Thursday 25th June 2014
Having completed our boat excursion on the Sea of Galilee, we returned to port and boarded our bus for a trip by road around the northern end of the Sea of Galilee to the other side, to the Southern Golan Heights. We stopped at Kursi, the site of the ruins of a 5th century Byzantine church/monastery, the largest in Israel in its heyday.
Kursi, Golan Heights
Kursi (Byzantine Greek Κυρσοί) is the ruins of a Byzantine Christian monastery and now an Israeli national park located in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights.
The site is located east of the Sea of Galilee on the bank of a river bed descending from the Golan Heights. It is significant to many Christians and Jews because it has been identified by tradition as the site where Jesus healed two men possessed by demons (Matthew 8: 28–33). The ruins of the monastery were first unearthed by road construction crews, and the major excavation took place between 1971 and 1974 run by the Greek archeologist Vassilios Tzaferis for the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The monastery is surrounded by a rectangular stone wall measuring 120 X 140. The entrance facing the Sea of Galilee was guarded by a watchtower, and a paved road led down to a harbor where Christian boats could berth. Inside the wall the 45 X 25m church is made of a mosaic floor courtyard surrounded by pillars with pictures of animals (chickens, geese, doves, cormorants, and fish), parts of which were vandalized, as well as pictures of plants such as citrons, dates, pomegranates, and grapes. The monastery was occupied during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods. In the 8th century the site was damaged by an earthquake and abandoned.
Christian artifacts from Kursi can be viewed at the Golan Archaeological Museum.
As mentioned in the extract above, the site is identified with the account of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac. The story is told in Matthew 8:28-33. There is a longer account in Chapter Five of the Gospel of Mark:
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. 3 He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 4 for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. 6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 7 and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” 8 For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” 9 Then Jesus[b] asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; 12 and the unclean spirits begged him, “Send us into the swine; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.
14 The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. 17 Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Again, Br Mark McVann was able to provide context for us, the Markan community experiencing persecution. It is significant that the demons give their name as “Legion”, code for the Roman Legion which consisted of upwards of 5,000 soldiers. Again, the account is an assurance to the beleaguered Christian community, that the risen Christ has power over the forces of evil, over death. They are exhorted to persevere in faith, confident and assured that in and with Christ they will be delivered from all that assails them.
Another point that is worth noting is that the setting is Gentile rather than Jewish. One piece of evidence is the herding of pigs, which would be anathema to Jews. Also, the healed Gerasene spreading throughout the Decapolis the “good news” of what Jesus had done for him is likely to explain the relatively rapid expansion of the early church in that area among the Gentiles. It is likely that St Mark’s community was a mix of Jews and Gentiles. Hence the importance of this story as an encouragement to the Gentile members of the community and a reminder to all of their responsibility to give witness to Jesus in the midst of their suffering.
I continue to enjoy the flowers! In the hot, dry clime of Galilee/Golan, the verdant greenery of the plants and trees look luscious and is a delight to the eyes and a refreshment to the spirit.
For more information and photos of Kursi see:
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!