In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Galilee

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Essay Collections
  • Pre-Hellenistic Galilee (Prior to 323 bce)

Biblical Studies Galilee
Mark Chancey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0043


Galilee is a region in northern Israel bounded to the south by the Jezreel Valley; to the north by the mountains of Lebanon; to the east by the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights; and to the west by the coastal mountain range. By the Roman period, its northern area was known as Upper Galilee and its southern parts as Lower Galilee. The Hebrew Bible associates it with the areas settled by the tribes of Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher. After the dissolution of the United Monarchy, it was part of the kingdom of Israel until its conquest by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE. Its population declined due to Assyrian deportations but grew slowly in the following centuries. The Hasmoneans conquered it in the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE. It is famous as Jesus’ native region. After the two Jewish Revolts against Rome (66–70 and 132–135 CE), Galilee became the center of Palestine’s Jewish population and the home of the rabbinic movement as Jews moved north from Judea. Within the field of biblical studies, the overwhelming majority of the literature on Galilee has been motivated by interest in the Historical Jesus and early Judaism. For this reason, this article focuses primarily on 1st-century CE Galilee, although it includes some discussion of earlier periods and of early rabbinic Judaism. Major topics of investigation include the ethnic composition of its population, the nature of Galilean Judaism, the economic impact of Roman and Herodian rule, and the extent of Hellenistic and Roman culture. Archaeological excavations in recent decades have greatly enhanced our knowledge of the area, which was previously limited to the information provided by the Jewish historian Josephus, rabbinic sources, and the New Testament.

Reference Works

The following standard reference works include articles on various aspects of ancient Galilee. Stern, et al. 1993 and Meyers 1997 focus on archaeological materials. Stern, et al. 1993, which consists primarily of entries on particular sites, is impressively thorough, technical in tone, and has lengthy bibliographical references. Meyers 1997 is more accessible to a broader readership and includes entries on not only sites but also other aspects of Near Eastern archaeology. The other works each have their own distinctive focuses: Collins and Harlow 2009 on early Judaism, Evans 2008 on the Historical Jesus and the 1st century CE, and Sakenfeld, et al. 2006–2009 on the broad spectrum of biblical studies. Tsafrir, et al. 1994 is a gazetteer of sites identifying modern and ancient site names and providing ancient and modern textual references; it will be most useful to scholars and advanced students. Grootkerk 2000 is an excellent resource for historical geography and toponymy.

  • Collins, John J., and Daniel Harlow, eds. The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009.

    Topics of articles include particular sites, religious and social practices, and types of artifacts.

  • Evans, Craig A., ed. Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    Contains articles on all aspects of Historical Jesus research; for example, various facets of Judaism, specific archaeological sites, and influential scholars (including several who are pertinent to Galilean studies).

  • Freedman, David Noel, et al., eds. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    This classic resource aimed at scholars has entries covering the spectrum of biblical studies. Includes articles on sites mentioned in the Bible.

  • Grootkerk, Salomon E. Ancient Sites in Galilee: A Toponomic Gazetteer. By Salomon E. Grootkerk. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

    Provides a wealth of information about site identifications and names using sources ranging from Antiquity to the Ottoman period.

  • Meyers, Eric M., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the New East. 4 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    Includes entries on not only archaeological sites but also the history of research (“French archaeological missions”), various aspects of culture (“fishing,” “food storage”), and specific types of artifacts (“furniture and furnishings”).

  • Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob, et al., eds. The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville: Abingdon, 2006–2009.

    Replaces the older series by the same name from 1962, with entries on all aspects of biblical studies. Includes articles on sites mentioned in the Bible. Designed for scholars and clergy alike, it is very accessible in tone.

  • Stern, Ephraim, et al., eds. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Carta, 1993.

    This set provides technical discussions of archaeological sites in Israel and ample bibliographical references. It has recently been updated with a supplementary volume (Vol. 5, Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Review, 2008).

  • Tsafrir, Yoram, Leah Di Segni, and Judith Green. Tabula Imperii Romani: Iudaea, Palaestina: Eretz Israel in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Periods. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994.

    A gazetteer of sites identifying modern and ancient site names and providing ancient and modern textual references; it will be most useful to scholars and advanced students.

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