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Mosaic from the 'Nile House' of Sepphoris, c. 2nd century CE.

Generically, a Galilean (/ɡælɪˈlən/; Hebrew: גלילי; Ancient Greek: Γαλιλαίων; Latin: Galilaeos) is a term that was used in classical sources to describe (Jewish) inhabitants of Galilee, an area of northern Israel that extends from the northern coastal plain in the west to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Rift Valley to the east.

Later the term was used to refer to the early Christians by Roman emperors Julian and Marcus Aurelius, among others.


Biblical narrative[edit]

According to the Biblical history of the Twelve Tribes, the region of Galilee was allotted to the tribes of Naphtali and Dan, at points overlapping with the domain of the Tribe of Asher and neighboring the region of Issachar.[1] In the First Book of Kings, the Phoenician ruler King Hiram I of Sidon was awarded twenty cities in the region of Galilee, given to him by Solomon, and the land was subsequently settled by foreigners during or after the time of Hiram.[2] As part of the Northern Kingdom, Galilee and all the land of Naphtali were dispersed and resettled through the influx of foreigners due to the resettlement policy of the Neo-Assyrian Empire during the 8th century BC (2 Kings 15:29).[3] The Book of Isaiah refers to the region as g'lil ha-goyím (Hebrew: גְּלִיל הַגּוֹיִם), meaning 'Galilee of the Nations' or 'Galilee of the Gentiles' (Isaiah 9:1).

Though Biblical scholarship and historical criticism has doubted the historicity of the twelve tribes themselves since the 19th century,[4][5] the Neo-Assyrian large-scale deportation and resettlement of their conquered lands was widespread during the late 8th century BCE and remained a policy for the following several centuries.[6]

Classical antiquity[edit]

After some early expeditions to Galilee to save the Jews there from attack, the Hasmonean rulers conquered Galilee and added it to their kingdom.[citation needed] Following the Hasmonean conquest, and again after the Roman conquest, an influx of Jews settled in the Galilee, thus doubling its population and changing it from a sparsely inhabited pagan territory to one that is primarily Jewish.[7]

Archaeological evidence, such as ritual baths, stone vessels (which were required by Jewish dietary purity laws), secondary burials, the absence of pig bones, and the use of ossuaries found at Parod, Huqoq, and Hittin, demonstrates a religious similarity between the Galilean Jews and the Jews of Judea during the end of the Second Temple period.[7] The material culture of the 1st century Galilee indicates adherence to the Jewish ritual purity concerns. Stone vessels are ubiquitous and mikvehs have been uncovered in most Galilean sites, particularly around synagogues and private houses.[8]

The Jews in Galilee were conscious of a mutual descent, religion and ethnicity that they shared with the Jews in Judea. No literary evidence from Galilee exists to suggest that the people there thought of themselves as Galileans rather than just Jews, and Josephus, the only contemporary author known to have been well acquainted with the area, fails to mention anything unique about the Judaism practiced there in his detailed narrative set in Galilee.[9] However, there were numerous cultural differences,[10] and later rabbinic literature affirm traditions that Jewish religious life in Galilee was distinct in some aspects from that in Judea.[9]

The Pharisaic scholars of Judaism, centered in Jerusalem and Judea, found the Galileans to be insufficiently concerned about the details of Jewish observance – for example, the rules of Sabbath rest. The Pharisaic criticism of Galileans is mirrored in the New Testament, in which Galilean religious passion is compared favorably against the minute concerns of Judean legal scholars, see for example Woes of the Pharisees. This was the heart of a "crosstown" rivalry existing between Galileans and Jewish Pharisees.

Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai was born in Arav, Galilee, but upon adulthood moved south into Jerusalem, as he found the Galilean attitude objectionable, decrying them for hating the Torah.[11][12] According to the Mishnah, Yohanan was the first to be given the title of rabbi.[13] The Talmud says that Yohanan was assigned to a post in Galilee during his training. In eighteen years he was asked only two questions of Jewish law, causing him to lament "O Galilee, O Galilee, in the end you shall be filled with wrongdoers!"[14]

Settlement in the area underwent a dramatic change between roughly the beginning of the first century BCE and the first half of the first century CE: many settlements were established; uninhabited or sparsely populated areas, like the eastern part of the region or hilly areas with limited agricultural potential, experienced a wave of settlement; and the size of the settled area doubled.[7]

During the Great Rebellion (66-70 CE) the Galileans and Idumeans were the most adamant fighters against Rome; they fought the Romans to the death when many Judeans were ready to accept peace terms.[citation needed]

Bar Kokhba revolt[edit]

According to Yehoshafat Harkabi, the Galileans were not fazed by the Bar Kokhba revolt because Galilee as a whole either never joined the revolt or, if there was any insurgence, it was quickly ended.[15] University of Haifa professor Menachem Mor states that the Galileans had little (if any) participation in the revolt, with the rebellion chiefly rising in the southern regions of Judea.[16]

Modern period[edit]

Unlike the Judeans and the Idumeans, the Galileans survived until the 1930s in the village of Peki'in, after which the Jews were expelled to Hadera by the Arab riots. Until 500 years ago, Peki'in had a Jewish majority and in Medieval times, Galilean Jews had presence in many villages such as Kafr Yassif, Biriyya, Alma, and more.[dubious ][citation needed]


The New Testament notes that the Apostle Peter's accent gave him away as a Galilean (Matthew 26:73 and Mark 14:70). The Galilean dialect referred to in the New Testament was a form of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic spoken by people in Galilee from the late Second Temple period (1st century BCE to 1st century CE) through a time period referred to as the Yavne period in Jewish history and the Apostolic Age in Christian history (2nd century CE).

Other meanings[edit]

Galileans (or Galilæans) was used to refer to members of a fanatical sect (Zealots), followers of Judas of Galilee, who fiercely resented the taxation of the Romans.[17]

Galileans was also term used by some in the Roman Empire to name the followers of Christianity, called in this context as the Galilaean faith. Emperor Julian used the term in his polemic Against the Galileans, where he accuses the Galileans as being lazy, atheistic, superstitious, and their practices derivative of the Greeks.[18] Henrik Ibsen used the term in his play following Julians's goal of reestablishing the Roman religion and the tension between him and his own dynasty, whom fictively claim Galilean descent and relation to Jesus of Nazareth.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Map of the Twelve Tribes of Israel | Jewish Virtual Library". Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  2. ^ History of Phoenicia, by George Rawlinson 1889, "Phoenicia under the hegemony of Tyre (B.C. 1252–877)"
  3. ^ Gottheil, Richard; Ryssel, Victor; Jastrow, Marcus; Levias, Caspar (1906). "Captivity, or Exile, Babylonian". Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co.
  4. ^ "In any case, it is now widely agreed that the so-called 'patriarchal/ancestral period' is a later 'literary' construct, not a period in the actual history of the ancient world. The same is the case for the ‘exodus’ and the 'wilderness period,' and more and more widely for the 'period of the Judges.'" Paula M. McNutt (1 January 1999). Reconstructing the Society of Ancient Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-664-22265-9.
  5. ^ "Did Israel Always Have Twelve Tribes?".
  6. ^ Radner, Karen (2012). "Mass deportation: the Assyrian resettlement policy". Assyrian empire builders. University College London.
  7. ^ a b c Leibner, Uzi (2009). Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee: An Archaeological Survey of the Eastern Galilee. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 333–337. ISBN 978-3-16-151460-9.
  8. ^ Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence, A&C Black, 1 May 2002, By Jonathan L. Reed, page 56
  9. ^ a b Goodman, Martin (1999), Sturdy, John; Davies, W. D.; Horbury, William (eds.), "Galilean Judaism and Judaean Judaism", The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 3: The Early Roman Period, The Cambridge History of Judaism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vol. 3, pp. 596–617, ISBN 978-0-521-24377-3, retrieved 2023-03-20
  10. ^ Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-examination of the Evidence, A&C Black, 1 May 2002, By Jonathan L. Reed, page 55
  11. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia, Yochanan ben Zakai
  12. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 16:8 (81b)
  13. ^ Hezser, Catherine (1997). The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 64–. ISBN 978-3-16-146797-4. We suggest that the avoidance of the title "Rabbi" for pre-70 sages may have originated with the editors of the Mishnah. The editors attributed the title to some sages and not to others. The avoidance of the title for pre-70 sages may perhaps be seen as a deliberate program on the part of these editors who wanted to create the impression that the "rabbinic movement" began with R. Yochanan b. Zakkai and that the Yavnean "academy" was something new, a notion that is sometimes already implicitly or explicitly suggested by some of the traditions available to them. This notion is not diminished by the occasional claim to continuity with the past which was limited to individual teachers and institutions and served to legitimize rabbinic authority.
  14. ^ Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 16:7, 15d
  15. ^ Yehoshafat Harkabi (1983). The Bar Kokhba Syndrome: Risk and Realism in International Politics. SP Books. pp. 1–. ISBN 978-0-940646-01-8.
  16. ^ Mor, Menahem (4 May 2016). The Second Jewish Revolt: The Bar Kokhba War, 132-136 CE. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-31463-4.
  17. ^  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "Galilæans". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.
  18. ^ Introduction to the translation of Julians text "Against the Galilaeans", mentioning elder usage of the term. Transl. C.W. King, 1888.
  19. ^ "Emperor and Galilean (Translation by William Archer)". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-08-15.