The Galilee Jesus Knew

Posted on December 23, 2020


By David Ettinger

From growing up in the small village of Nazareth to establishing His ministry base in Capernaum, most of the significant events in the life of Jesus took place in the Galilee, a fertile, mountainous region in northern Israel. Here’s a brief look at this little slice of the globe Jesus so loved.

A depiction of ancient Nazareth

A “Simple” People
To the more “sophisticated” Israelites of Jerusalem, Galilee was considered a rural backwater. Few Jewish Galileans spoke or read Hebrew; therefore most synagogues used an Aramaic translation of the Bible, later known as the Targum. Though, naturally, Jesus would have been fluent in Hebrew and Greek (in fact, He would have been fluent in every language), He spoke the language of His countrymen: Aramaic.

The Jews of Galilee were primarily rural people who worked the land, tended their flocks, practiced their trades, and seldom ventured more than a day’s journey from home.

The “Look” of Galilee
By Jesus’ time, the Galilean community of rural hamlets and villages formed a tight-knit, devoutly Jewish enclave in a region which was pretty much surrounded by a Hellenistic (Greek) world. In the northeast was Caesarea Philippi. In the north was the Hellenized cities of Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon, which were situated on the Mediterranean coast. In the east (the Transjordan), was the Greek community of “The Ten Cities,” or Decapolis.

Many Jewish villages, which were simple and modest, consisted of simple dwellings, with plastered walls and roofed with branches and mud. Most did not survive the passage of time. The average Galilean village might claim no more than several hundred inhabitants who lived in one-story houses of mud brick clustered together on the side of a hill. Between the houses, narrowed, unpaved streets and alleyways wound toward a dusty square at the center of town.

Most families possessed a few sheep and goats for food, leather, and wool.

How Galileans Lived
In the above-mentioned center of town, women came daily to shop and draw water from the communal well. They would draw water into a jug for use for that day only.

Every morning, the men of the village went out to the fields to till (prepare and cultivate the land for crops), sow, prune or harvest the crops on which their existence depended. For these men, life was a long, difficult struggle against the elements. Contributing to their difficulties was the fact that the plows, sickles, and other tools they used were generally makeshift devices and not very effective.


At dusk, the men returned to their homes, wearily driving their few oxen before them. A short time later, the family took their place on mats on the ground around large dinner pots. They helped themselves by hand from communal dishes, using as scoops broken pieces of bread baked that morning.

Marriage in the Galilee
Jewish girls in 1st-century Israel were probably betrothed shortly after puberty began, around age 13 or 14. Both sets of parents would negotiate the marriage contract.

Wedding festivities and ceremonies were not held in the synagogue. Rather, they began in the home of the bride and were concluded at the home of the groom, where the marriage contract was read and blessings were pronounced by parents and friends. Then the marriage couple went to their private room, offered prayers, and proceeded to consummate their relationship.

The Religion of the Galilee
The subject of the kingdom of God was a burning issue among the Jews during Jesus’ lifetime and probably overshadowed political considerations of the day. This topic no doubt consumed the people as they met in the synagogue both on the Sabbath (for Friday night and Saturday morning services), and for middle-of-the-week civic meetings.

Besides the weekly Sabbath observances, there were a number of special religious festivals. Among the favorites were Passover and the Feast of Weeks. Galileans most likely trekked to Jerusalem just once a year, to celebrate the Passover week.

By the time of Jesus, many Jews despaired of any hope of reward in their present unjust world and concentrated on the expectation of reward in a world to come. Their recent history had been one of almost continuous calamity and foreign rule, hence the burning desire for their promised Messiah who would rescue them from tyranny.

A Humble Life
This was the Galilee Jesus knew. So, as you can see, though “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), Jesus hardly lived as a king – at least, an earthly one. Jesus’ existence was a humble one, as reflected in the humble region of Israel in which He spent most of His earthly life.