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The mountainous part in the north of Upper Galilee presented magnificent scenery, with bracing air. Here the scene of the Song of Solomon is partly laid (Cant 7:5). But its caves and fastnesses, as well as the marshy ground, covered with reeds, along Lake Merom, gave shelter to robbers, outlaws, and rebel chiefs. Some of the most dangerous characters came from the Galilean highlands. A little farther down, and the scenery changed. South of Lake Merom, where the so-called Jacob's bridge crosses the Jordan, we come upon the great caravan road, which connected Damascus in the east with the great mart of Ptolemais, on the shore of the Mediterranean. What a busy life did this road constantly present in the days of our Lord, and how many trades and occupations did it call into existence! All day long they passed--files of camel, mules, and asses, laden with the riches of the East, destined for the far West, or bringing the luxuries of the West to the far East. Travellers of every description--Jews, Greeks, Romans, dwellers in the East--were seen here. The constant intercourse with foreigners, and the settlement of so many strangers along one of the great highways of the world, must have rendered the narrow-minded bigotry of Judaea well- nigh impossible in Galilee.
We are now in Galilee proper, and a more fertile or beautiful region could scarcely be conceived. It was truly the land where Asher dipped his foot in oil (Deu 33:24). The Rabbis speak of the oil as flowing like a river, and they say that it was easier in Galilee to rear a forest of olive-trees than one child in Judaea! The wine, although not so plentiful as the oil, was generous and rich. Corn grew in abundance, especially in the neighborhood of Capernaum; flax also was cultivated. The price of living was much lower than in Judaea, where one measure was said to cost as much as five in Galilee. Fruit also grew to perfection; and it was probably a piece of jealousy on the part of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that they would not allow it to be sold at the feasts in the city, lest people should forsooth say, "We have only come up in order to taste fruit from Galilee" (Pes. 8 b). Josephus speaks of the country in perfectly rapturous terms. He counts no fewer than 240 towns and villages, and speaks of the smallest as containing not less than 15,000 inhabitants! This, of course, must be gross exaggeration, as it would make the country more than twice as thickly populated as the densest districts in England or Belgium. Some one has compared Galilee to the manufacturing districts of this country. This comparison, of course, applies only to the fact of its busy life, although various industries were also carried on there--large potteries of different kinds, and dyeworks. From the heights of Galilee the eye would rest on harbors, filled with merchant ships, and on the sea, dotted with white sails. There, by the shore, and also inland, smoked furnaces, where glass was made; along the great road moved the caravans; in field, vineyard, and orchard all was activity. The great road quite traversed Galilee, entering it where the Jordan is crossed by the so-called bridge of Jacob, then touching Capernaum, going down to Nazareth, and passing on to the sea-coast. This was one advantage that Nazareth had--that it lay on the route of the world's traffic and intercourse. Another peculiarity is strangely unknown to Christian writers. It appears from ancient Rabbinical writings that Nazareth was one of the stations of the priests. All the priests were divided into twenty-four courses, one of which was always on ministry in the Temple. Now, the priests of the course which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to the Temple; those who were unable to go spending the week in fasting and prayer for their brethren. Nazareth was one of these priestly centers; so that there, with symbolic significance, alike those passed who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple.
We have spoken of Nazareth; and a few brief notices of other places in Galilee, mentioned in the New Testament, may be of interest. Along the lake lay, north, Capernaum, a large city; and near it, Chorazin, so celebrated for its grain, that, if it had been closer to Jerusalem, it would have been used for the Temple; also Bethsaida, * the name, "house of fishes," indicating its trade.
* Three were two places of that name, one east of the Jordan, Bethsaida Julias, referred to in Luke 9:10; Mark 8:22; the other on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee, the birthplace of Andrew and Peter (John 1:44). See also Mark 6:45; Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13; John 12:21.
Capernaum was the station where Matthew sat at the receipt of custom (Matt 9:9). South of Capernaum was Magdala, the city of dyers, the home of Mary Magdalene (Mark 15:40, 16:1; Luke 8:2; John 20:1). The Talmud mentions its shops and its woolworks, speaks of its great wealth, but also of the corruption of its inhabitants. Tiberias, which had been built shortly before Christ, is only incidentally mentioned in the New Testament (John 6:1,23, 21:1). At the time it was a splendid but chiefly heathen city, whose magnificent buildings contrasted with the more humble dwellings common in the country. Quite at the southern end of the lake was Tarichaea, the great fishing place, whence preserved fish was exported in casks (Strabo, xvi, 2). It was there that, in the great Roman war, a kind of naval battle was fought, which ended in terrible slaughter, no quarter being given by the Romans, so that the lake was dyed red with the blood of the victims, and the shore rendered pestilential by their bodies. Cana in Galilee was the birthplace of Nathanael (John 21:2), where Christ performed His first miracle (John 2:1-11); significant also in connection with the second miracle there witnessed, when the new wine of the kingdom was first tasted by Gentile lips (John 4:46,47). Cana lay about three hours to the north-north-east of Nazareth. Lastly, Nain was one of the southernmost places in Galilee, not far from the ancient Endor.