Lake Kinneret, located in northeast Israel – some 53 km in circumference, 21 km long, and 13 km wide – also known by the name ‘The Sea of Galilee,’ ‘Lake Tiberias,’ is a freshwater lake, the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world, at levels between 215 meters and 209 meters below sea level. At 423 meters (1,388 ft) below sea level, the Dead Sea, in southern Israel, is the lowest elevation place on earth.
The current below sea level is minus 208.92 meters (minus 685 feet).
After an especially rainy winter, Lake Kinneret is at its highest level in two decades; islands that appeared in recent years have vanished under water, and vegetation along its shore, submerged.
Sadly, the beaches and major Christian sites along the Lake’s banks are empty. Though Lake Kinneret is full, the Coronavirus rules mean nobody is there to see it, to enjoy its beauty and the fresh water; the beaches are empty because of COVID-19.
The Name Kinneret
It is generally accepted that the name “Kinneret” origin is due to the lake’s shape, similar to a violin on the map. But this view is inaccurate since the name of Kinneret is a very ancient name, written in archaeological remains from 3500 years ago. In those days there were no Kinneret maps and the musical instrument called a violin – in Hebrew Kinor – looked more like a harp, completely different than the one today.
The origin of the name Kinneret is the name of the ancient city of “Kinneret” that stood in the northwest of the lake at a place today called Tel Kinnerot and formerly Tel Orajima (near the Sapir site). The name “Kinneret,” or its plural form “Kinnerot” is mentioned in the Bible seven times, first appeared in the book Numbers 34:11, Joshua 13:27, where it is actually spelled כנרות “Kinnerot,” in Hebrew Kinneret’s plural noun; once a name of a city, four times as the name of a sea (thus the term “Sea of Kinneret”) and twice the word “Kinnerot” a term that indicates the name of the area around the Lake. The word lake does not appear in the Bible and the Talmud; it is a late innovation and The Kinneret was addressed as ‘sea’-‘Yam’ in Hebrew’ or ‘small sea’-‘Yama’ in Hebrew’.
With Lake Kinneret, being the lowest freshwater lake on earth and the Dead Sea, being the lowest on earth saltwater lake, the State of Israel is not just a biblical modern day miracle; it also features a number of geographical wonders that are unique worldwide. Not bad for a small country the size of New Jersey.
Although scholars still debate the name’s origination, most Israelis deeply connect with the name Kinneret and have fully and affectionately embraced it and sing to it:
Sea of Galilee’s Christian Aspect
During the Jewish Second Temple era, towns and fishing villages were spread all around the lake. The Gospels give us an account of a very dynamic, busy and fruitful region, thus, for Christians, the region is extremely important since most of the ministry of Jesus took place along the shores what Christians address as the ‘Sea of Galilee.’
In the New Testament, Luke called it “Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), referring to the fertile plain of Ginosar, on the lake’s western shore, the site of ancient Magdala and the modern Israel’s Kibbutz Genosar. Mathew, Mark and John called the lake the “Sea of Galilee” or the “Sea of Tiberias,” reflecting the strong connection to the broader region and to the ruling Roman Emperor of that time.
Some of the Disciples were recruited from the Lake’s shores. The majority of Jesus’ recorded miracles, teachings and parables, to include walking on the water, calming the storm, the miraculous catch of fish, the feeding of the five thousand and of course the Sermon on the Mount, were given in that region. No accident that some scholars refer to Lake Kinneret as the “Fifth Gospel.”
Modern Israel Era
Lake Kinneret and the fertile Jordan Valley’s region were of great importance to the Jewish pioneers who arrived to the land during the early 1900’s years.
They drained the swamps, cultivated the neglected region’s land, and established farming villages and kibbutzim in the vicinity of the lake’s shores. With the establishment of the State of Israel, Lake Kinneret was linked to the country’s first national water project, a project that has since been replaced by other water sources projects in order to preserve the Lake from being over-pumped.
The region’s robust economy includes fishing, bananas, dates, mangoes, grapes, olives orchards and a whole lot more.
With repeated drought and dry winter years, in an effort to stop the water level from plunging below the point of irreversible ecological damage, a plan was put into place to artificially replenish the Lake’s water by pumping desalinated Mediterranean water into it. This plan, approved by the government of Israel in 2018 is presently being studied.
Water to Arid Land
The state of Israel lacks fresh water sources. In 1964 Israel’s National Water Carrier was completed, transporting water from the lake to Israel’s population centers. In the past, the lake – fed partly by underground springs with the Jordan River and a few smaller tributaries as its main source of water which flow through the lake down to the Dead Sea in the south – supplied most of the country’s drinking water. Nowadays the lake supplies approximately 10% of Israel’s drinking water needs.
In 1964, neighboring Syria attempted to construct a Headwater Diversion Plan, what would have blocked and sharply reducing the flow of water into Lake Kinneret. This project and Israel’s attempts, in 1965, to block Syria’s water diversion efforts were elements in rising regional tensions that culminated in the 1967 Six Day War. During the war, Israel captured the Golan Heights, from where some of Lake Kinneret’s water sources flow.
Under Israel-Jordan peace treaty, signed in 1994, Israel is to supply from the lake to Jordan 50,000,000 cubic meters (1.8×109 cu ft) of water annually.
In an effort to restore and improve its ecological environment, as well as respond to some of the most extreme drought conditions in hundreds of years, affecting the lake’s intake basin since 1998, in recent years the government of Israel has made wide-ranging investments in water conservation, reclamation, and desalination infrastructure in the country. This allows to significantly reduce the amount of water pumped from the lake annually for Israel’s domestic water consumption.
Tourism, attracting both local and international, prospers around Lake Kinneret’s historic and biblical sites. The majority of the visitors are Christian pilgrims eager to see the actual places where Jesus lived, taught and performed miracles.
One other tourism attraction is the Lake itself, most popular vacation and recreation spot for many Israelis, with public beaches, water parks, great seafood restaurants water sports and boat cruises.
The Lake’s warm waters support a rich variety of flora and fauna, with the most famous fish being the “St. Peter’s Fish” that many guests enjoy while dining by the Lake.
My Renewed Connection to My Childhood
Few years ago I was lucky to have made a close connection with some of my elementary school peers. One is Rina H. who lives in the town of Tiberius; her home offers magnificent view of the lake. Siting on Rina’s balcony, inhaling the Lake Kinneret air, is the like of gasping God’s air and immersing in God’s creation.