Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Sea of Galilee is Not a Sea

While we refer today to the lake Galilee in the biblical lands as a “sea,” it was not called that by those who lived in Palestine in B.C. times. This lake was known as Kinneret (which is the Old Testament and modern name), Lake of Gennesaret, and Lake Tiberias. It is referred to as the largest freshwater land-locked lake in Israel, and it is approximately 33 miles in circumference, about 13 miles long, and 8 miles wide. The lake has a total area of 64-square miles, and a maximum depth of approximately 141 feet, with an average depth of 84 feet. At 685 feet below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world after the Dead Sea, which is misnamed since it is a saltwater lake. Galilee is partly fed by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River, which flows through it from north to south.

For those scholars and theorists who like to point out the naming of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea as lakes referred to as seas in Hebrew—they were never called Seas in the Hebrew language, or among the Hebrews that lived in Palestine during the time of Lehi or the time of the Bible. The word “sea” in Sea of Galilee is a mis-translation in the Greek of the Hebrew. The Hebrew word for “sea” is “yam,” but the Hebrew word for “lake” is “yamah”—a simple but critical mistake in the Greek translation, which makes up our King James version of the Bible.

It is interesting that “yamah” in Luke 5:1 is correctly translated as “lake,” but in Matthew 4:18 incorrectly translated as “sea.” Mark (1:16) for some reason uses the word “thalassa” that most Greek writers reserve for the much larger Mediterranean, which translates as “sea” while Luke (8:23-24, 33) uses the more proper term for lake, “limne” which translates as “lake.” A note on Mark’s usage of “sea” in “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39), suggests the word lake would not fit in this sentence structure, for it was the water in general being addressed, not the entire lake itself.

Christian religious texts call Galilee Lake of Gennesaret, “And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret” (Luke 5:1). The Arabic name for the lake is Buhairet Tabariyya, meaning Lake Tiberias. Other names were Lake Ginnosar, Lake of Gennesar, Lake Chinneroth, and Lake Tiberias, though the Romans called it the Sea of Tiberius.

Flavius Josephus reported “a thriving fishing industry at this time, with 230 boats regularly working in the lake” and both historians and religious recorders refer to “Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee” and “one of Jesus' famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake.”

In the case of the Dead Sea, a different understanding is needed. First of all, it is never referred to as the Dead Sea in the Bible. Secondly, the word “sea” is used as an adjective, or description, of the lake in “Yam ha Melah,” which means “Sea of Salt” (Genesis 14:3). It is the deepest hypersaline lake in the world, being 8.6 times more salty than the ocean, which leads to its nickname of “Yam ha-Mavet” which means “sea of Death.” It is “al-Bahr al-Mayyit” in Arabic, sometimes called Bahr lut, “sea of Lot.” In Greek it is Lake Asphaltites, and in ancient times was called Lake Sodom, Lake Lisan, and Lake Gomorrah.

Consequently, those who try to claim the word “sea” was used to describe a lake in ancient Israel simply misunderstand the usage of the word and that the Greek translates the word inaccurately at times. The Israelites knew the difference between a lake “yamha” and a sea “yam” and did not call streams, rivers, small bodies of water, or even lakes by the term “sea” but by their appropriate designation. In the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon, the word “sea” has reference to a “sea” or “ocean” and in Joseph Smith’s time, the word “sea” meant an ocean according to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.

One might do well to obtain a copy of Noah Webster’s dictionary, which he claims he was inspired of God to compile at the time that he did. It seems reasonable that this was because it is the language of the area in which Joseph Smith grew up, and contains the definitions of words that would have been known to the prophet who translated the plates according to “his language,” for it is his language we read in the Book of Mormon, not ancient Hebrew which, by the way, was not the language the ancient prophets used in writing the record (Mormon 9:32).

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