Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

The region of northern Palestine that is situated between the Litani River in modern Lebanon and the Jezreel Valley in modern Israel. The designation ‘Galilee’ first occurs as a proper name in Joshua (20:7; 21:32) and in Chronicles (1 Chron. 6:76) in reference to the site of Qadesh of Naphtali. It occurs with the definite article in 1 Kings 9:11, ‘in the land of Galilee.’ From Isa. 9:1 we learn it was known as a land of foreigners. The proper name occurs regularly in the writings of the first century historian Josephus and the nt (Gk. galilaia).

This tiny region, approximately forty-five miles long north to south, is first mentioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III in 1468 b.c. when he captured twenty-three Canaanite cities there. From the time of the Israelite settlement (late thirteenth-early twelfth century b.c.) Galilee is associated with the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun; the tribe of Dan eventually moved there. The reorganization into administrative districts under King David saw a consolidation of Israelite presence there. King Solomon, however, returned some twenty Galilean cities to Hiram, king of Tyre, in payment for building materials (1 Kings 9:10-11).

During the period of the Divided Monarchy (924-586 b.c.) Galilee was invaded by Pharaoh Shishak in 924 b.c. in the fifth year of Rehoboam. In ca. 885 during the reign of Israel’s King Baasha, Ben-hadad of Damascus captured Ijon, Dan, Able-beth-maacah, and ‘all the land of Naphtali’ (1 Kings 15:18-20). The confrontation of Ahab, king of Israel, with Shalmaneser III of Assyria at Qarqar in 853 b.c. ultimately led to the confrontation at Mt. Carmel in 841. Tiglath-pileser III, also of Assyria, however, took much of Galilee in 732 b.c. when he captured thirteen of its cities (2 Kings 15:29) and united it to Assyria as a province. From then on Galilee as a region became known as the Assyrian province of Megiddo. Galilee’s history remains obscure until the Greek conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 b.c.

Jewish settlement in Galilee followed the Maccabean revolt in 164 b.c. Galilee was annexed by Judah Aristobolus I in 104 b.c. His brother and successor Alexander Jannaeus further extended the borders of Galilee during his reign. With the Roman conquest of Palestine in 63 b.c. Pompey recaptured many Galilean cities and incorporated them into a new Roman administration. Under Herod the Great (40-4 b.c.), Galilee, together with Judea and Perea, formed a large portion of the new Judea. Upon Herod’s death in 4 b.c. Galilee and Perea were made part of the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, his son.

Galilee constitutes the area in which Jesus conducted the major part of his ministry. His youth and early ministry took place in Nazareth in Lower Galilee; much of his public ministry was located at the northwestern end of the Sea of Galilee, at Capernaum, which was known as Jesus’ own city (Matt. 9:1). Galilee is also the area in which Judaism assumed its definitive form, ultimately producing the Mishnah and Palestinian Talmud there.

The first-century historian Josephus (Life 45.235) maintains that there were 204 villages in all Galilee. Archaeology has shown that that figure is not improbable. In Lower Galilee the major centers in the first centuries a.d. were Tiberias and Sepphoris. In Upper Galilee, called Tetracomia (‘Four Villages’) by Josephus, Gush Halav (Gischala) and Meiron were certainly among the largest villages. Jewish population in both areas of Galilee, however, did not fully accelerate till after the two devastating wars with Rome in a.d. 66-73 and 132-135. It was in the aftermath of these debacles that Jews as well as Christians relocated themselves there.

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