Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Land of Genezareth

From volume 6 of the work.

By this name is designated in Mark, vi, 53, a district of Palestine bordering on the Sea of Galilee, and which in the parallel passage of Matthew (xiv, 34) is called "the country of Genesar". The two forms of the name are obviously cognate, but their origin and signification are disputed points among Biblical scholars, nor is there unanimity of opinion as to whether the name was given first to the land and afterwards to the lake or vice versa. The traditional signification: "Garden of the Princes" (as if derived from Gan-sarim) goes back to St. Jerome and the Talmud. Several modern scholars, however, prefer the derivation of the name from the Hebrew word kinnereth; or from the plural form kinneroth, cognate with kinnor, signifying a harp or zither. This name, according to them, would have been originally given to the lake on account of the supposed harp-like shape of its contour; but it seems more probable that the name was first used to designate the district, and was derived from the ancient fortified city within the borders of Nephtali; mentioned Book of Josue as Ceneroth in xi, 2, and as Cenereth in xix, 35. According to the Gospel narrative (cf. Matt., xiv, 13-36; Mark, vi, 31-56; Luke, ix, 10-17), which is confirmed by the description found in Josephus (Bel. Jud., III, x), the land of Genezareth lay to the west, and partly to the north, of the lake of the same name and bordered thereon. These sources do not determine the exact boundaries of the district, but it is probable from other incidental indications that it comprised the entire west coast of the lake, extending westward as far as the boundary separating Nephtali and Zabulon from Aser, and northward probably as far as the plain of Huleh and the mountains of Safed. Physically the district resembles somewhat a section of a tract amphitheatre, sloping, gently on the northern side and more abruptly on the west, toward the low basin of the lake, and terminating in the plain now called Ghueir.

From the historical and religious standpoint the land of Genezareth is one of the most interesting localities in all Palestine, chiefly because of its connection with the public ministry of Our Lord. Within its boundaries were located Capharnaum, Corozain, Arbela, Magdala, and Tiberias, as well as the more ancient Cenereth. Of these once famous towns nothing remains at present except a few ruins, and the two wretched little villages occupying the site of Tiberias and of Magdala. According to the descriptions found in the Talmud, this region was a marvel of richness and fertility, a veritable paradise; and the same is firmed by Josephus (loc. cit.), who describes it as "wonderful in fertility as well as in beauty". He adds: "Its soil is so fruitful that all sorts of trees can grow upon it . . . for the air is so well tempered that it agrees with all sorts. Thus the palm-tree, which requires a warm atmosphere, flourishes equally well with the walnut, which thrives best in a cold climate . . . One may say that this place accomplishes a marvel of nature, forcing those plants which are naturally enemies of one another to agree together." It was noted for its delicious fruits of all varieties, and the climate was such that they flourished in nearly all the seasons of the year. Centuries of neglect have completely obliterated all this richness and luxuriance; and at present, except a few scattered psalms and wild fig-trees, the slopes of the land of Genezareth are barren and lifeless as are most of the other regions of Palestine.

James F. Driscoll.