Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gay Gospel Doctrine Class: Men of Galilee

Ok, class, now that I have your attention:  by way of review, and especially for those of you who may have just joined us, last week was the inaugural lesson of the new Sunday feature on this blog:  Gay Gospel Doctrine Class.  As I explained last week, it occurred to me that there are things that we gay Mormons can do to create our own gay Mormon experience, and that one these things might be to try the concept of an online Gay Gospel Doctrine Class, based loosely on the subject of each week’s Gospel Doctrine class and presenting it in a way that somehow embraces or addresses one or more aspects of our life as gay men and women. 

We began last week with Lesson 5.  This week, as we are getting ready to present a number of lessons about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, I thought it would be helpful to have an enrichment lesson that presents some information and food for thought about Jesus’ adopted home and the place where most of his public ministry occurred:  Galilee.

Galilee: Land of Miracles

 In the past the Lord brought shame on the land of Zebulun. He also brought shame on the land of Naphtali. But in days to come he will honor Galilee, where people from other nations live [“of the Gentiles], which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea. The people who are now living in darkness will see a great light.  They are now living in a very dark land. But a light will shine on them.”

So wrote Isaiah in Chapter 9, verses 1 and 2 (the foregoing a combination of translations contained in the New International Readers Version and the New Living Translation). In Matthew 4:13, we read of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:  “And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim.”  The map to the left shows the approximate areas where the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali settled.  Nazareth was in the region of Zebulon, and much of Galilee was in that of Naphtali.

As I contemplated upcoming lessons, I developed a desire to learn more about Galilee.  The more I learned, the more I wondered:  Why was Jesus raised in Galilee?  Why did he call it home and spend most of the three years of his public ministry there?  As I learned more about Galilee, some possible answers came to me, but I am interested in hearing from you:  what thoughts do you have?

Galilee was Israel's lushest region, known for its sunny, temperate climate and its spring-watered lands.  In spring, the area was covered by a vast blanket of green, then the valleys and slopes became an ocean of wildflowers and blossoming trees. The fertile land was a texture of vineyards and fruit orchards, with grapes, figs, olives, pomegranates, oranges and other fruits flourishing in its pleasant, subtropical climate.

Following the death of Solomon, Galilee formed the northern part of the Kingdom of Israel, and from then on it was considered non-Jewish, in the sense that it was not part of the southern Kingdom of Judah. In 734 BC it was absorbed into the Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-pileser. From that time on, the conquered area, primarily consisting of the old tribal territories of Naphtali and Asher, was referred to as the galil, Hebrew meaning "circle," "circuit" or "district." Isaiah (9:1) called the region "Galilee ha-gohim" or "Galilee of the gentiles" (NIV) or "Galilee of the nations" (KJV), reflecting the fact that from the 8th to the 2nd centuries BC, it was controlled successively by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Macedonians, Egyptians and Seleucids. Over these six centuries the region experienced constant migration as foreigners moved into the region and freely mixed with the Jews. At the time of Jesus (1st century AD) there was so much foreign influence that Galileans could be recognized by their distinctive accent.

In 63 BC the whole of Palestine, with Galilee, came under Roman rule. The area was one of the great road centers of the ancient world. It has been said, "Judea is on the way to nowhere; Galilee is on the way to everywhere." Palestine was the land bridge between Europe and Africa; all land traffic had to go through her. The great Road of the Sea led from Damascus, by way of Galilee, through Capernaum, down past Carmel, along the Plain of Sharon, through Gaza, and on to Egypt. It was one of the great roads of the world. Another road led from Acre on the coast, away across the Jordan, out to Arabia and the frontiers of the empire. This road was trodden by the regiments and the caravans. Where these roads crossed in Galilee was a town named Capernaum, the town of Jesus.

At the time of Jesus, a reasonable estimate for the population of the region would be about 350,000, including a large number of slaves and about 100,000 Jews. The primary language was Greek, which was widely known and spoken throughout the Roman Empire. It was the language of the rich and powerful, the language of the Herods; but it was also the language of international business. Many Jews, though, including Jesus and his disciples, spoke Aramaic, the language of the ordinary people. About 400 years before Jesus' time it became customary, even among rabbis, to teach in Aramaic. It was preferred over Hebrew because it was more highly evolved and more suitable for expressing thoughts and ideas.

Thus, an interesting picture is formed in our minds of the land where Jesus spent most of his ministry:  a land that was culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse; a land that had much contact with other parts of the “gentile” world, that was crisscrossed with caravan routes that brought people, goods, news and ideas from outside of Palestine; a land that, for centuries, had had a different history and government than that of Judea to the south.  Could all of these have been factors in why Jesus was reared and lived virtually his whole life in this region, rather than Judea – the land of his forefathers? 

Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee

Matthew referred to Capernaum, at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee as Jesus’ own city.  As one commentator has noted, no other city or town on earth was ever called the town of Jesus, and no other spot on earth was graced with more sermons, more signs, or more miracles than the town of Jesus: Capernaum.  This was Jesus’ home base throughout his public ministry, from which he journeyed across and around the Sea of Galilee and into the neighboring hills, teaching, preaching and healing. Although we are not told his itinerary for many of these journeys, we know that he went to Gennesaret, Korazin and Bethsaida. Here, too, Jesus called some of his disciples, taught in the synagogue and performed many healing miracles.  In addition, people from Tiberias and elsewhere around the lake came here seeking him.

As an economic center in the Galilee, Capernaum was important enough to have a contingent of Roman soldiers stationed there to guard the border between the territories of Herod Antipas and Herod Philip. It was commanded by a centurion (Matthew 8:5-8) who, although a pagan (but not necessarily a Roman), contributed greatly to the building of a synagogue for the town's Jewish community, while the elders reciprocated in kindness and pleaded earnestly with Jesus asking him to heal the centurion's servant. They told Jesus, "This man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue" (Luke 7:4-5).

Capernaum also had a customs house where new arrivals paid tolls to Herod Antipas' tax collectors. These officials were reviled by the Jewish inhabitants, who saw them as collaborators in a harsh and corrupt political system. They collected taxes on everything imported and exported; taxes for using a main road, a market, a harbor, for entering a walled town, also on animals, carts, wheels and axles. (The fishermen brothers Simon Peter and Andrew likely took up residence in Capernaum to avoid paying high tolls when crossing the border when coming from their native town of Bethsaida, to the east in the territory of Herod Philip.) One of these hated officials was named Levi (Matthew). One day, Jesus passed by his tax booth and said, "Follow me," forever changing his life and calling. While feasting in Matthew's Capernaum house (Matthew 9:10), Jesus was criticized for associating with "tax collectors and sinners," but he responded with "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32).

The Sea of Galilee figures prominently in Jesus’ Galilean ministry.  From the LDS Bible Dictionary, we learn that it was also called Sea of Chinneroth and the Lake of Gennesaret or Tiberias, it is pear-shaped, 12½ miles long, and 7½ miles across at its greatest breadth. It lies 680 feet below sea-level; the heat is very great, and the cold air rushing down from the hills often produces sudden storms. The river Jordan flows right through it, from north to south. In Jesus’ time there were nine cities on the shore of the lake, including Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Gergesa, each with a population of over 15,000. The lake and its shores were crowded with busy workers; the best fishing ground was at the north end, and a large quantity of pickled fish was exported to all parts of the Roman Empire.

Below is a cool little video that depicts a “motorized parachute” flying around the Sea of Galilee.  As you watch it, I invite you to contemplate the question I posed at the beginning of this lesson:  Why do you think Jesus spent most of his life in Galilee, as opposed to Judea?  Is there significance to this?  If so, what?


  1. Most powerful scriptural passage from this week's lesson: Luke 5: 1-11. If you have always considered this from a literal perspective, try pondering it deeply from a symbolic perspective.

  2. @Quiet Song - I would be very interested in your thoughts on these verses.

  3. IP I will try to get back to this, had a very interesting discussion on this in class in which students added a lot. Was sick yesterday and did not have much ability to ponder that lesson in the manual or read your lesson.