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Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee is the biggest freshwater lake in Israel and the lowest freshwater lake in the world, lying at 210 meters below sea level. The sea is 21km long and 13km wide. The Jordan River is its main tributary. The Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee at its northern part and leaves it at its southern part, flowing on to the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. The Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are part of the Great Rift Valley, a 6,000km-long geographical trench running from Lebanon to Mozambique. The rift is between the Arabian Plate (Jordan) and the African Plate (Israel).

In Hebrew the sea is called Kinneret. The name probably derives from the name of a Canaanite God. A widely held assumption, which is probably not true, is that the name comes from the word ‘kinnor’, an ancient musical instrument like a sort of harp or lyre, whose shape is supposed to resemble that of the Sea of Galilee. Other names are the Sea of Tiberias or the Sea of Ginosar (or Gennesaret).

The Sea of Galilee provides one quarter of Israel’s drinking water. The percentage used to be higher but as the population grew and long droughts became more frequent, Israel started desalinating seawater and today 40% of the tap water is desalinated. Although the importance of the Sea of Galilee as a source of water has declined, some Israeli newspapers still show the height of the Sea of Galilee and any change from yesterday (it’s not that interesting; one millimeter higher or lower usually) on the back page, next to the weather forecast.

The Sea of Galilee doesn’t have any special significance in Judaism. The sea is mentioned only three times in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the sea has tremendous importance: it is mentioned dozens of times. Besides Capernaum, many other places, such as Magdala, the Church of Multiplication at Tabgha, the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, and Kursi lie along the Sea of Galilee. The sea itself is mentioned in many of Jesus’ stories and proverbs.