The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is one of the most widely cited passages of the Bible—and for good reason. It contains both the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer as well as some of the central tenets of Christian discipleship. But what do we know about the location where Jesus chose to preach? It is a fascinating place, both geographically and symbolically, and one well worth studying in detail.
THE MOUNT OF BEATITUDES
According to tradition, the mountain is on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Capernaum and Tabgha, on the southern slopes of the Korazim Plateau.
Though the actual location where the sermon was preached is not certain, Mount Eremos (a Greek word meaning “uninhabited” or “solitary”) has been commemorated as the site for more than 1,600 years.
Nearby, a Byzantine church was built in the fourth century, and it stood for three centuries. Today the spot is graced by the elegant Church of the Beatitudes, an octagonal building (one side for each Beatitude) built in 1938. Interestingly, the building was partially funded by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
THE SEA OF GALILEE
This freshwater lake, also known as the Lake of Gennesaret, is one of the lowest-lying bodies of water on earth (about 689 feet below sea level). Roughly 64 square miles—nearly the size of Washington, D.C.—the Sea of Galilee continues to be Israel’s primary source of fresh drinking water. It figures prominently in many key gospel moments, including the times Jesus calmed a storm and walked on water (Mark 4:35-41; Matt. 14:22-34).
HOW GEOGRAPHY PLAYED A ROLE
The semicircular bay at the foot of the mountain and the sloping hillside form a natural amphitheater, like those created by the Greeks and Romans. Partway up this slope is a plateau, likely the “level place” from which Jesus preached (Luke 6:17), and it is estimated that as many as 5,000 to 7,000 people could have sat in this area and clearly heard His message firsthand. This is also how Jesus was able to preach from Peter’s boat and be heard by the large crowd on the elevated shore (Luke 5:1-3).
The area's natural beauty still dazzle visitors today. Even Mark Twain, who believed in God but had an uneasy relationship with Christianity, was humbled by it and recorded his impressions in The Innocents Abroad. He wrote, “In the starlight, Galilee has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens, and is a theatre meet for great events; meet for the birth of a religion able to save a world; and meet for the stately Figure appointed to stand upon its stage and proclaim its high decrees … One can comprehend it only when night has hidden all incongruities and created a theatre proper for so grand a drama.”
“Jesus 6. The Sermon on the Mount,” Jan Luyken