The “Med, Red, Dead,” and the Sea of Galilee

For being such a small country, Israel has bragging rights for having some of the most beautiful and unique bodies of water in the world. While Israel is one of the leading technologically-advanced countries in the world, this “land of the Bible” country also enjoys the being known as owning the shorelines of Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Dead Sea. To make it easy on tour, I simply refer to them as the “Red, the Med, and the Dead” Sea!  Israel also has the “Sea of Galilee,” but it’s more a lake than a sea.

TelAviv_aerial(194)Let’s start to the west.  The last number of hours of flying into Tel Aviv is over the vast Mediterranean Sea.  It serves as Israel’s border to the west.  It’s white-sand beaches at Ashkelon, Ashod, and Tel Aviv, to name a few, are some of the prettiest in the world.  The water is sparkling clean, with waves big enough to surf.  It was at the coastal port of Jaffa (Joppa), the primary port in Old Testament days, is where the Jonah story begins.  Caesarea and Acco served as primary ports during the 2nd Temple and Crusader periods respectively.  During the rainy season (Jan through mid March), storms arise from the west over the “Med” Sea.  In fact, it was to the west that the rainclouds formed at the end of the drought and famine during the days of Elijah (1 Kings 18:43ff).

Red Sea Snorkeling(2)To the south is the Red Sea.  In Bible days, it was known as the Sea of Reeds (Hebrew: “Yam Suph” - I Kings 9:26). The coastal city built along the Red Sea is Elat, mentioned in 1 Kings 22 and 2 Kings 14.  While King Solomon established trading routes from Elat and beyond, Uzziah was the Judean king who restored Elat to its former glory.  Interestingly, the Red Sea serves as a border not only for Israel, but also for Egypt (which begins only about 8 miles to the south of Elat at a small cborder town of Taba), Jordan (which shares the port with Israel on its eastern side, with Aqaba being its port city) and Saudi Arabia (which begins about 15 miles south of Aqaba on the eastern side of the Red Sea.).  The Red Sea is known for the very best scuba diving literally in the world.  As a one-year student in Israel back in the 80’s, I had the opportunity to back-pack 100 miles up the coastline, starting from the southern point of Sharm el Sheikh to Elat.  What a great trip of snorkeling every day in the coral-rich waters.

Dead SeaTo the east is the Dead Sea.  Located 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea serves as a border with Jordan to the east.  In the Bible it was known as the Salt Sea because of its high salt and mineral content. Because of its 30% salt content, it is impossible to sink.  Floating is an enjoyable experience for all!  During the last few decades, the water’s level has dropped dramatically.  In the Bible, the story of 2 Chronicles 20 references Judah’s three opposing enemies being struck down by God in this very region. The total length of the Dead Sea including both the deeper northern part and the very shallow southern end is about 50 miles.

Capernaum_area_aerial_from_southeastFinally, The Sea of Galilee is located to the north.  Three primary rivers or springs from Mt. Hermon and the Golan Heights flow southward into this body of water known today as Kinneret.   It is really a fresh-water lake 13 miles long and about 7 miles wide (at its broadest point).  In the Bible, it was along its shores where Jesus established His primary ministry.  Josephus mentions that 240 towns and villages existed in and around the Lower and Upper Galilean regions. Located along the NW corner of the lake, Capernaum served as Jesus ministry base. The lake is only about 150 feet deep.  The waters that flow out of the Sea of Galilee serve as Israel’s primary water source for the entire country.  Because of the blessing of abundant rain this winter in Israel, the height of the Sea of Galilee has risen to acceptable levels.

So for a small country about the size of New Jersey, it’s quite impressive that Israel has so many unique bodies of water.  If someone would ask me which is my favorite, I’d say “all four of them!”

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