long from N. to S. by 1¼ broad from E. to W. Stanley’s measurements are wide of the mark when he says that the plain is 6 or 7 miles long by 5 miles broad (SP
442); and even G. A. Smith exaggerates when he describes it as ‘four miles broad’ (HGHL
443). Josephus’ measurements are more nearly correct, viz. 30 × 20 stadia; though in fact it is a little longer than 30 and not quite so broad as 20. In form it is somewhat crescent-shaped or semi-elliptical. Its surface is comparatively level. Its altitude, like that of the Sea of Galilee, is over 650 feet below the level of the Mediterranean.
4. Josephus’ description of the Land of Gennesaret.—
‘Its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty: its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it, and the inhabitants accordingly plant all sorts of trees there; for the temper of the air is so well mixed that it agrees very well with these several sorts; particularly walnuts, which require the coldest air, flourish there in vast plenty; there are palm trees also, which grow best in hot air; fig trees also and olives grow near them, which yet require an air that is more temperate. One may call the place the ambition of nature, where it forces those plants that are naturally enemies to one another to agree together. It is a happy contention of the seasons, as if every one of them laid claim to this country; for it not only nourishes different sorts of autumnal fruit beyond men’s expectation, but preserves them a great while; it supplies men with the principal fruits, with grapes and figs continually, during ten months of the year, and with other fruits as they become ripe through the whole year; for besides the good temperature of the air, it is also watered from a most copious fountain. The people of the country call it Capharnaum. Some have thought it to be a vein of the Nile, because it produces the coracin fish as well as that lake does which is near to Alexandria. The length of this country extends itself along the banks of this lake that bears the same name for thirty furloogs, and is in breadth twenty. And this is the nature of that place’ (BJ iii. x. 8).
This classical passage from Josephus, though probably coloured to some extent, gives substantially the truth about the Plain as it must have been in the time of Christ, and for this reason it is of the utmost importance. Jewish Rabbins of early times corroborate his description. They describe it as possessing both ‘gardens and paradises’; as one of the garden spots of the world; as irrigated and cultivated so that no portion of it was barren; and as being dotted over thickly with towns and villages. Indeed, ruins of villages have been found at three or four different localities in the Plain, viz. at the opening of Wady el-Hamam, at ‘Ain el-Mudauwarah, south of ‘Ain et-Tin, and on the N. side of Wady er-Rubudiyeh.
5. Its condition to-day.—Josephus’ account is especially interesting because of the contrast between its condition then and now. Then, it was a most charming spot—‘the unparalleled garden of God,’ as a certain Rabbi calls it; and ‘the gem of Palestine,’ as Merrill speaks of it (Galilee in the Time of Christ, 33): now, it is, as Thomson says, ‘pre-eminently fruitful in thorns,’ a veritable thicket of oleanders and nubk trees, of gigantic thistles and brambles. And yet even now one finds proofs of its former luxuriance in the wealth of its wild flowers, the heavy-headed wheat and barley growing here and there, and in the stoutness of the thorns and thistles almost everywhere.
(1) The soil is wonderfully rich, like that of the Delta in Egypt. It consists of basaltic loam formed by the mingling of decomposed basalt with the alluvium of the lake. All travelers—Seetzen, von Schubert, Ritter, Burckhardt, Robinson, Wilson, and Thomson—praise the fertility of this Plain, and all except Stanley (cf. SP
451) lament its present desolate and uncultivated condition. The latter erroneously describes it as ‘cultivated everywhere.’ Only near Magdala are there signs of marsh.
(2) Fountains and streams supply it with water in copious abundance. Three winter torrents rush down from the hill country lying to the west, and bring with them abundance of water for the greater portion of the year. (a) One is known as the Wady el-Hamam, or the ‘Valley of Pigeons,’ a deep gorge bounded by almost perpendicular cliffs over one thousand feet in height, which enters the Plain from the S.W. This is a tremendous ravine, and from Josephus’ day has been known as the ravine of the ‘Robber Caves’—the chosen resort of brigands in former days. Thomson describes it in two connexions, as ‘a great chasm ‘and as a ‘profound gorge’ (Land and the Book, ii. 395–397), and as leading up to a fort or castle known as Kal’at ibn Ma’an, and still on to the village of Hattin. Down this valley are poured large volumes of water, and down through this same ravine, as through a funnel, rush sudden blasts of wind, which break upon the Lake. The ruins of Irbid, the Arbela of Josephus and 1 Maccabees 9:2,
are not far to the south. (b) Another torrent, entering the Plain from the W., is that known as Wady er-Rubudiyeh. This is the largest, and yields the most plentiful supply of water furnished to the Plain. It is used to irrigate the Plain both N. and S., furnishing nearly three times the volume of water supplied by ‘Ain el-Mudauwarah. (c) A third torrent enters the Plain from the N.W. It is called Wady el-Amud. Like Wady el-Hamam, it is a deep ravine, and scarcely less striking because of its narrowness. Its waters take their rise in the Jarmuk, the highest mountain in Galilee. For the greater part of its course it is called Wady el-Leimum. It is only a winter torrent. According to Thomson, all of these streams which enter the Plain disappear in summer before they reach the Lake.
Besides these waters which drain the region of Galilee immediately west of the Plain of Gennesaret, there are certain fountains in the Plain itself whose waters were used for irrigation: (a) ‘Ain el-Mudauwarah, or ‘Round Fountain,’ situated a little over a mile N.W. of Magdala, is the largest and most important. It is enclosed by a circular wall of hewn stones, 32 yards in diameter, surrounded by thick trees and brushwood, so that access is difficult; but it yields a copious stream of clear water, which flows across the Plain to the Lake, irrigating right and left. The pool itself contains two to three feet of water and certain fish. Ebrard (SK
, 1867, pp. 723–747) identified it with the fountain of Capharnaum mentioned by Josephus, but this has been shown to be highly improbable. Two other fountains assist in watering the southern end of the Plain: ‘Ain el-Bareidch, or ‘Cold Spring,’ also known as ‘Ain el-Fuliyeh, or ‘Fountain of the Bean’; and ‘Ain es-Serar, somewhat further to the S.W. (β) ‘Ain et-Tin, or ‘Fountain of the Fig Tree,’ is another large and important spring. It is situated on the northern edge of the Plain, and bursts forth from under the cliffs of Khân Minyeh. Unfortunately, it is too close to the shore of the Lake to be used extensively for irrigating purposes. The stream which issues from it is choked with a jungle of oleanders and papyrus. Robinson identifies this fountain with the spring of Capharnaum of Josephus. (γ) ‘Ain et-Tabigha, or ‘Fountain of the Ruined Mill,’ formerly supposed to be the scene of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44
), is another large spring of water—according to Tristram, the largest in Galilee, and about one-half as large as the fountain at Caesarea Philippi. It is not situated in the Plain, but considerably N.E., about half-way between Khân Minyeh and Tell Hum, the two rival sites of Capernaum; but its waters were formerly conducted by a channel cut in the rock around the promontory on which Khan Minyeh is situated, and made to irrigate the N. end of the Plain of Gennesaret. This aqueduct was discovered first by Sir Chas. Wilson, and since then the fountain has been generally considered to be the spring of Capharnaum of Josephus (cf. Thomson, Land and Book, ii. 429).
(3) Products.—With all these resources of irrigation, it is not surprising that the Plain of Gennesaret should be described by the Rabbins as the ‘Garden of God,’ or that its superior and delicious fruits ‘were not allowed at the feasts in Jerusalem lest some might attend primarily to enjoy these fruits’ (Bab.
Pesachim, 8 b; Neubauer, Géog. du Talmud, 45 f.). But to-day, though its grapes, figs, olives, and walnuts have vanished, there are to be seen wild figs, oleanders, nubk trees, dwarf palms, papyrus plants, tall prickly centaureas: in summer, magnificent lilac-coloured convolvuli hanging in long festoons of blossom from the prickly shrubs; wild flowers of countless variety—tulips, anemones, irises; rice, wheat, the best and earliest melons and cucumbers in Palestine, sedges and rushes by the Lake; also thorns and thistles, especially in the central portion; in short, a tangle of luxuriant vegetation—a lovely floral carpet in February, a wilderness of thorns in summer. For here, indeed, Nature has lavished her glory in tropical profusion.
(4) Roads.—Two paths cross the Plain from S. to N.—the chief one leading from Magdala to Khân Minych in a direct course, and skirting the Lake shore within a few hundred feet; the other following the base of the hills along its western side, and striking over the hills northwards. One of the best views obtainable of the Plain is from the top of the ridge above Magdala.
(5) Inhabitants.—The Plain is without settled inhabitants to-day. The Ghawarineh Arabs, more especially a certain tribe named es-Senekiyeh, roam over it, using it as winter pasture land. Wilson recounts that gipsies from India have been known to sojourn there with their tents and flocks (p. 138). As a rule, solitude reigns except near the village of Magdala and at Khân Minyeh.
(6) Health.—Fevers are still prevalent in this region as in the days of our Lord, when, not far distant, at least, Peter’s wife’s mother lay sick (Luke 4:38
). Thomson speaks of ‘the heat and malarial influences of the Plain.’ This probably accounts in part for its present desolation, though under the Turk it has fared but little worse than other portions of the Empire.
Such is the land of Gennesaret, on the immediate edge of which lay Capernaum, and over whose ‘Eden-like landscape’ the feet of our blessed Lord so often trod as He went about preaching from village to village, healing the sick and raising to life the dead. One can almost see Him, in fancy, pushing out in a little boat along the embayed and shell-covered shore, followed to the water’s edge by the multitudes who pressed upon Him daily from populous Gennesaret, and hear Him speaking to them, as they sit upon the shore, concerning the gospel of the Kingdom, drawing illustrations from the sower, who, going forth to sow, allows some seeds to fall by the wayside, others on stony places, still others where they are choked by thorns; and then, when He became weary, retiring to the mountains for rest and spiritual refreshment in prayer, only to return again and repeat His message of goodwill and comfort; until, finally, when the great tragedy on Calvary is ended and He is risen from the tomb, He reappears to those same disciples, who meanwhile have returned to their nets. Surely no other spot of like size can possibly be of equal interest, to the Christian who loves to trace the footprints of His Master’s earthly career, with what has justly been called ‘the most sacred region of the Lake,’ ‘the gem of Palestine.’
Literature.—Sanday, Sacred Sites of the Gospels, 39 f.; Tristram, Bible Places, 311–315, The Land of Israel, 565; Thomson, The Land and the Book, i. 86, ii. 293 f., 298, 408, iii. 166; G. A. Smith, HGHL
443 ff.; Merrill, Galilee in the Time of Christ, 33, 34, art. ‘Gennesaret, Land of,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; Robinson, BRP
iii. 277ff., Physical Geog. of the Holy Land, 199; Cheyne, art. ‘Gennesar’ in Encyc. Bibl.; Wright and Hackett, art. ‘Gennesaret, Land of,’ in Smith’s DB
; Socin in Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria, 291; Stewart, Land of Israel, 264; Conder, Primer of Bible Geog. 150 f.; Stanley, SP
444–454; Wilson, Lands of the Bible, 137; Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible, ii. 331; Ritter, Geog. of Palestine, ii. 265; Buhl, GAP
113; Neubauer, Géog. du Talm. 45f.; Josephus, BJ iii. x. 8; Ruetsche in PRE
v. 6f.; Furrer in Schenkel, ii. 322; Swete, Com. on St. Mark, ad 6:53
; Plummer, Com. on St. Luke, ad 5:1
George L. Robinson.