Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee

Though the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Chinnereth and the Sea of Gennesaret) is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament, by the time of the New Testament the freshwater lake boasted a thriving fishing industry and several noteworthy towns along its shores. The lake is nestled among the lush hills of Galilee at an elevation of more than 600 feet below sea level and is fed by the northern section of the Jordan River. The main section of the Jordan River originates from the Sea of Galilee’s southern extreme. Soon after his baptism Jesus relocated his ministry from his hometown of Nazareth to the fishing town of Capernaum, and several of his disciples were fishermen on the lake (Matthew 4:12-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). A number of the events described in the Gospels took place along (or sometimes on) the lake, including Jesus feeding thousands of people (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:29-39; Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-10; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15), walking on water (Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-53; Luke 6:16-21), and calming the wind and the waves (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41). Such storms are not uncommon on the lake, as winds can rush in suddenly from the west or the east and generate waves over 10 feet high. Jesus also taught many sermons and parables along the shores of the lake, including his famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and in one instance Jesus taught from a boat on the lake while people listened from the shore (Matthew 13:1-2; Mark 4:1).

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Sheba and Cush

The ancient nations of Sheba and Cush, both located several hundred miles south of Israel, were often regarded by the people of Israel as the ends of the earth. The nation of Sheba was located on the southwest coast of the Arabian peninsula and traded frankincense, myrrh, gold, and precious stones throughout the Ancient Near East. During Solomon’s reign, news of his great wealth and wisdom traveled as far as Sheba (perhaps carried by Solomon’s fleet of trading ships), and the queen of Sheba came to visit him and ask him many questions (1 Kings 10; 2 Chronicles 9). Before about 900 B.C., the term Cush in the Bible referred primarily to the descendants of Cush, who inhabited much of the western coast of Arabia as well as the land immediately south of Egypt in Africa (Genesis 10:6-7). After about 900 B.C., the term Cush typically referred to the kingdom of Cush, which included only the land south of Egypt. So it is likely that Moses’ Cushite wife (Numbers 12:1) was from Arabia, as was Zerah’s vast army of soldiers who attacked King Asa (2 Chronicles 14:8-14). King Tirhakah, on the other hand, who set out to fight against Assyria as they were attacking King Hezekiah, was almost certainly from Africa (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). The same is also likely true for the Ebed-melech, who rescued Jeremiah from imprisonment in a cistern (Jeremiah 38:1-13). Later, the kingdom of Cush is cited as one of the borders the Persian Empire (Esther 1:1). Over time many people of the kingdom of Cush (later called Ethiopia) became followers of the Lord, which is why during the New Testament Philip the Evangelist met an Ethiopian royal official traveling home by way of Gaza after worshiping at the Temple of the Lord (Acts 8:26-27).

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Nations Across the Jordan River

The small nations of Ammon, Moab, and Edom lay east of the Jordan River, and the people of these nations were distantly related to the Israelites. The Ammonites and Moabites were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19), and the Edomites were descended from Jacob’s twin brother Esau (Genesis 36). The Israelites had passed by these nations on the way to the Promised Land (Numbers 21:10-20; Deuteronomy 2:1-23) and battled against them at various times throughout history (Judges 3:12-30; 10:6-12:7; 1 Samuel 11:1-11; 2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10; 2 Kings 3; 8:20-22; 14:7; 1 Chronicles 19; 2 Chronicles 20; 21:8-10). David eventually subjugated the Moabites and the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:2-14; 1 Chronicles 18:2-13), but many years later they regained their independence (2 Kings 1:1; 3; 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10). While much animosity often existed between Israel and these nations, the Bible also recounts how Naomi and her husband moved to Moab to seek relief from a famine (Ruth 1:1), and Naomi’s descendant David placed his parents in the care of the king of Moab while he was on the run from King Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). The people of Edom eventually migrated to the area just south of Judea around the time that many Judeans were exiled to Babylon. Herod the Great, who was king of Judea hundreds of years later at the time of Jesus’ birth, was actually an Edomite (Idumean). The Maccabean rulers had forcibly converted the Edomites to Judaism over a hundred years earlier.

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Southern Greece

Though southern Greece was located over 700 miles from Israel, its history often overlapped with the events of the Bible. During the time of the Judges, Sea Peoples from the Greek mainland began attacking many lands of the Bible. Hundreds of years later during the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, the Greeks fought many famous battles (e.g., Thermopylae Pass, Marathon, Salamis) to keep their land from being subsumed under the vast Persian Empire, who ruled over virtually the entire Ancient Near East. Later the Greeks fought against the Romans, and in 146 B.C. all of Greece came under the rule of Rome. Nearly 200 years later the apostle Paul traveled to southern Greece, visiting the renowned philosophical center of Athens before moving on to Corinth and establishing a church there with the help of Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos (Acts 17:16-18:28). Corinth was a very prosperous city strategically located near the isthmus linking the southern peninsula to the mainland, giving it command over both land and sea travel in the region.

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Jericho, Wilderness of Judea, and Qumran

The famed city of Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world. By the time the Israelites watched its walls fall down under Joshua’s command (Joshua 6), Jericho was already thousands of years old. Located on a plain where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea, the heavily fortified city stood guard over the entrance to Canaan from the southwest, which meant the Israelites had to conquer it in order to safely enter the Promised Land. With its hot desert climate and abundant springs, Jericho was known as the “city of palm trees” (Deuteronomy 34:3). Centuries later it was likely near Jericho (which had moved further south) where Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13; Mark 1:9; Luke 3:1-22; John 1:26-34), and he also encountered Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and a blind man named Bartimaeus there (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan tells of a man overtaken by robbers on the steep route descending from Jerusalem to Jericho (Luke 10:25-37). About ten miles southwest of Jericho lay the forbidding wilderness of Judea, where Jesus fasted and was tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13). The desert community of Qumran, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, was also located nearby.

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