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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Galilee

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GALILEE

1. Position . Galilee was the province of Palestine north of Samaria. It was bounded southward by the Carmel range and the southern border of the plain of Esdraelon, whence it stretched eastward by Bethshean (Scythopolis, Beisan) to the Jordan. Eastward it was limited by the Jordan and the western bank of its expansions (the Sea of Galilee and Waters of Merom). Northward and to the north-west it was bounded by Syria and Phœnicia; it reached the sea only in the region round the bay of Acca, and immediately north of it. Its maximum extent therefore was somewhere about 60 miles north to south, and 30 east to west.

2. Name . The name Galilee is of Hebrew origin, and signifies a ‘ring’ or ‘circuit.’ The name is a contraction of a fuller expression, preserved by Isaiah 9:1 , namely, ‘Galilee of the [foreign] nations.’ This was originally the name of the district at the northern boundary of Israel, which was a frontier surrounded by foreigners on three sides. Thence it spread southward, till already by Isaiah’s time it included the region of the sea, i.e. the Sea of Galilee. Its further extension southward, to include the plain of Esdraelon, took place before the Maccabæan period. The attributive ‘of the nations’ was probably dropped about this time partly for brevity, partly because it was brought into the Jewish State by its conquest by John Hyrcanus, about the end of the 2nd cent. b.c.

3. History . In the tribal partition of the country the territory of Galilee was divided among the septs of Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, and part of Issachar. In the OT history the tribal designations are generally used when subdivisions of the country are denoted; this is no doubt the reason why the name ‘Galilee,’ which is not a tribal name, occurs so rarely in the Hebrew Scriptures though the passage in Isaiah already quoted, as well as the references to Kedesh and other cities ‘in Galilee’ ( Joshua 20:7 ; Joshua 21:32 , 1 Kings 9:11 , 2 Kings 15:29 , 1 Chronicles 6:76 ), show that the name was familiar and employed upon occasion. But though some of the most important of the historical events of the early Hebrew history took place within the borders of Galilee, it cannot be said to have had a history of its own till later times.

After the return of the Jews from the Exile, the population was concentrated for the greater part in Judæa, and the northern parts of Palestine were left to the descendants of the settlers established by Assyria. It was not till its conquest, probably by Joho Hyrcanus, that it was once more included in Jewish territory and occupied by Jewish settlers. Under the pressure of Egyptian and Roman invaders the national patriotism developed rapidly, and it became as intensely a Jewish State as Jerusalem itself, notwithstanding the contempt with which the haughty inhabitants of Judæa regarded the northern provincials. Under the Roman domination Galilee was governed as a tetrarchate, held by members of the Herod family. Herod the Great was ruler of Galilee in b.c. 47, and was succeeded by his son Antipas, as tetrarch, in b.c. 4. After the fall of Jerusalem, Galilee became the centre of Rabhinic life. The only ancient remains of Jewish synagogues are to be seen among the ruins of Galilæan cities. Maimonides was buried at Tiberias. But it is as the principal theatre of Christ’s life and work that Galilee commands its greatest interest. Almost the whole of His life, from His settlement as an infant in Nazareth, was spent within its borders. The great majority of the twelve Apostles were also natives of this province.

4. Physical Characteristics . Owing to moisture derived from the Lehanon mountains, Galilee is the best-watered district of Palestine, and abounds in streams and springs, though the actual rainfall is little greater than that of Judæa. The result of this enhanced water supply is seen in the fertility of the soil, which is far greater than anywhere in Southern Palestine. It was famous for oil, wheat, barley, and fruit, as well as cattle. The Sea of Galilee fisheries were also important. The formation of the country is limestone, broken by frequent dykes and outflows of trap and other volcanic rocks. Hot springs at Tiberias and elsewhere, and not infrequent earthquakes, indicate a continuance of volcanic and analogous energies.

5. Population . Galilee in the time of Christ was inhabited by a mixed population. There was the native Jewish element, grafted no doubt on a substratum of the Assyrian settlers and other immigrants, whose intrusion dated from the Israelite Exile with probably yet a lower stratum, stretching back to the days of the Canaanites. Besides these there was the cultivated European class the inhabitants of the Greek cities that surrounded the Sea of Tiberias, and the military representatives of the dominant power of Rome. We have seen that in Judæa the Galilæans were looked down upon. ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ ( John 1:46 ) was one proverb. ‘Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet’ ( John 7:52 ) was another, in the face of the fact that Galilee was the home of Deborah, Barak, Ibzan, Tola, Elon, with the prophets Jonah, Elisha, and possibly Hosea. The Galilæans no doubt had provincialisms, such as the confusion of the gutturals in speech, which grated on the sensitive ears of the Judæans, and was one of the indications that betrayed Peter when he endeavoured to deny his discipleship ( Matthew 26:73 ).

R. A. S. Macalister.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Galilee'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/g/galilee.html. 1909.

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