Ports of the Sea of Galilee

Mendel Nun contrasts the knowledge of 19th century explorers with what has become known as a result of his work.

Early 19th-century explorers, searching for places where Jesus had walked, attempted to locate the ancient harbors of the Sea of Galilee but failed. Now, after 25 years of searching and researching, we have found them. We have recovered the piers, promenades and breakwaters of the ports. We have also uncovered the ships’ anchors, the mooring stones the sailors tied their ships to, and even the weights fishermen once fastened to their nets. We always knew the harbors must be there, but we had no idea we would find so many remains. (“Ports of Galilee.” BAR 25:04, July/Aug 1999.

In the 1999 article Nun says that we now have only four small ports serving the motorboats, ferries, and fishing boats, but in ancient times there were no less than 16 bustling ports. When the harbors and anchorages were originally built the water level was about 695 feet below sea level. As a result of natural changes about a thousand years ago, the water level gradually rose about 3 feet, but the water level this week is 698 feet below sea level (Kinneret Bot, Dec. 2, 2014).

The first ancient port discovered by Nun was the port of Kursi on the eastern side of the lake in 1970.

Droughts in recent years have brought about changing water levels. We know that the famous Roman boat now displayed at Nof Ginosar was found when the water level was low in 1986. This also allowed the discovery of additional ports.

During the time I have been visiting Israel (since 1967), I have seen these changes in the water level of the lake and have mentioned it in several posts. Here I wish to use Tabgha (Heptapegon = the place of seven springs) as an illustration.

The Church of the Primacy of Peter was built in 1933. A good case can be made for this being the location where Jesus called some of His disciples to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1-11), and where Jesus met His disciples after the resurrection (John 21). The issue of the primacy of Peter over the other apostles is a matter for theological and exegetical study which I think comes up short.

The chapel is built on a large rock called the Mensi Domini (the Lord’s Table) where it is said Jesus prepared breakfast for the disciples.

In this 1980 photo you see the water reaching the building.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo shows the water level in 1980 at the Church of the Primacy. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The rock-cut steps were mentioned by Egeria (about AD 383), but we do not know when they were cut. Now take a look at the same location in December of 2009 when the water was low.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Church of the Primacy in 2009. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murphy-O’Connor gives this explanation about the heart-shaped stones.

Below the steps, sometimes under water if the lake level is high, are six heart-shaped stones. They are double-column blocks designed for the angle of a colonnade, and never served any practical purpose in their present position. Known as the Twelve Thrones and first mentioned in a text of AD 808, they were probably taken from disused buildings and placed there to commemorate the Twelve Apostles. It takes little insight to appreciate the mental jump from John 21:9 … to ‘You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Luke 22:30). – Murphy-O’Connor, Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 319

These 2009 photos were made during a personal study trip with Leon Mauldin. While we were enjoying the quietness of the experience a group of tourists came to hunt for a special souvenir rock or shell to take home. I made the next picture from the edge of the water to illustrate how far the water had receded.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of the Church of the Primacy from the edge of the water. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Hopefully this illustration will allow us to see how the harbors that had become lost in time have become known in the past few years.

One response to “Ports of the Sea of Galilee

  1. Thanks, Ferrell – I am really enjoying these. Wow, the difference in water levels is stunning.

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