The Sea of Galilee is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful places in the Holy Land, and it has changed remarkably little since the days of Jesus. It is, of course, not a sea, but a freshwater lake, and is known by various names in addition to the Sea of Galilee – to modern-day Israelis it is Lake Kinneret.
It lies in the Jordan gorge, 682 feet below the level of the Mediterranean. An irregular oval nearly thirteen miles long, its maximum width, near the northern end, is about seven and a half miles. The lake is enclosed on the east and west by mountains; the former, a uniform wall 2000 feet high sloping steeply to within half a mile of the shore. The lake is fed by several torrents and by hot springs on the north and west, but principally by the Jordan, which enters at the north-east corner and rushes out at the south-western extremity. The depth of the lake nowhere exceeds 150 feet. Its water is sweet and good to drink. Fish are so abundant that catches of 600 pounds are not rare, and in one exceptional season (1896) 9200 pounds of fish were hauled ashore in one huge net. For thousands of years, fishermen have filled their nets in the lake with damselfish, scaleless blennies, catfish, mouthbreeders and barbels. This is the catch that Peter and his brother Andrew harvested when Jesus commanded them to put down their nets on the other side of the boat.
The peaceful calm of the Sea of Galilee can quickly become transformed by a violent storm. Winds funnel through the east-west aligned Galilee hill country and stir up the waters quickly in a half an hour. More violent are the winds that come off the hills of the Golan Heights to the east. Trapped in the basin, the winds can be deadly to fishermen. A storm in March 1992 sent waves 10 feet high crashing into downtown Tiberias and causing significant damage. But in half an hour again the lake is restored to a mirror-like calm. It was during one of these winter storms that Jesus and his disciples were caught out on the lake and the Savior calmed the tempest. It was also here that Jesus walked on the water and, in his excitement at seeing Him, Peter leaped out of the boat, only to sink beneath the waves.
The Sea of Galilee has been called “the cradle of the Gospel”, and no wonder. Jesus preached there to the multitudes, sometimes while standing in one of the fishing boats. In one of His final acts on earth, Jesus appeared at the edge of The Sea of Galilee to his disciples after his resurrection, and ate breakfast with them.
One must marvel at the fact that such a small body of water as The Sea of Galilee should hold such significance to Christians. But it must also be remembered that lake fishermen were simple people — almost childlike. What more appropriate place would one expect the Messiah to collect those He charged to spread His Gospel than the most humble of people?
The Plain of Gennesaret spreads out below the Arbel cliffs. About five miles long and two miles wide, this stretch of land alongside Galilee’s northwest shore was renowned for its fertility. Josephus wrote that it was “wonderful in its characteristics and in its beauty. Thanks to the rich soil there is not a plant that does not flourish there, and the inhabitants grow everything: the air is so temperate that it suits the most diverse species.”
In 1986 a wooden vessel from the first century was discovered near Nof Ginnosaur on the lake’s northwestern shore. Studies have determined the type of wood was used (mainly cedar and oak), the style of construction (mortise and tenon joints), the date (on the basis of construction techniques, pottery and Carbon 14 tests) and the size (26 by 7 feet – big enough for 15 men). This is believed to be the type of boat that Peter would have used. Modern day tour boats are modeled after the remains.