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Kursi Excavation Project

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By Charles R. Page, II
Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration

    The ruins of Kursi, a Byzantine Monastery memorializing two of Jesus’ miracles,1 are located approximately 3 ½ miles (6 km) north of Kibbutz En Gev, on the eastern shore of the Kinneret. The monastery dates to the 5th century CE. During the Persian invasions in the 7th century CE, the monastery was destroyed.

The ruins of the Byzantine Monastery at Kursi    The exact location of the miracle of the swine is in dispute. The Bible mentions two different names for the location of the miracle of the swine. In Matthew the site is called “the country of the Gadarenes,” (Matthew 8:28). Mark and Luke call the place “to the country of the Gerasenes,” (Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). In other translations the site is known as Gergesa. These names suggest Biblical Gadara (present day Hammat Gader) in the Yarmulk River valley to the southeast of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) or Biblical Jerash, one of the cities of the Decapolis located in present day Jordan. Neither of these locations is near to the Byzantine ruins at Kursi and are probably misnamed by gospel editors long after the books were written. The exact name during Biblical times remains unknown.

    The gospel story of the miracle of the swine is also somewhat problematic. It seems highly unlikely that Jesus would have participated in the willful destruction of private property or in abuses to animals. Furthermore, a herd of 2,000 swine would have been very large by the economic and commercial standards of the first century. Rami Arav, a well know Israeli scholar and archaeologist has recently observed:

Byszntine church and monastery at Kursi on the northeastern shore of the Sea of GalileeAlthough Kursi, with its Byzantine church and monastery on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, has been identified as Gadara or Gergesa and the site of the exorcism and drowning of the swine, no remains dating from the first century C.E. were found there, which makes the site a most improbable location. However, the discovery of a tower and chapel 200 meters (656 feet) south of the Byzantine church may support the identification of the site with the location of the miracle of the Gadarine swine. The pigs episode may be interpreted as an added satire mocking the Roman legions, which the storyteller envisioned as driven back to the Mediterranean, for the enjoyment of a Zealot audience. In this hypothesis, the original story would have been only the simple reporting of a dramatic exorcism performed by Jesus in the region of Gadara. Then, at the time of the First Jewish Revolt, a storyteller would have grafted on the basic fact his hilarious creation of a legion of pigs rushing into the sea and drowning because, as everyone would have understood, in the swiftness of the rebels’ victory, there would not have been enough time for the Romans to bring a fleet to evacuate them. Pigs as Roman soldiers, and their debacle: that would have been a double hit! The date of the addition might have been 66 C.E., when news of Vespasian arriving with his legions spread among the people-a date that fits with the date generally accepted for the final redaction of the Gospel of Mark.”2

The church's Mosasic floor depicts baskets and fish fins.    Preserved in what remains of the mosaic floor of the church are depictions of baskets of bread and fish fins suggesting that the second miracle of the fish and loaves reported in Mark 8 is also remembered here. The baskets found in the mosaic floor here are baskets with handles (Greek “spuris”). The same word (spuris) is found also in the report of the second miracle of the fish and loaves found in Mark 8. The type of baskets used in the report found in Mark 6 are called “kophinios" in Greek.3

    The monastery was discovered by accident when a new road was being constructed here. The discovery of a paved street led to the initial excavations from 1971-1974. Soon after the reconstruction work was completed the site became a part of the Israeli National Parks system.

A recently exposed underground passageway at Kursi. New excavation will take place begining September 2001.    A new excavation of recently exposed underground passageways and chambers will take place in September 2001 under the direction of Vassilios Tzfarris and Charles Page. We do not know if the site was abandoned during the Persian invasion and destruction of the site. If so, the subterranean rooms might yield a rich harvest of Byzantine ceramic ware or religious articles. The results of this excavation will be published in 2002.

Kursi cave in

    Charles Page, II, Ph.D. Is the Vice-president of Academic Affairs for the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and the Co-director of the Kursi Excavation Project. The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies is a not-for-profit ecumenical study center located in the heart of Jerusalem that specializes in short-term study courses in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy for colleges, universities, seminaries, graduate schools, churches, and any other groups interested in serious Biblical studies in the Lands of the Bible. For more information about the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies and the Kursi Excavation Project see Biblical Archaeology Review (January/February 2001) or visit our web site at www.jcbs.org.

KURSI NOTES

1.The miracles remembered here are the miracle of the swine (Mark 5) and the second miracle of the fish and loaves (Mark 8).

2. John Rousseau and Rami Arav, Jesus and His World, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, page 98)

3. Kophinios is a large basket without handles usually balanced on a woman's head in Biblical times.

Copyright 2001

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