Biblical Archaeology Review 38:4, July/August 2012

Strata: How Many?

How many different names does the Bible give for the Sea of Galilee?

Answer: Four.

The Hebrew Bible calls it the Yam Kinneret, or “Lyre-Shaped Sea,” which is the Hebrew name still used today. The New Testament writers introduced additional names for this lake in northern Israel, reflecting Greek and Roman influence. The author of the Gospel of Luke follows Josephus and Pliny in using the name as it came into Greek, the Lake of Gennesar (Gennesar was sometimes used to describe the region). The Fourth Gospel also follows Josephus’s example in sometimes calling it the Sea/Lake of Tiberias, a clear reference to the major Roman city on its shore in the first century A.D. Mark, Matthew and John all call it the Sea of Galilee, again making a geographical connection to its location in the northern region of Galilee.

In addition to these four proper names, the body of water was so prominent and well known that writers often referred to it simply as “the lake” or “the sea.” The distinction between “lake” and “sea” seems to have been a matter of local versus global worldview. Mark, Matthew and John reflect regional life in a world centered around this “sea.” Luke, Josephus and Pliny, on the other hand, were writing for a Greco-Roman audience who recognized the dominance of the Mediterranean Sea and relegated this comparatively tiny body of water to the status of a mere lake.

Source: Sean Freyne, “Galilee, Sea of,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 899–901.

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