The Hebrew word גליל comes from the root GLL, expressing a circular movement, and the noun Galil is used for “a cylindrical rod or rolls” (although it is translated as imagery in NRSV as “his arms are rounded gold” [Song 5:14] and “silver rings” [Esther 1:6]). By extension the noun Galil relates to a “district,” possibly because a district could be measured with a cylindrical rod. It appears in the Hebrew Bible relating specifically to the northern, hilly region of Israel (Josh 20:7, 21:32; 1 Kgs 9:11; 2 Kgs 15:29; 1 Chr 6:61) and twice as םיוגה לילג, “Galilee of the nations,” in Isa 9:1, or the “Goiim in Galilee” in Josh 12:23.

The Physical Environment.

The Galilee is the hilly region in northern Israel whose physical–geographical borders are the Mediterranean coastal plain to the west, the Carmel ridge and the Jezreel and Beth-Shean Valleys to the south, the Jordan Rift Valley to the east, and the Litani River in Lebanon to the north, these surrounding areas being an essential component in understanding the settlement patterns of the Galilee itself. Lower and Upper Galilee are divided by the Matlul Zurim scarp bordering the northern edge of the Beth-Hakerem Valley just south of Mount Meiron; the Lower Galilee consists of several east–west hill ranges (1,300–2,000 ft [400–600 m] above sea level), separated by fertile valleys, while the Upper Galilee is a mountain plateau (from 2,300 to over 3,200 ft [from 700 to over 1,000 m] above sea level), with fewer and smaller intersecting valleys. Geologically, the Galilee is composed mainly of dolomite, limestone, and chalk formations with extensive sheet basalt cover on the southeastern plateaus; and the soils are mostly terra rossa and rendzina, with fertile alluvial soils in the valleys. The climate is Mediterranean temperate, averaging 24 to 32 inches (600–800 mm) of rainfall; and many perennial streams and springs flow throughout the area.

The natural vegetation is Mediterranean forest, denser in Upper Galilee, consisting of Tabor oaks, carob, and pistacia trees and low maquis, according to rock and soil types, elevation, climate, and precipitation. Most of the agricultural land was located in the valleys, which were congenial for dry cereal crops, while vineyards and olive groves were cultivated on the deforested hill slopes. The slopes provided pasture for sheep and goat grazing, the wooded hills sheltered fauna such as deer and wild boar for hunting, and the Sea of Galilee supplied plentiful fish.

Major international arteries traversed the Levantine land bridge between Egypt and Syria-Mesopotamia, passing through the valleys embracing the Galilee. The Via Maris highway from Egypt reached Megiddo, from where it had a northeastern branch that traversed the Galilee via Mount Tabor and the Horns of Ḥattin to Hazor and thence to Damascus, an eastern branch that passed through the Jezreel Valley to connect with the King’s Highway, and a local northern branch to Ḥannaton or in classical periods to Sepphoris. A major ancient west–east road (later the Darb el Ḥawarna Ottoman caravan road) led from עAkko to the Ḥauran, traversing the Beth-Netufa Valley in Lower Galilee, while a major west–east road led from the Phoenician coast at Tyre along the northern border of Upper Galilee via Tel Kedesh to Paneas. Throughout history, the physical–geographical conditions determined the settlement patterns in the hilly Galilee, whose predominantly rural, village-orientated settlements interacted with, and were exploited by, the more densely populated, urban tell sites controlling the international routes in the surrounding fertile plains.

The Nature of the Evidence.

The reconstruction of the nature of settlement in the Galilee in the historical and specifically in the biblical period is based predominantly on the integration of two main classes of evidence: on the one hand, the written sources, including the Hebrew Bible texts, the New Testament, and the other epigraphic documents, and, on the other hand, the plethora of archaeological data accumulated from surveys and excavations. Since 1980 the archaeological database of ancient Galilee has been substantially enriched by extensive surveys and by hundreds of institutional and salvage excavations, employing sophisticated, science-based techniques and interdisciplinary research. The main regional surveys of the Galilee were published by Aapeli Saarisaalo (1927, 1929, 1930); Felix Abel (1967, first published 1933–1938); Nehemia Zori (1962, 1977); Yohanan Aharoni (1979); Yaאaqov עOlami (1981, with Zvi Gal 2003); Zvi Gal (1991, 1992, 1998); Avner Raban (1982, 1999); Rafael Frankel and Nimrod Getzov (1997); Rafael Frankel, Nimrod Getzov, Mordechai Aviam, and Avi Degani (2001); and Uzi Leibner (2009). The archaeological data, albeit always partial, enlighten aspects of ancient cultures on which the written sources are silent, including regional settlement phenomena and long-term social and cultural processes, although the causes often remain obscure. Climatic changes, specifically precipitation declines, which also find expression in the biblical patriarchal sojourns, are considered to have played a role in the major declines and breaks in settlement, although other political factors often carried more weight. Settlement in the Galilee is briefly summarized here by period, emphasizing archaeological discoveries.

The Paleolithic to Chalcolithic Periods.

Galilee has furnished important landmarks for the earliest stages of human culture and settlement. From the Lower Paleolithic period (1.5 million–250,000 years B.P.), עUbeidiya and Gesher Benot Yaאakov in the Jordan rift valley, Ramat Yirאon and el-Ḥamra in the Upper Galilee mountains, and the עEvron quarry in western Upper Galilee were open-air hunting and butchering sites and exhibited wild faunal and plant remains, hand axes, evidence for the use of fire, and fragmentary hominid remains. From the Middle Paleolithic period (250,000–50,000 years B.P.) there were contemporary burials of Neanderthals in Wadi עAmud and of archaic modern humans in the Qafzeh Cave near Nazareth. At Manot in western Upper Galilee a huge karstic cave exhibiting flint tools, animal bones, and charcoal has shed new light on the development and habitat of modern humans in the Middle, Upper, and Epipaleolithic periods. A waterlogged Upper Paleolithic hunter–gatherers’ camp site was excavated at Ohalo II on the Sea of Galilee, and at עEynan in the Hula Valley an Epipaleolithic (ca. 10,500–8500 B.C.E.) hunter and food gatherers’ village featured circular huts with storage silos, a human burial with a dog, and a characteristic Natufian microlithic industry, while cave-dwellers in the Hayonim cave in western Galilee produced artistically worked tools and artifacts.

In the Neolithic period (ca. 8500–4500 B.C.E.), Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B village sites at Beisamun in the Hula Valley, Kefar Hahoresh near Nazareth, and Yiftahel in the Beth-Netufa Valley were characterized by an increase in size, rectilinear houses with lime-plastered floors and courtyards, a variety of carbonized domesticated pulses and grains attesting the emergence of agriculture, flint blades, art objects, and plastered skulls reflecting a mortuary cult. Excavations at Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Yiftahel uncovered a four-pillared building and a large, upstanding massebah stone, attributed with a communal cultic function; and obsidian artifacts at Pre-Pottery Neolithic C Hagoshrim in the Hula Valley provided evidence for a developed obsidian trade with Anatolia. The Pottery Neolithic A (ca. 6400–5500 B.C.E.) Yarmukian culture was uncovered at Shaאar Hagolan, a well-planned, permanent village with developed agriculture, domesticated animals, the earliest pottery vessels, hunting bows, and artistic, cultic figurines. The Pottery Neolithic B, or Early Chalcolithic (4500–4000 B.C.E.), site at Hagoshrim exhibited local Wadi Rabah pottery and ceramic evidence for long-distance cultural and trade contacts with the Mesopotamian Ḥalaf culture. New light on the Wadi Rabah period has come from an extensive salvage excavation at עEin Tsippori, a large site at the Moshav Zippori junction. From the Late Chalcolithic period (ca. 4000–3500 B.C.E.) only a few small villages are known in Galilee, while a stalactite cave at Peqiאin in Upper Galilee contained many clay ossuaries adorned with an astonishing array of anthropomorphic portrayals and other artifacts reflecting a ranked society, ancestor worship, and interregional cultural contacts.

Early Bronze Age (3500–2250 B.C.E.).

The Early Bronze IA in the Galilee was characterized by developed village sites—for example, עEn Teo in the Hula Valley, Yiftahel, and עEin Tsippori—exhibiting new oval house forms and new pottery traditions, the innovations attributed to newcomers from the north Levantine coast. A major urbanization process began in Early Bronze IB, when the huge city of Beth-Yerah was probably fortified, while a fortification wall at Kefar Kanna dated to Early Bronze IA remains enigmatic. A tripartite settlement hierarchy is first discerned in Early Bronze–II Galilee, with several huge, fortified city tell sites in the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys and in the Coastal Plain; fortified hill settlements adjacent to arable lands in the Galilee hills, including Tel Ḥannaton, Tel Gat-Ḥepher, Tel Rechesh in Lower Galilee, Beth-Haאemeq, Me אona, Naḥaf, Jatt, עIqrit, and the larger Tel Rosh and Tel Kedesh in Upper Galilee; and small, unfortified settlements in the mountains. On the basis of the presence and absence of the characteristic Early Bronze–II metallic and Early Bronze–III Khirbet Kerak pottery wares observed at the various sites, a drastic settlement decrease is postulated in the Galilee hills and the Coastal Plain by the beginning of the Early Bronze III, while the Jezreel and Jordan Valley city tells remained settled and were abandoned only toward the end of the Early Bronze III.

Middle Bronze Age I (ca. 2250–1950 B.C.E.).

The widespread abandonment of the Early-Bronze urban settlements in the southern Levant was followed by a decentralized nonurban hiatus in the Middle Bronze Age I, which was considered a period of seminomadic population. In the Galilee a dwelling cave at Tel Ḥarashim and a cult cave near Tel Kedesh were excavated, and many burial sites of rock-hewn shaft tombs and tumuli-covered dolmens were found without associated settlements. However, Middle Bronze–I village settlements have been uncovered at Murḥan at the juncture of Lower Galilee with the Jezreel Valley, Tel Hazor, and Ḥorvat Qishron (Ilaniyya) and עEin el-Ḥilu (Migdal Haאemeq), where the material remains revealed agriculture-based villages complemented by craft specialization. The Middle Bronze–I pottery repertoires exhibit regionalism as well as cultural and economic ties with Syria, but whether the new lifestyle is to be attributed to an indigenous population or to an influx from Syria has yet to be determined. The end of this period is typified by an abrupt abandonment.

Middle Bronze II (ca. 2000–1550 B.C.E.).

Very large, fortified cities with massive ramparts, urban planning, temples, and a developed economy and culture were established in Middle Bronze IIA along the northern coast and the Jezreel Valley (Tel Kabri, Tel עAkko, Tel Yoqneאam, Tel Megiddo) and in Middle Bronze IIB inland in the north Jordan Valley (Tel Hazor, Laish-Tel Dan). The Mari archives present a political hegemony of Amorite-Canaanite kingdoms in Syria and the southern Levant including Hazor as the major city, its unique status reflected in its huge lower city and the monumental buildings on the acropolis, and Laish-Tel Dan where a massive triple-arched, mud-brick gate was excavated. Within Galilee smaller, fortified towns were identified in a few limited excavations but mostly in surveys, including Tel Ḥannaton, Tel Gat-Ḥepher, Tel Rechesh, Tel Kedesh, Ḥorvat Fazelet, Tel Rosh, and Ḥorvat עUza, some of which were probably subordinate to the major valley cities, for example, Tel Kedesh and Tel Rosh to Hazor and Ḥorvat עUza to Tel Kabri. Clusters of small rural settlements were identified in the Upper Galilee mountains, many of which were deserted at the end of the Middle Bronze IIB, resulting in a drastic settlement decrease. Egyptian political and economic involvement was evident in the archaeological record in Middle Bronze–II Galilee, notably at Tel Megiddo.

Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.).

The New Kingdom of Egypt imposed direct rule in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age, maintaining a garrison and administrative center in the north at Beth-Shean and periodically campaigning along the Coastal Plain and the upper Jordan Valley. The massive city at Tel Hazor dominated until the end of the Late Bronze Age, accrediting its biblical epithet as “head of all those kingdoms” (Josh 11:10); and the larger Galilean towns continued to be settled, including Tel Kedesh, Tel Rosh, Gush Ḥalav, and Miאilya in Upper Galilee and Tel Ḥannaton, Tel Gat Ḥepher, Tel Yinאam, and Tel Rechesh, as well as a new fortress at Tel Qarnei Ḥitin, in Lower Galilee, though there were fewer small, rural settlements. Several Galilean towns are cited in Egyptian texts, and the fourteenth-century B.C.E. el-Amarna correspondence between the Canaanite city-states and their Egyptian overlords mentions Ḥannaton controlling the Beth-Netufa Valley, Yaphiאa, and Shunem, and discloses Hazor’s conflict with Tyre over the nomadic עapiru that penetrated into Upper Galilee, indicating that these major city-states controlled large areas of the Galilee. A late thirteenth-century B.C.E. east Mediterranean, not fully understood crisis led to the arrival of the Sea Peoples and the end of the Egyptian Empire in Canaan, in the course of which several cities, including Hazor, Megiddo, and Beth-Shean, were destroyed in huge conflagrations. While the destruction at Hazor was followed by an occupational gap, Megiddo and Beth-Shean were rebuilt as Canaanite cities.

Iron I (ca. 1200–985 B.C.E.).

The presence of Israel as a defined ethnic entity is attested in the Merneptah stele at the end of the thirteenth century B.C.E. Several surveys uncovered many new twelfth- to eleventh-century B.C.E. small, rural settlements clustered in the Upper and Lower Galilee hills, in areas that geographically align with the tribal allotments of Naphtali, Asher, Zebulun, and Issachar outlined in Joshua 19. Scholars have cited cultural markers to affiliate these sites with Israelite settlers, including four-roomed houses, limited plain pottery repertoires, and the avoidance of pork. While the markers have been shown to be not exclusively Israelite, aspects of the material culture are of regional and culturally ethnic significance, a Galilean collared-rim pithos (large storage jar) predominating at Tel Ḥarashim, Sasa, Ḥorvat עAvot, and Tel Hazor; a Tyrian pithos from Har Adir probably identifying the site as a Phoenician border fortress; and the characteristic central hill country collared-rim pithos discovered at Tel Dan possibly reflecting the biblical account (Judg 1:34, 18:27–28) of the Danites’ migration into the Galilee. However, the historicity of the biblical account of the Israelite settlement is highly disputed, the conquest narratives being incompatible with the amassing archaeological data, for example, at Tel Hazor where the Canaanite city was destroyed prior to the arrival of the new Israelite settlers.

In some ways the geopolitical settlement profile in the book of Judges tallies with the Iron-I settlement pattern emerging from the excavations and surveys, for example, the rebuilt Canaanite cities of Megiddo and Beth-Shean and their “daughter” towns that continued to dominate the Jezreel plain contemporarily with the Israelite highland settlements (Judg 1:27–35) and are only later finally destroyed and taken over by the Israelite entity. Excavations at Tell el-Wawiyat and Tell עEin Tsippori in the Beth-Netufa and Zippori Valleys indicated that some small, rural Canaanite sites in Lower Galilee also survived from the Late Bronze into Iron I. Research seeks to distinguish the early Israelite entity from its Philistine neighbors, on the basis of meaningful traits including Israelite avoidance of Philistine “enemy” pottery. The absence of decorated “Philistine-style” pottery in the hilly Galilee, although found at some sites in the Jezreel Valley, may indicate that the hill settlers rejected this pottery or may be related to trading connections with the coast. The archaeological data reflect complex settlement processes, indicating that loosely related pastoral “Proto-Israelite” groups, some probably indigenous and others from the periphery, settled down in small, nonhierarchical settlements on available land in the hilly Lower and Upper Galilee, adopting some local Canaanite pottery forms, while rejecting other elements of the culture.

Iron IIA–B (ca. 985–700 B.C.E.).

While many small Iron-I sites were abandoned, for example, Sasa, Ḥorvat Avot, Tel Ḥarashim, and Karmiel, Israelite settlement intensified in Galilee with the establishment of fortified cities, walled towns, and unwalled villages, exhibiting settlement hierarchy but homogeneity in the material culture. In addition to the large tell cities in the valleys including Hazor (upper city), Megiddo, and Beth-Shean, the many fortified towns included in the Lower Galilee hills Ḥorvat Gamum, Ḥorvat Beersheba, Tell Mador (Ḥorvat Abu-Mudawer-אIbellin), Tel Ḥannaton, Tel Gath-Ḥepher, Ḥorvat Malta, Karm er-Ras, Japhiאa, Tel Rekhesh, Tel Qarnei Ḥittin, and Tel Adami and in Upper Galilee Iqrit, Tel Rosh, Tell el-Khirbeh, Tel Kedesh, and Jish-Gush Halav. An administrative division within Galilee, roughly compatible with the tribal allotments of Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar, appears in the list of Solomon’s districts (1 Kgs 4:7–9), while the United Monarchy’s border with Phoenicia was probably marked by the Iron IIA–B Ḥorvat Rosh Zayit storage depot overlooking the עAkko plain, where the mixed Israelite and Phoenician pottery repertoire illustrates the biblical account (1 Kgs 9, 2 Chr 8) of the commercial and political contacts with Tyre. An early Phoenician alphabetic inscription on a bronze bowl together with tenth-century B.C.E. Cypro-Phoenician pottery found in a burial cave at Kefar Veradim indicates that part of western Upper Galilee was probably also Phoenician territory. (Accumulating archaeological evidence seems to provide support for the conventional tenth rather than the later ninth century B.C.E. for Iron IIA.)

The impact of Pharaoh Sheshonk I’s (r. ca. 935–914 B.C.E.) ca. 920 B.C.E. Jezreel Valley campaign on the Galilee itself was probably minimal (1 Kgs 14:25–28), but the ninth-century B.C.E. Northern Kingdom military clashes with their Aramean neighbors to the north were no doubt responsible for the destructions evident in some Galilean towns. The cultic sanctuary and the Aramean Beth David stele uncovered at Tel Dan reflect its status as a border city between Israel and Aram, together with עIjon and Abel (1 Kgs 12:28–29, 15:20), while a fortified town uncovered at et-Tell in the Bethsaida plain and Tel Hadar on the Sea of Galilee belonged to the neighboring kingdom of Geshur. In 733/32 B.C.E. Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745–727 B.C.E.), king of Assyria, devastated the Galilee. The conquest and the ensuing mass deportations to Assyria were reported both in the Bible—“In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria” (2 Kgs 15:29)—and in the Assyrian sources, which note deportations from Ḥannaton, Cana (uncertain reading), Yotba, Aruma, and Meron, all in Lower Galilee. Destruction layers and/or abandonments at Tel Hazor, Tel Dan, Tel Megiddo, Ḥorvat Rosh Zayit, Tel Mador, Tel Gath-Ḥepher, Karm er-Ras, Tel Qarnei Hitin, Tel Chinnereth, Tel Ḥarashim, and other sites provide clear-cut evidence for the depopulation of Galilee in the late eighth century B.C.E.

The Iron IIC, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian Periods (700–586 B.C.E.).

Although some scholars considered that an Israelite population remained in Lower Galilee after the Assyrian conquest, adducing biblical mentions of Galileans in this period (2 Kgs 21:19, 23:36; 2 Chr 30:10–11, 34:6), surveys have shown decisively that Lower Galilee was deserted in the seventh to fifth centuries B.C.E. and only two small, short-lived, seventh-century B.C.E. occupations have been exposed in the Nahal Tzippori basin. A bronze, antelope-shaped cup from Kefar Kanna, probably from Karm er-Ras, remains a unique Assyrian find from inner Galilee. The Assyrian province of Magidu incorporated the Jezreel Valley and Galilee, with its capital at Tel Megiddo, where a fortified Hippodamian-plan town with Assyrian-style monumental buildings was exposed, and a secondary administrative center at Ayyelet Hashaḥar next to Tel Hazor, where a palatial residence was uncovered. Many Assyrian and Assyrian-style pottery vessels and other artifacts were uncovered at sites in the Jezreel, Beth-Shean, and northern Jordan Valleys as well as at sites along the coast as far inland as Yoqneאam and farther south in Samaria, but Assyrian imperial and commercial interests lay along the Phoenician coast and in Egypt, bypassing the Galilee. In the Neo-Babylonian period, it seems that the northern valleys were also desolate.

The Persian Achaemenid Period (539–332 B.C.E.).

The Galilee was incorporated in the large abar-nahara (“beyond the River”) satrapy governed from Damascus, and scholars have proposed that it remained a province as in the Assyrian period, with either Megiddo or Hazor as its capital. Achaemenid interests focused on the Phoenician coastal regions controlled by the maritime city-states of Tyre and Sidon, and Tel עAkko was established as a royal Achaemenid city and military base. Excavations have exposed a monumental fifth- to fourth-century B.C.E. Achaemenid palace compound at Tel Kedesh in Upper Galilee, interpreted as a major agricultural depot and administrative center controlled by Tyre, subordinate to the Achaemenid government. Surveys have identified concentrations of small, rural sites around Gush Ḥalav and Meiron in the eastern and central Upper Galilee mountains, characterized by crudely made Galilean coarse ware jars, while settlements in the western coastal region utilized a characteristic Phoenician jar, these two jar types being considered to belong to distinct pagan populations. An isolated Phoenician temenos (cultic enclosure) excavated at Mizpe Yammim high on Mount Meiron, exhibiting Egyptian–Phoenician cult objects and local Galilean coarse ware pottery, possibly marked the eastern border of the area controlled by the Phoenician coastal cities. The apocryphal book of Judith, attributed to the Persian period, also specifies Upper Galilee as a Gentile area (Jdt 1:8).

In Lower Galilee there were new settlements in the Nazareth hills and around the fertile Beth-Netufa Valley, such as Ḥorvat Malta, Tel Gat Ḥepher, Karm er-Ras, and Khirbet Abu- Mudawer-אIbellin, whose pottery repertoires consist mostly of jars, similar to jar forms from coastal Dor. Large quantities of jars with limited building remains at these sites suggest that agricultural storage was their principal function and that this area possibly supplied the agricultural needs of the Phoenician coastal cities. No Persian-period architectural remains have been uncovered at Sepphoris; but an out-of-context Greek rhyton horn and a stone vase fragment bearing an Achaemenid royal inscription uphold an official Persian presence, and there may have been here a Late Achaemenid outpost on the summit overlooking the Beth-Netufa Valley. Thus, the Galilee served as the agricultural hinterland for the Phoenician coastal cities from Tyre to Dor, for which purpose the Phoenician overseers would have employed existing local inhabitants and established new settlements as necessary.

The conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 B.C.E.) involved the subjugation of the Phoenician coast, including Tyre, in 333/32 B.C.E., at which time the Persian building at Tel Kedesh seems to have been briefly abandoned. A short-lived, fortified storehouse, containing hundreds of storage jars, exposed at Nahal Tut on the road from coastal Dor to Lower Galilee, was interpreted as a depot set up by Alexander in 333 B.C.E. to transfer food supplies from the agricultural hinterland via the port of Dor for his army besieging Tyre. The fall of Tyre in 332 B.C.E. brought the entire country, apart from Gaza, under Macedonian control.

Early Hellenistic Period (332–164 B.C.E.).

Following the Diadochean wars (from 323 to the early third century B.C.E.), the country came under Ptolemaic domination and Galilee was surrounded by Greek poleis (cities), including Tyre, עAkko-Ptolemais, Beth-Shean/Scythopolis, Tel Beth-Yerah-Philoteria, and Sussita-Hippos. Although this period is not well known, the few written sources and the archaeological data indicate that most of the Galilee was part of the Phoenician coastal paralia hyparchy, being the agricultural chora hinterland of עAkko-Ptolemais and Tyre, rather than a separate Galilee hyparchy with its capital at Scythopolis or possibly at Mount Tabor, as formerly proposed. The mid-third-century B.C.E. Zenon papyri reflect an Alexandria-controlled bureaucracy of Ptolemaic and local officials, with עAkko-Ptolemais and Tyre playing a central role in the transport of a wide variety of agricultural commodities from “Galila” to Egypt. Zenon mentions a Greek officer’s estate at Batanatois in Upper Galilee, equated as Beth-אAnat, whose location is uncertain. Following the battle of Paneion-Paneas in 200 B.C.E., Koile-Syria came under Seleucid domination, עAkko-Ptolemais serving as capital of the paralia coastal strip and the Phoenician coastal cities maintaining their control of the Galilean hinterland. The Ḥefzibah stele (ca. 198 B.C.E.) testifies to the existence of Ptolemaic, later Seleucid, royal agricultural estates worked by local peasants under government officials in the Jezreel Valley.

The archaeological evidence further emphasizes the Phoenician presence in Galilee. At Kedesh-Cadasa in Upper Galilee a monumental third- to mid-second century B.C.E. building complex, exhibiting a decisively Phoenician material culture including over 2,000 bullae stamp-seals, was interpreted as the seat of government for an eparchy administered by Tyre. At Tel Anafa in the Hula Valley a second-century B.C.E. late Seleucid–Phoenician agricultural estate exhibited an affluent Hellenistic lifestyle, and spectacularly located open-air shrines at Mizpe Yammim, Paneas, and Dan would have been patronized by the local pagan population. Surveys identified many small Hellenistic sites in Upper Galilee, the coastal villages utilizing characteristic Phoenician jars, while the central and eastern villages exhibited Galilean Coarse Wares, these latter vessels also appearing farther west and sporadically in Lower Galilee. In western Galilee a group of forts from Shaאar Haאamaqim in the south to the mountains west of the Peqiאin Valley was interpreted as protecting the agricultural lands of Ptolemais.

In central and eastern Lower Galilee several defensible early Hellenistic sites with Aegean imports were located adjacent to agricultural lands, for example, Ḥorvat Beersheba, Khirbet el-אAiteh, Khirbet עEika, and Zalmon; and a true fortress was built on Itabyrion-Mount Tabor. A large building at Karm er-Ras-Cana exhibiting Aegean imports may have been an agricultural storage depot. These sites may be part of the Phoenician cities’ agricultural hinterland.

Late Hellenistic Period (164–53 B.C.E.).

The diverse origins proposed for the late Hellenistic Galilean Jews has bearing on the ethnocultural identity of Jesus’s Galilee. Based mostly on interpretations of the written sources, it has been variously proposed that the Galilean Jews were descendants of the Israelite population who survived the Assyrian conquest, Jews who settled in the Galilee at the time of the return to Judea or some time prior to the Hasmonean conquest, converts from the seminomadic Arab Iturean population associated with the Hermon and the Bekáa Valley, Judean immigrants following the Hasmonean conquest of Galilee, or a combination of these possibilities. The archaeological data shed new light on this issue.

Historical sources record the Judean Hasmonean dynasty’s military involvement in Galilee from the mid-second century B.C.E. In 164 B.C.E. Hasmonean troops aided Galilean Jews against Gentile militia attacks from עAkko-Ptolemais, Tyre, and Sidon and all the “Galilee of the Gentiles,” pursuing the enemy to the gates of Ptolemais and bringing the Jewish families of Galilee and Arbata back to Judea (1 Macc 5:14–23). In 145 B.C.E. the Hasmoneans encountered the Seleucid army in the Vale of Hazor, and it retreated to Kedesh; following another indecisive battle in 143 B.C.E. in the Beth-Netufa Valley, the Seleucid forces retreated to Ptolemais and the Judean troops returned to Jerusalem (1 Macc 11:63–73, 12:49–52). This Hasmonean military activity, directed against the Phoenician cities’ control of the Galilee, presupposes the existence of some Jewish settlement in central Lower Galilee.

Josephus records the Hasmonean conquest of Samaria, Scythopolis, Mount Carmel, Philoteria, and Itabyrion-Mount Tabor at the end of the second century B.C.E.; and the not-specified annexation of Galilee is assumed to have been effected at this time. Ptolemy Lathyrus (r. 116–107, 88–80 B.C.E.) of Cyprus’s abortive attack on Jewish Sepphoris and the burning of adjacent Asochis-Shikhin in 103 B.C.E., undertaken after Alexander Jannaeus’s (r. 103–76 B.C.E.) unsuccessful siege of Ptolemais (Josephus, Ant. 13.334–338), reflects a politically and militarily organized, Hasmonean-affiliated Jewish entity in Lower Galilee. The Hasmonean state included the Transjordan Perea and central Golan, following its conquest by Jannaeus in ca. 80 B.C.E. (Josephus, Ant. 13.394).

The archaeological data from Late Hellenistic Galilee, attesting destructions and abandonments of sites as well as the establishment of new settlements with new pottery forms and Hasmonean coins, supports the Hasmonean Judean origin of the Galilean Jews. In Upper Galilee the destruction of the administrative center at Tel Kedesh in the mid-second century B.C.E. was attributed to the Hasmoneans, the subsequent rebuilding of the site indicating that the Hasmoneans did not retain their hold. An adjacent Seleucid–Phoenician fortress at Qeren Naftali controlling the Hula Valley was converted into a Hasmonean garrison with a mikvah (ritual bath) and Hasmonean coins in the early first century B.C.E. The Mizpe Yammim pagan temple was destroyed and desecrated, and several Upper Galilee sites were destroyed and abandoned, while others were rebuilt as Jewish villages, such as Meiron, exhibiting Hasmonean coins.

In Lower Galilee a Hasmonean military fort with miqvaot and Hasmonean coins was excavated on the Sepphoris acropolis, and several pagan Hellenistic sites, including Yodefat, Khirbet el-אAiteh, and Khirbet עEika, were destroyed and/or abandoned in the late second century B.C.E. Many Early Roman Jewish villages exhibited Late Hellenistic potsherds, the forms showing affinities to Judean pottery, indicating that the sites were first settled in the late second to early first centuries B.C.E. Gamla, originally a Seleucid stronghold, had a Jewish population using Judean-influenced pottery and Hasmonean coins, and from the late second to early first centuries B.C.E. onward central Gaulanitis emerges as the cultural continuum of Jewish Galilee, exhibiting similar pottery and material culture, although it was not always under the same political–administrative control. A Jewish central Lower Galilee population (at Sepphoris, Yodefat, Shikhin, and Ḥorvat Qana) in the period 162–125 B.C.E., predating earliest Hasmonean coinage, was tentatively proposed on the basis of Phoenician and Seleucid coin distribution. An additional feature observed in the Late Hellenistic archaeological record was a dramatic increase in olive oil presses, reflecting a growing olive oil industry in the Galilee, interpreted as the important economic resource introduced to the Galilee by the Judean settlers.

The Judean immigration to Galilee and Gaulanitis is to be attributed to the availability of land to alleviate increasing demographic pressure in Judea, linked with the Hasmonean expansionist ideology, made feasible because of the weakening Seleucid control. The settlement process involved the Hasmonean-government-controlled establishment of outposts in Galilee and Gaulanitis and peasant migration. By the end of the late Hellenistic period the definition of the “Galilaioi” as “northern Ioudaioi” seems to be established (Josephus, J.W. 2.232).

The early first-century B.C.E. political–ethnic border between Hasmonean Jewish Galilee and the surrounding Gentile territories was identified on the basis of the analysis of Hasmonean and Phoenician coins, the proposed border with עAkko-Ptolemais in Lower Galilee being around the northwestern edge of the Beth-Netufa Valley. A late Hellenistic to early Roman settlement with Jewish characteristics excavated at Kiryat Ata is identified with Kapharatha (Josephus, Life 188), indicating that the border of Jewish Galilee lay closer to the עAkko plain.

The Early Roman Period (63 B.C.E.–125 C.E.).

Josephus Flavius, the main written source on early Roman Galilee, occasionally supplemented by other Roman writers, the New Testament sources, and the slightly later rabbinic literature, provides a detailed description of Jewish Galilee, defining its borders in terms of the surrounding Gentile political entities, praising its fertility, and indicating that it was fairly densely settled with many villages (Josephus, J.W. 3.35–43). Josephus’s border between Lower and Upper Galilee at Bersabe-Ḥorvat Beersheba in the Beth Hakerem Valley concurs with the Mishnah’s border at neighboring Kefar Ḥananya (Sheviit 9.2).

Following the Roman conquest in 63 B.C.E., the pagan Decapolis cities on the Galilee periphery were reinstated (Hippos, Gadara, Scythopolis), autonomous עAkko and Tyre retained control of some of western and Upper Galilee, and Jewish Galilee, incorporating Lower Galilee, eastern Upper Galilee, and Gaulanitis, was governed from Sepphoris as a synedrion district within Judea (Josephus, Ant. 14.91). Galilean resistance to Roman and subsequently Herodian rule led to recurring clashes in Lower Galilee, peaking in 39–38 B.C.E. when Herod the Great (r. 37–4 B.C.E.), who at the time was strategos, or governor, of Galilee, captured the Hasmonean garrison at Sepphoris and encountered stubborn resistance at Arbel. Resistance peaked again on Herod’s death in 4 B.C.E. when an insurgency of “Galilean bandits” at Sepphoris led to the burning of the town and the enslaving of the population by the Romans. Herod Antipas (r. 4 B.C.E.–39 C.E.), tetrarch of Galilee and of Perea in Transjordan, subsequently rebuilt Sepphoris and founded the new city of Tiberias in ca. 19 C.E., introducing a degree of urbanization into the predominantly rural Jewish Galilee.

Excavations have exposed much data bearing on Galilean village life, whose economy was based on intensified grain cultivation, wine production, a flourishing olive oil industry evident from the many pressing installations, and flax manufacture and supplemented by fishing around the Sea of Galilee, corroborated by the Galilean boat and the many anchorages and fish pools surveyed around the lake. Several aspects in the material culture reflect Jewish identity and modest lifestyle, including miqvaot, chalkstone vessels, bone profiles lacking pork, locally manufactured pottery centered around Kefar Ḥananya and Shikhin, an avoidance of figurative art and of imported pottery wares, Jerusalem-manufactured lamps, Jewish Jerusalem-minted coinage, stone ossuaries, and kokhim burial caves with niches.

Jewish identity in the public sphere was expressed in the first-century C.E. synagogues at Gamla and at Magdala, the latter’s unique menorah depiction emphasizing the religious orientation to the Jerusalem Temple. Kefar Nahum-Capernaum, Magdala Tarichaea, Nazareth, and Cana (identified at Karm er-Ras-Kefar Kanna, although an alternative identification at Khirbet Qana in the Beth-Netufa Valley was proposed), locations in the Jesus narratives, present similar Jewish profiles, while the gospel accounts of Jesus’s visits to Tyre, Sidon, and Paneas-Caesarea Philippi suggest open borders and there were certainly Jews living in Gentile cities bordering Galilee, such as at Scythopolis and Tyre. In the first-century C.E. Jewish towns of Sepphoris and Tiberias Gentile administrative and military presences, as well as probably theaters, led to the introduction of pervasive Greco–Roman influences. From inscriptions there is evidence for literacy in Aramaic, Hebrew, and to a lesser extent Greek, the latter more functional in the cities in Lower Galilee.

The growth of the towns entailed an increased degree of craft specialization and urban dependence on rural agricultural production that in turn led to increased multilayered taxation and social stratification. The phenomenon of peasant farmers working for wealthy landowners, some of large estates, as exemplified by the Herodian royal estates at Besara-Beth-Sheאarim in the Jezreel Valley (Josephus, Life 118–119), was a social reality criticized in the New Testament. Scholars’ views differ regarding the reciprocal or exploitive nature of the urban–rural relations, the issue having implications for Jesus’s Galilean-based social justice movement. An exceptional example of some more affluent population adopting Roman cultural styles outside the cities is evident in a house with a fine Pompeian-style fresco at Yodefat. Overall, the visibly Jewish identity of rural Galilee and Gaulanitis presented a contrast to, and maybe a reaction against, the dominant visibly pagan culture of monuments and temples in Syria surrounding the Galilee to the north, such as at Ḥorvat עOmrit, Paneas-Caesarea Philippi, and Kedesh-Cadasa.

The preparations and the course of the Jewish Revolt against the Romans in the Galilee (66–67 C.E.), described in detail by Josephus, are amply illustrated in the archaeological record in several villages, including at Chabulon-Cabul, Yaphiאa, and Migdal Tarichaea but most vividly at the destroyed and abandoned towns of Yodefat and Gamla. By contrast, Sepphoris and Tiberias, the latter annexed to Agrippa II’s (r. 53–70 C.E.) territory, which both surrendered without fighting, exhibited continued growth without a break, as did most of the villages. The underground hideaway complexes discovered in and around many of the Galilean villages were probably prepared in the wake of the revolt, as evidenced, for example, by the first-century C.E. pottery and more specifically by the revolt coins in the Karm er-Ras-Cana hideaways.

The absence of written and archaeological evidence for the Bar Kokhba Revolt in the Galilee (132–135 C.E.) probably reflects the passive role of the Galilee, which was partially attributable to the presence of the Roman Sixth Legion at Legio-Kefar עOthnay. A destruction layer at Khirbet Ḥamam, north of Tiberias, may, however, reflect some military confrontation in the context of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The Middle to Late Roman Periods (125–363 C.E.).

A period of growth is evident in the archaeological record in the Galilee in the expansion and flourishing of the cities of Sepphoris-Diocaesarea and Tiberias; improvement of the existing road system; an increased Roman military presence, including the settling of some Roman veterans; a more developed trade network; a more monetized economy and integration into the Roman economy; and increased taxation. All of this resulted in more pronounced social stratification.

The increased Jewish population in the Galilean cities and the many villages comprised Galileans, supplemented by Judean immigrants who arrived in the aftermath of the wars. Scholars’ views vary on most issues pertinent to this period, including whether the Judean priestly families settled in 24 specific Galilean villages and whether the new center of gravity of the rabbis in the Galilee led to the widespread adoption of rabbinic Judaism. Around 200 C.E. the Jewish Patriarchate and Sanhedrin were established in Sepphoris under Rabbi Judah the Prince, compiler of the Mishnah; and in the mid-third century these institutions moved to Tiberias. The dating of the Galilean and Gaulanitis synagogues, of which over 80 are known and over 25 excavated, to the Middle to Late Roman or Early Byzantine period is not finally settled, but there is evidence for late second- and early third-century C.E. synagogues, at Khirbet Wadi Ḥamam. The borderline between Jewish Galilee and its pagan Phoenician neighbors can be drawn on the basis of the synagogues, on the west from Tivאon and Iאbillin via Rama to Baqa-Peqiאin and on the north from Sasa via Barאam to Qazyon and Thella-Yesod Hamaאala, while beyond these borders there were pagan temples, including the Roman temple at Kedesh.

The ongoing interaction of the Galilean Jews with the Greco–Roman world, accelerated by the Roman military presence and veteran settlements, was most strongly felt in the mixed cities, for example, in Sepphoris, where the second-century C.E. town exhibits most elements of Roman cities, including a pagan temple and temenos. This coexistence led to a process of acculturation that found expression in aspects of the archaeological record, for example, in the Dionysius mosaic villa at Sepphoris and in the rabbinic literature. The question of the presence of Jewish Christians and minim (whether sectarians, heretics, or Gnostics) in Lower Galilee in the Middle Roman period remains an unsettled issue, although the evidence is minimal, while a Christian prayer room excavated in the Jewish and Samaritan village of Kefar עOthnay-Legio is evidence for mid-third-century Roman Christian clandestine worship on the southern borders of Galilee. The wide spectrum of foreign and pagan characteristics evident in a third- to fourth-century C.E. Jewish necropolis at Beth-Sheאarim is a further expression of cultural influences pervading Galilee from the Diaspora Jews living in the Greek world. Animal representation and figurative art were also evident in synagogues, as at Nabratein-Nevoraia and Khirbet Wadi Ḥamam. The end of this period is marked by the upheaval and destruction caused by the Gallus Revolt of 352 C.E. and the earthquake of 363 C.E.

Early Byzantine Period (363–Fifth Century C.E.).

In the Byzantine period the Galilee was part of the Palaestina Secunda province with its capital at Scythopolis/Beth-Shean. The recognition of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine I (r. 306–337 C.E.) in the early fourth century C.E. transformed the province into the “Holy Land” and led to the development of late fourth- and fifth-century C.E. Christian loca sancta at sites associated with Jesus, at Capernaum and Tabgha around the Sea of Galilee and at Nazareth and Cana-Kefar Kanna in Lower Galilee, although the Lower Galilee itself remained overwhelmingly Jewish in the early Byzantine period. In the fifth century C.E. Sepphoris was furbished with new Christian churches alongside the Jewish synagogues; remains of a church were uncovered inside Tiberias, and churches were constructed on Mount Tabor and in surrounding villages. In western Upper Galilee many churches and monasteries were built in formerly pagan areas affiliated with the Phoenician cities, their inhabitants adopting Christianity, while the eastern Upper Galilee Meiron-Gush Halav area, which appears in church records as tetracomia (“the four villages”), reflecting its rural character, remained predominantly Jewish. The population growth and ensuing flourishing economy of the Byzantine period were accompanied by increased taxation and economic pressure, as well as loss of Jewish autonomy, the Jewish patriarchate being abolished in 429 C.E., leading to a process of increased economic pressure and abandonment of the Jewish settlements in the Galilee, accompanied by some emigration. Excavations at Galilean sites indicate that many Jewish villages were abandoned in the early fifth century C.E., for example, Meiron, Ḥorvat Shema, and Karm er-Ras; and other villages were settled by Christians, with Christian markers such as churches and pottery exhibiting crosses, for example, Rama, Ramat Yishai, Bet Lehem Haglilit, Ḥorvat עOfrat, Shefarאam, and Kefar Kanna.



  • Aviam, Mordechai. Jews, Pagans, and Christians in the Galilee: 25 Years of Archaeological Excavations and Surveys, Hellenistic to Byzantine Periods. Land of Galilee 1. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2004.
  • Avi-Yonah, Michael. The Holy Land: A Historical Geography from the Persian to the Arab Conquest (536 bc to 640 ad). With text revisions and toponymic index by Anson F. Rainey. Jerusalem: Carta, 2002. First published in 1977.
  • Bar-Yosef, Ofer, and Yosef Garfinkel. The Prehistory of Israel: Human Cultures before Writing. Jerusalem: Ariel, 2008 (Hebrew, brief English summary).
  • Berlin, Andrea M. “Identity Politics in Early Roman Galilee.” In The Jewish Revolt against Rome: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Mladen Popović, pp. 69–106. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2011.
  • Chancey, Mark A. The Myth of a Gentile Galilee: The Population of Galilee and New Testament Studies. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 118. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Dever, William G. Who Were the Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003.
  • Faust, Avraham. Israel’s Ethnogenesis: Settlement, Interaction, Expansion, and Resistance. London: Equinox, 2006.
  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Nadav Naאaman, eds. From Nomadism to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1994.
  • Frankel, Rafael, Nimrod Getzov, Mordechai Aviam, et al. Settlement Dynamics and Regional Diversity in Ancient Upper Galilee. Archaeological Survey of Upper Galilee. IAA Reports 14. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2001.
  • Freyne, Seán. Galilee from Alexander the Great to Hadrian 323 b.c.e. to 135 c.e.: A Study of Second Temple Judaism. Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1980.
  • Gal, Zvi. The Lower Galilee during the Iron Age. American Schools of Oriental Research Dissertation Series 8. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1992.
  • Gal, Zvi. “The Lower Galilee between Tiglath Pileser III and the Beginning of the Persian Period.” Eretz-Israel 29 (2009): 77–81.
  • Herbert, Sharon C., and Andrea M. Berlin. “A New Administrative Center for Persian and Hellenistic Galilee: Preliminary Report of the University of Michigan/University of Minnesota Excavations at Kedesh.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 329 (2003): 13–59.
  • Horsley, Richard A. Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press, 1996.
  • Khalaily, Hamudi, Ianir Milevski, Nimrod Getzov, et al. “Recent Excavations at the Neolithic Site of Yiftahel (Khalet Khalladyiah), Lower Galilee.” Neo-Lithics 2, no. 8 (2008): 3–11.
  • Leibner, Uzi. Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee: An Archaeological Survey of the Eastern Galilee. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.
  • Mazar, Amihai. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000–586 b.c.e. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
  • Meyers, Carol L., and Eric M. Meyers. “The Persian Period at Sepphoris.” Eretz-Israel 29 (2009): 136–143.
  • Reed, Jonathan L. Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press, 2000.
  • Stern, Ephraim. Archaeology of the Land of the Bible. Vol. 2: The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods, 732–332 b.c.e. New York: Doubleday, 2001.
  • Syon, Danny. “Tyre and Gamla: A Study in the Monetary Influence of Southern Phoenicia on Galilee and the Golan in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.” PhD diss., Hebrew University, 2004.
  • Taylor, Joan E. Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish–Christian Origins. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
  • Tepper, Yotam, and Leah Di Segni. A Christian Prayer Hall of the Third Century ce at Kefar עOthnay (Legio): Excavations at the Megiddo Prison 2005. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 2006.
  • Weiss, Zeev. “From Roman Temple to Byzantine Church: A Preliminary Report on Sepphoris in Transition.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 23 (2010): 196–218.

The brief bibliography below includes a selection of works presenting regional surveys, long time spans, collected essays on specific periods or subjects, synthetic works, and articles with data not yet incorporated into summaries. For information on archaeological sites, the reader should consult the specific site reports or the relevant entry in the New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, edited by Ephraim Stern, vols. 1–4 (1993), where an earlier summary on the Galilee is included, and most importantly the updated supplementary vol. 5 (2008).

Yardenna Alexandre