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It can scarcely surprise us, however interesting it may prove, that such Jewish recollections of the early Christians as the Rabbis have preserved, should linger chiefly around Galilee. Thus we have, in quite the apostolic age, mention of miraculous cures made, in the name of Jesus, by one Jacob of Chefar Sechanja (in Galilee), one of the Rabbis violently opposing on one occasion an attempt of the kind, the patient meanwhile dying during the dispute; repeated records of discussions with learned Christians, and other indications of contact with Hebrew believers. Some have gone farther, and found traces of the general spread of such views in the fact that a Galilean teacher is introduced in Babylon as propounding the science of the Merkabah, or the mystical doctrines connected with Ezekiel's vision of the Divine chariot, which certainly contained elements closely approximating the Christian doctrines of the Logos, the Trinity, etc. Trinitarian views have also been suspected in the significance attached to the number "three" by a Galilean teacher of the third century, in this wise: "Blessed be God, who has given the three laws (the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa) to a people composed of three classes (Priests, Levites, and laity), through him who was the youngest of three (Miriam, Aaron, and Moses), on the third day (of their separation--Exo 19:16), and in the third month." There is yet another saying of a Galilean Rabbi, referring to the resurrection, which, although far from clear, may bear a Christian application. Finally, the Midrash applies the expression, "The sinner shall be taken by her" (Eccl 7:26), either to the above- named Christian Rabbi Jacob, or to Christians generally, or even to Capernaum, with evident reference to the spread of Christianity there. We cannot here pursue this very interesting subject farther than to say, that we find indications of Jewish Christians having endeavored to introduce their views while leading the public devotions of the Synagogue, and even of contact with the immoral heretical sect of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:15).
Indeed, what we know of the Galileans would quite prepare us for expecting, that the gospel should have received at least a ready hearing among many of them. It was not only, that Galilee was the great scene of our Lord's working and teaching, and the home of His first disciples and apostles; nor yet that the frequent intercourse with strangers must have tended to remove narrow prejudices, while the contempt of the Rabbinists would loosen attachment to the strictest Pharisaism; but, as the character of the people is described to us by Josephus, and even by the Rabbis, they seem to have been a warm-hearted, impulsive, generous race- -intensely national in the best sense, active, not given to idle speculations or wire-drawn logico-theological distinctions, but conscientious and earnest. The Rabbis detail certain theological differences between Galilee and Judaea. Without here mentioning them, we have no hesitation in saying, that they show more earnest practical piety and strictness of life, and less adherence to those Pharisaical distinctions which so often made void the law. The Talmud, on the other hand, charges the Galileans with neglecting traditionalism; learning from one teacher, then from another (perhaps because they had only wandering Rabbis, not fixed academies); and with being accordingly unable to rise to the heights of Rabbinical distinctions and explanations. That their hot blood made them rather quarrelsome, and that they lived in a chronic state of rebellion against Rome, we gather not only from Josephus, but even from the New Testament (Luke 13:2; Acts 5:37). Their mal-pronunciation of Hebrew, or rather their inability properly to pronounce the gutturals, formed a constant subject of witticism and reproach, so current that even the servants in the High Priest's palace could turn round upon Peter, and say, "Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee" (Matt 26:73)--a remark this, by the way, which illustrates the fact that the language commonly used at the time of Christ in Palestine was Aramaean, not Greek. Josephus describes the Galileans as hard- working, manly, and brave; and even the Talmud admits (Jer. Cheth. iv. 14) that they cared more for honor than for money.
But the district in Galilee to which the mind ever reverts, is that around the shores of its lake. * Its beauty, its marvellous vegetation, its almost tropical products, its wealth and populousness, have been often described. The Rabbis derive the name of Gennesaret either from a harp--because the fruits of its shores were as sweet as is the sound of a harp--or else explain it to mean "the gardens of the princes," from the beautiful villas and gardens around.
* The New Testament speaks so often of the occupation of fishers by the Lake of Galilee, that it is interesting to know that fishing on the lake was free to all. The Talmud mentions this as one of the ten ordinances given by Joshua of old (Baba Kama, 80 b).
But we think chiefly not of those fertile fields and orchards, nor of the deep blue of the lake, enclosed between hills, nor of the busy towns, nor of the white sails spread on its waters--but of Him, Whose feet trod its shores; Who taught, and worked, and prayed there for us sinners; Who walked its waters and calmed its storms, and Who even after His resurrection held there sweet converse with His disciples; nay, Whose last words on earth, spoken from thence, come to us with peculiar significance and application, as in these days we look on the disturbing elements in the world around: "What is that to thee? Follow thou Me" (John 21:22).