Ministry to Gentiles Along the East Shore
of the Sea of Galilee: Miracle of the Swine
Summer-Autumn, 31 AD

 

"What do you want with us, Son of God?' they shouted. 'Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?'" (Luke 4:43).

 


In the footsteps of Jesus...


Leaving kibbutz Ein Gev, our guide again calls our attention to the steep, saddle-shaped, mountain facing the gate. This was the site of the Decapolis city of Hippos. An unmarked road heading east off the lakeside road (Road 92); a steep and winding climb of some 2 miles leads to the site entrance.


Hippos


Founded by the Seleucids early in the Hellenisic era (332-167 BC), Hippos (Greek horse), also called Sussita (Aramaic, with the same meaning), was named after the promontory on which it stood (it was said to resemble the shape of a horse). Despite the defensive wall circling the summit, it was captured by the Hamonean ruler, Alexander Jannaeus, about 80 BC, and the Roman general, Pompey, took it in 63 BC and it became one of the cities of the Decapolis.

prominent hill rising above Ein Gev, where the Decapolis city of Hippos (Sussita) stood main street or cardo maximus with fallen columns

(Above left) the prominent hill rising above Ein Gev, where the Decapolis city of Hippos (Sussita) stood at the time of Jesus; (Above right) On the summit are the remains of the main street or cardo maximus (note the fallen columns, victims of an earthquake), a nymphaeum (monumental public fountain) and bathhouse, typical features of a Hellenistic (and pagan) city. Despite the considerable trade between Hippos and Tiberias directly across the Sea of Galilee to the west, the towns were deadly enemies. After the time of Jesus, during the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD), the Jews attacked the city.

Continuing north on Route 92 fron Ein Gev we soon arrive at Kursi National Park:


Kursi


Kursi has been identified as the "region of the Gadarenes" where Jesus cast several demons out of two men, the so-called "Miracle of the Swine" (both Mark and Luke use the term "Gerasenes," derived from the region's capital city of Gerasa, located about 35 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee; Mark and Luke mention only one man). Opening our Bibles to Matthew 8, we read:


"When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no-one could pass that way. 'What do you want with us, Son of God?' they shouted. 'Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?' Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, 'If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.' He said to them, 'Go!' So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region" (Matthew 8:28-34; also see the parallel accounts in Mark 5:1-20 and Luke 8:26-37).


The "Gadarenes" (meaning "a stranger drawing near") were residents of Gadara (Arabic Um Qais), another of the cities of the Decapolis and the capital of the Roman province of Perea, controlled by Herod Antipas at the time of Jesus. Gadara (also called Gergasa or Gerasa in various manuscripts) was located on the summit of a mountain about 6 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee. The miracle could not have taken place at Gadara itself, for between the lake and the town there is the deep, almost impassable ravine of the Jarmuk River (Hieromax). Gadara, which is mentioned in the Gospels only in connection with the healing of the demon-possessed men (man), was dominant enough to give its name to the entire area (thus the term "region of the Gadarenes" in Matthew's account).

ruins of Gadara also known as Um Qais restoration of Gadara/Um Qais

(Above left) Looking toward the Sea of Galilee from Gadara/Um Qais; (Above right) restoration of Gadara/Um Qais


Miracle of the Swine


The "Miracle of the Swine" could only have taken place in the region east of the Sea of Galilee, where Greek cities like Sussita (Hippos) and Gadara were located. (With the exception of Tiberias, the west and north sides of the lake were dotted with towns inhabited primarily by Jews, who considered pigs "unclean." Pigs were the main sacrificial animal in Greek religious observances.)

Kursi, the modern name for the probable site of the "Miracle of the Swine," is possibly derived from Aramaic kursa, meaning "chair," which refers to a rock formation above the site. (Kursi is also similar to the Greek choiros (swine), or it may even have derived from the town of Korazin (Chorazin) which was once identified with the site.

*The actual remains of Korazin are located above the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

In the 5th century AD, a church and monastery (one of the largest in the country) (below left) were established at the mouth of a wadi (dry seasonal riverbed) descending from the Golan Heights to service the needs of pilgrims who wished to visit the possible location of the "Miracle of the Swine." In antiquity, a paved road led from the monastery to a small harbor for those pilgrims arriving in boats. The monastery complex was inhabited for the next three centuries but, in the mid 8th century AD, it was damaged by an earthquake and abandoned. Eventually, it was covered by a thick layer of silt. Steep cliffs rose above the lake's east side. In 1980, a small chapel was discovered on the hillside (below right). Its apse was built in a cave which Christian tradition ties to the place the demon-possessed men (or man, depending on which gospel you read) were cleansed by Jesus.

monastery at Kursi steep hillside at Kursi

In Jesus' time, there was a harbor with a 10-foot high breakwater of stones extending into the lake from the shore and curving around the harbor to protect boats from  sudden storms on the Sea of Galilee.

The ancient site came to light again in 1970 (shortly after the Six Day War of 1967) during construction of a road when bulldozers uncovered pottery sherds and the tops of the monastery's stone walls. It was the largest Byzantine-period monastery discovered in Israel and within its church, archeologists found a mosaic floor with pictures of animals (chickens, geese, doves, cormorants and fish) and plants (citrons, dates, pomegranates and grapes), parts of which were vandalized. The mosaic floor in the monastery's baptism room has a Greek inscription. Also discovered were a small aqueduct, a harbor administration building, a shallow pool lined with plaster where area fisherman stored their daily catch and an underground crypt containing more than 30 skeletons, all of middle-age men, except for one child.  Furthermore, in 2001 a bath was uncovered indicating that there might also have been an inn or hostel there. It seems the monks provided a place of shelter and even a bath complex for their pilgrim guests, and, perhaps, earned income for the monastery. (See more photos of the Kursi site at biblewalks.com)

The site is now open to the public as yet another of the national parks supervised of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. (Incidentally, the road was deflected and now skirts the site). Here, pilgrims can visualize the demon-possessed pigs insanely running down the steep incline into the lake where they drowned.

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