Galilee is a region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative Northern District and Haifa District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee, Lower Galilee, and Western Galilee. Most of Galilee consists of rocky terrain, at heights of between 500 and 700 m. Several high mountains are in the region, including Mount Tabor and Mount Meron, which have relatively low temperatures and high rainfall. As a result of this climate, flora and wildlife thrive in the region, while many birds annually migrate from colder climates to Africa and back through the Hula–Jordan corridor.
According to the Tanakh, Galilee was named by the Israelites and was the tribal region of Naphthali and Dan, at times overlapping the Tribe of Asher’s land. However, Dan was dispersed among the whole people rather than isolated to the lands of Dan, as the Tribe of Dan was the hereditary local law enforcement and judiciary for the whole nation. Normally, Galilee is just referred to as Nafthali.
Chapter 9 of I Kings states that Solomon rewarded his Phoenician ally, King Hiram I of Sidon, with the Galilee for “the nations”, which would have been either the foreigners who came to settle there during and after the reign of Hiram I, or who had been forcibly deported there by later conquerors such as the Assyrians. Hiram, to reciprocate previous gifts given to David, accepted the upland plain among the mountains of Naphtali and renamed it “the land of Cabul” for a time.
The region’s Israelite name is from the Hebrew root galil, an ultimately unique word for “district”, and usually “circle”, a noun which has standardized since antiquity in Hebrew grammar, to be in the construct state, and requires a genitival noun. Hence, the Biblical “Galilee of the non-Jewish Nations” is in Hebrew “galil goyim” (verse Isaiah 8:23 or 9:1 in different numberings). It previously had other suffixes and following the end of the Phoenecian Empire had different suffixes to the Hebrew culture and its derivatives interchangeably.
The region in turn gave rise to the English name for the “Sea of Galilee” referred to as such in many languages including ancient Arabic. In the Hebrew language, the lake is referred to as Kinneret (Numbers 34:11, etc.), from Hebrew kinnor, “harp”, describing its shape, Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1, etc.), from Ginosar (Hebrew) ge, “valley”, and either netser, “branch”, or natsor, “to guard”, “to watch” (the name which may have been a reference to Nazareth city, alternatively renamed the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, etc.), from the town of Tiberias at its southwestern end, named after the Greek Tiberius following the first-century CE Roman Emperor’s Greek derived name. These are the three names used in originally internal Jewish-authored literature rather than the “Sea of Galilee”. However, Jews did use “the Galilee” to refer to the whole region (Aramaic הגלילי), including its lake.
In Roman times, the country was divided into Judea, Samaria, the Paralia and Galilee, which comprised the whole northern section of the country, and was the largest of the three regions under the tetrarchy. After Iudaea became a Roman provincein 6 CE (formed by a merger of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea), Galilee briefly became a part of it, then separated from it for two to three centuries.
The Galilee region was presumably the home of Yeshua during at least 30 years of his life. Much of the first three Gospels of the New Testament give an account of Yeshua’s public ministry in this province, particularly in the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum. Galilee is also cited as the place where Yeshua performed many public miracles, including curing a blind man. After the death of Yeshua, some accounts suggest his disciples returned to Galilee and their experience of his resurrection took place there.
Many of the important Tannaim, the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud, claim to have also spent their lives there, including Honi Ha-Ma’agel, Jose the Galilean, and Ishmael the Galilean, among many others. Traditional rabbinic sources assert that the followers of the rabbis from the Galilee were widely reputed to believe their teachers (rabbis) were miracle workers, as opposed to those from Judea proper, Persia, and Babylon, who rarely are credited with miracles. Many are cited for their large number of students and followers throughout the Jewish people among the common people. The Galilee among the Jewish population was known as a wellspring of miracle workers and mystical philosophers of all types, especially just prior to the major split between Jesus’ followers and those who opposed Jesus. According to the Talmud, one of the most important founders of the modern Jewish faith, Johanan ben Zakai, was born there. Simeon bar Yochai, one of the most famed of all the Tannaim, hid from the Romans in the Galilee, and dug tunnels there to hide. Many miracles are ascribed to him during his Galilean period after escaping Judea proper. In medieval Hebrew legend, he may have written the Zohar while there.
The archaeological discoveries of synagogues from the Hellenistic and Roman period in the Galilee show strong Phoenecian influences, and a high level of tolerance for other cultures, relative to other Jewish sacred sites from the period, the latter being “cleansed of impurities”. Eastern Galilee retained a Jewish majority until the seventh century.