Friday, October 27, 2023

The Kursi Monastery Where Jesus Healed the Gadarene Demoniacs at the Sea of Galilee

Kursi (Κυρσοί) is located near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee on the bank of a wadi, Nahal Samakh, descending from the Golan Heights. It is an archaeological site containing the ruins of a Byzantine monastery and identified by tradition as the site where Jesus cast out demons from two men which then went on to possess local pigs which cast themselves into the sea (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28–34, Luke 8:26-39). The events take place in the land of either the Gerasenes, Gadarenes or Gergesenes (Mark 5:1, Matthew 8:28, Luke 8:26). Part of the archaeological site is now an Israeli national park. Kursi takes its name from the Talmudic site. A marble slab with Aramaic text discovered in December 2015 seems to indicate that the settlement had, as of ca. 500 AD, a Jewish or Judeo-Christian population.

The monastery and its church were built in the 5th century, remaining in use throughout the Byzantine period. This being a major pilgrimage site, a number of buildings were built for the accommodation of pilgrims as well as the local monastic community, all surrounded by walls and other fortifications. In 614 the Sassanian (Persian) armies invaded Palestine laying waste to most of its churches and monasteries, including the one at Kursi. The church was later rebuilt, but part of the destroyed settlement was left in its ruined state. The church continued functioning under Muslim rule after the conquest of Palestine in 638-641 until being totally devastated by the 749 earthquake. Arab squatters used the ruins as dwellings and for storage in the 9th century, marking the end of Kursi's use as a Christian pilgrimage site.

The ruins of the monastery were first unearthed by road construction crews in 1970, and the major excavation took place between 1971 and 1974 headed by Israeli archaeologist Dan Urman[2] and his Greek colleague Vassilios Tzaferis for the Israel Antiquities Authority. Together they excavated the largest Byzantine monastic complex found in Israel. Further excavations have since been taking place, the marble-lined bath-house being one of the more recent discoveries.

The church has been reconstructed to a degree which allows the visitor to understand its three-dimensional shape and size.

Christian artifacts from Kursi can be viewed at the Golan Archaeological Museum.

As for the site of the miracle, the excavators found a ruined chapel and tower on a hill 200 meters southeast of the monastery. Both are built around a huge pillar of natural rock with the chapel behind it, partly in a cave and partly hewn into the rock. It boasted three layers of mosaic floor, demonstrating its rich importance to the monks and pilgrims. This chapel may have been built before the monastery and it supports the location of the miracle at this site, as from here the incline of the mountain could indeed be the slope down which the swine were bedeviled into their headlong suicidal flight.