🔼The name Galilee: Summary
- Region, Rolling
- From the verb גלל (galal), to roll or encircle.
🔼The name Galilee in the Bible
The name Galilee is the Anglicized version of the Greek name Galilaia (Γαλιλαια), which in turn is the Hellenized version of the Hebrew name Galil (גליל) or Galilah (גלילה), as it is called in 2 Kings 15:29.
The name Galil occurs first in conjunction with the city Kedesh "in Galil," which was a city situated in the hill country of Naphtali, in the north of Israel (Joshua 20:7). Later, king Solomon gave king Hiram of Tyre twenty cities in that region (now called with the feminine name גלילה, Galilah), but Hiram didn't like them very much and people called those cities Cabul, meaning "like nothing" (1 Kings 9:11-13).
During the late kingdom years, the Assyrians invaded Israel from the north and the land of Naphtali, including Galilee, was the first to be captured. The inhabitants were taken to Assyria in what became known as the first deportation (the second Assyrian deportation happened about two decades later: 2 Kings 17:6)
In New Testament times the name Galilee was applied to a larger region, or actually two of them. The mountainous land formerly known as Galil became Upper Galilee, and the flat and fertile plain south of it became known as Lower Galilee, and contained the lake known by various names but also as the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:18). In the New Testament no distinction is made between lower and upper Galilee, but since Jesus was from Galilee (John 8:52) and conducted much of his ministry there, it is mentioned many times in the Greek Scriptures (74 times, to be precise; see full New Testament concordance).
🔼Etymology of the name Galilee
The name Galilee comes from a Greek variation of the Hebrew name Galil, and that name is identical to one adjective and one noun גליל (galil) that were derived of the verb גלל (galal), meaning to roll:
The verb גלל (galal) primarily expresses rolling, whirling or heaping and may also denote a broad sweep (of land or time). Noun גל (gal) means heap or pile; גיל (gel), a heap specifically of dung; גלל (galal), dung; גלול (gillul), idols. Noun גלה (gulla) means bowl, basin or spring; noun גלילה (gelila), circuit, boundary or territory. Noun גליל (galil) denotes a supporting cylinder or rod; adjective גליל (galil), probably describes a cylindrical hinge column, noun מגלה (megilla) means scroll. Noun גלגל (gilgal) means wheel; noun גלגל (galgal), wheel or whirlwind. Noun גלגלת (gulgoleth) means skull or head. In cognate languages verb גלל (galal) extends to also describe the nobility of someone who rules a region.
The parallel verb גיל (gil) expresses a circular motion as is mostly associated with expressions of joy and celebration (dance). Nouns גיל (gil) and גילה (gila) mean a rejoicing. Noun גיל (gil) describes a circle or time: an age.
Note that the feminine version of our name as used in 1 Kings 9:11 is the same as the feminine noun גלילה (gelila).
For a meaning of the name Galilee, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Circle, Circuit, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names has Rolling, Revolving, and BDB Theological Dictionary proposes Circuit, District.
The name Galilee probably started out as a derogative: "that" region; the boondocks; out in "the country", and its name means just that: Region.