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Kursi

Israel

Kursi

Steep slope near Kursi (David Q. Hall)

 

A headlong stampede by a herd of demon-possessed pigs into the Sea of Galilee is remembered at Kursi, a picturesque site beneath the Golan Heights on the eastern side of the lake.

Three Gospels tell the story: Jesus steps out of a boat after crossing the lake and is confronted by a man possessed by demons. When Jesus orders the demons to leave the man, they beg to be allowed to enter a herd of swine grazing nearby. Jesus agrees, and the swine — numbering about 2000 — rush down a bank into the water and are drowned. (Luke 8:26-39; Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34)

Kursi

Boulder at Kursi miracle site (Bukvoed)

The dismayed swineherds run off to spread the news, and the local people ask Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. The healed man begs to go with Jesus — but Jesus tells him to go home and tell his friends what has happened.

“And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20). So this gentile man becomes the first person commissioned by Jesus to spread the Good News to non-Jews.

Kursi was an important place of Christian pilgrimage from the 5th century, when the lakeside towns of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin — all three condemned by Jesus for their lack of faith — had fallen into decline.

Kursi is the site of the largest known Byzantine monastery complex in Israel, whose impressive remains have been partly reconstructed.

On the side of the hill behind the monastery are the remains of an earlier chapel, built into a cave. It overlooks a huge boulder enclosed in a retaining wall of stones — apparently identifying the site as the place of the miracle.

 

Location revealed by bulldozer

Kursi

Chapel overlooking boulder at site of miracle, with monastery in middle distance (Steve Peterson)

Kursi is 5 kilometres north of Ein Gev, near the junction where route 789 leaves the lakeside road (route 92) to mount the Golan Heights. Its name, meaning “chair” in Semitic languages, probably refers to the shape of the broad valley behind it.

Different Gospel manuscripts offer conflicting names for the area in which the miracle took place — the country of the Gadarenes, Gerasenes, or Gergesenes.

What is certain is that the location was in gentile territory. Because Jewish dietary laws forbid the eating of pork, no Jew would have been raising pigs.

The identification of Kursi with the place of the miracle was known to early Christian writers and pilgrims — among them St Sabas, founder of Mar Saba monastery, who prayed at the site in 491.

Kursi

Entrance to Kursi (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Kursi lay unknown for many centuries until pieces of Byzantine pottery were noticed in the trail of a bulldozer constructing a new road to the Golan Heights in 1970.

As well as the monastery complex, excavators found an ancient fishing harbour — one of at least 16 around the Sea of Galilee — with a breakwater and a pool where live fish were kept to await sale.

 

Guesthouse for pilgrims uncovered

Kursi

Inside monastery church at Kursi (Bill Rice)

Kursi’s extensive monastery, built in the 5th century, covered 1.8 hectares. Around it stood a defensive stone wall with a watchtower. At its heart was a large church, with a spacious courtyard in front of it.

The church was divided by two rows of stone columns into a nave and two side aisles. Under a chapel in the right-hand aisle, skeletons of 30 monks were found buried in a crypt.

Kursi

Mosaic of grapes at Kursi (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

A large oil press was found in a side room in the left-hand aisle, suggesting that production of olive oil would have been a major source of income for the monastery.

As well as living quarters for the monks, a guesthouse and bath complex for pilgrims have been uncovered. A paved road led from the monastery to the harbour where pilgrims arrived.

The floor of the church was paved with mosaics depicting animal and plant life: Roosters, geese, doves, cormorants, fish, grapes, figs, pomegranates, watermelon and bananas.

When the monastery was abandoned in the early 8th century — after being damaged by fire and earthquake, and invaded by Persians and Muslims — it was used by local Arabs to live in and house their animals.

At that time all of the animal mosaics were obliterated to comply with the Islamic prohibition against human or animal representations.

 

Bench overlooked site of miracle

The chapel on the hill behind the monastery was probably built before the monastery, since its mosaic floor includes crosses. From the year 427, crosses were prohibited on church floors, by order of Christian emperor Theodosius II.

Kursi

Hilltop site of Hippos (David Q. Hall)

A stone bench in the chapel provided a view of the boulder that apparently marks the site of the miracle — and, beyond it, the Sea of Galilee.

Five kilometres south, on the hill directly behind the kibbutz at Ein Gev, stood the ancient city of Hippos (in Greek) or Susita (in Aramaic), both names meaning “horse”.

It would have been to this city that the swineherds ran to tell of the fate of their pigs. And it would have been the residents of this city who begged Jesus to leave their neighbourhood (Matthew 8:34).

Hippos may also have been the hilltop city Jesus referred to when he said, “A city built on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14).

The remains of a Byzantine cathedral and four other churches have been found at Hippos, and a bishop from Hippos is recorded as attending the Church councils of Nicea and Constantinople in the 4th century.

 

In Scripture:

Jesus heals the man possessed by demons: Luke 8:26-39; Mark 5:1-20; Matthew 8:28-34

 

Administered by: Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Tel.: 972-4-673-1983

Open: Apr–Sep 8am–5pm; Oct–Mar 8am–4pm; Fridays and eves of holidays, 8am-4pm. Last entry to site one hour before closing time.

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Tzaferis, Vassilios: “A Pilgrimage to the Site of the Swine Miracle”, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1989
Nun, Mendel: “Ports of Galilee”, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1999
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Kursi (BibleWalks)
Kursi: Christian Monastery on the Shore of the Sea of Galilee (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Caesarea Maritima

Israel

In the attractive Mediterranean seaport of Caesarea Maritima, the apostle Peter baptised the first recorded gentile convert to Christianity — Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army.

When this Italian soldier and his household believed in Jesus they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. This event astonished the Jewish Christians but validated the fact that salvation was for all people (Acts 10).

Caesarea

Harbour at Caesarea (© Deror Avi)

Caesarea Maritima (“by the sea”) was the scene of other significant events for Christians:

• It was the headquarters of Pontius Pilate. From here the Roman procurator set out for the Passover festival in Jerusalem, where he sentenced Jesus to death.

• Here the apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years and preached to the last of the Herods, King Agrippa II, who said that if he were to listen any longer to Paul’s persuasion he might become a Christian.

• The city was the home of Philip the evangelist and his four daughters, who were prophetesses. Paul stayed with them when he returned from his missionary journeys.

• At Philip’s home, a prophet named Agabus bound Paul’s hands and feet with his belt, foretelling how the apostle would be handed over to the Romans.

• After Jerusalem was destroyed, Caesarea became the centre of Christianity in Palestine. A Church council held here in AD 195 determined that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday.

 

Founded by Herod the Great

Caesarea

Restored amphitheatre at Caesarea (Berthold Werner)

Caesarea — not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi in Galilee – was founded by Herod the Great on the site of an ancient fortified town. In 22 BC, with no expense spared, he began building a new city and harbour.

Massive breakwaters gave safe anchorage to 300 ships, a sewage system was flushed by the tide, and a vast hippodrome seated more than 20,000 people at chariot races. Later an amphitheatre was built to present chariot races, gladiatorial combats, animal performances and theatrical events. Little wonder that Caesarea has been dubbed “Vegas on the Med.”

During the Roman occupation, clashes between Jews and the majority Greco-Syrian population, who supported Rome, were frequent.

The desecration of Caesarea’s synagogue and the massacre of 20,000 Jews — in a single hour, according to the historian Josephus — culminated in the First Jewish Revolt, which ended with the AD 70 destruction of both Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

 

Bishop’s territory included Jerusalem

Christianity was accepted early in Caesarea. By the end of the 2nd century the city had a bishop, Theophilus of Caesarea, whose territory included Jerusalem.

Well-known Christian Fathers who were active in Caesarea included Origen and Pamphilius. The library they built up was second only to that of Alexandria (in the 7th century it held 30,000 works).

Eusebius, who became bishop in 314, was both the first Church historian and the first biblical geographer. Without his book of place names, the Onomasticon, many biblical sites would never have been identified.

 

Cathedral was never completed

Caesarea

Roman aquaduct that brought water from Mount Carmel to Caesarea (Seetheholyland.net)

Today’s visitors can see a restored Roman theatre built to accommodate 4000 and a Roman aqueduct that brought water from the foothills of Mount Carmel.

Just inside the theatre is a replica of an inscription carved in stone, bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.

The remains of a Crusader walled city, from the 13th century, include a cathedral which was never completed because the vaults below, from an earlier period, were unable to bear the weight.

A severe storm in December 2010 damaged several archaeological sites, including parts of the Crusader city wall and the Herodian wall. A breakwater built in the 1950s to protect the port was smashed into three pieces.

In Scripture:

Philip arrives in Caesarea: Acts 8:40

Agabus prophesies Paul’s death: Acts 21:8-11

Peter visits Cornelius: Acts 10

God strikes down Herod Agrippa I: Acts 12:21-23

Paul is imprisoned in Caesarea: Acts 23:23—26:32

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Joseph, Frederick: “Caesarea”, Holy Land, winter 2004
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Porath, Yosef: “Caesarea: Herod and Beyond: Vegas on the Med.”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2004
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Caesarea Maritima (BibArch)
Caesarea Maritima (BiblePlaces)
Caesarea (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Acre

Israel

Acre

St John’s Crypt in the Crusaders’ Hospitaller Quarter at Acre (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Because Acre, 22 kilometres north of Haifa, had the best natural harbour on the coast of the Holy Land, it achieved importance from early times.

But its role as the main stronghold of the Crusaders made the most lasting impression on its long and chequered history.

Before the Crusaders took Acre in 1104, the city had been captured by Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks and Muslims. Its name had been expressed as Acre, Akko, Acco or Accho.

It was King Ptolemy of Egypt who called it Ptolemais, the name mentioned by St Luke (Acts 21:7) when he and St Paul visited it at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey around AD 58.

By then a Christian community was already established. Christianity spread rapidly in the city and by AD 190 it had a bishop.

 

Crusaders made Acre their capital

By the 11th century, Muslim forces were oppressing Palestine’s Christians and harassing pilgrims, so the Emperor of Constantinople appealed to Pope Urban II for armies to aid the Christians.

Acre

Courtyard of the Hospitaller Quarter in Acre (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Pope called for a Crusade from Europe to wrest the Holy Land, in particular the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, from Muslim control.

The Crusaders captured Acre. They made it their capital and the main link between their Latin kingdom and Europe. They also gave it another name, St Jean d’Acre, in honour of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem.

In 1187 Acre fell again to Muslims under the Kurdish general Saladin. In 1191 Richard the Lionheart of England and Philip Augustus of France took it back.

But Saladin’s forces finally ended the Crusader kingdom in 1187 at the battle of the Horns of Hattin, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Acre was almost totally destroyed and lay in ruins for 450 years.

 

Remains of Crusader city can be seen

Acre

Street scene in old Acre (Seetheholyland.net)

Among Acre’s bewildering network of narrow streets, today’s visitors can see much of the old Crusader city. The extensive remains are sometimes referred to as the “Underground City” because they lie well below street level.

The most important edifice is the great refectory hall of the Knights Hospitallers of St John, a chivalrous order concerned with the health and spiritual welfare of pilgrims. It is a fine example of Crusader architecture.

A pit in the hall gives access to an underground passage (perhaps originally a sewer from well before the time of Christ) which the Crusaders discovered and maintained.

There are also Gothic knights’ halls (not all open to the public), each belonging to one of the nations represented in the crusading Order of the Knights Hospitallers: Auvergne, England, France, Germany, Provence and Spain.

 

St Francis and Marco Polo visited

After the Crusader kingdom collapsed, St Francis of Assisi arrived at Acre in 1219. He had gone to Egypt with the Fifth Crusade and walked into a Muslim camp. His peace-loving nature impressed the sultan, Melek-el-Kamel, who allowed him to visit the holy places, then off limits to Christians. Today many of these sites are maintained by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Acre

Khan al-Umdan (Inn of the Pillars) at Acre (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Venetian traveller Marco Polo was a later visitor. He made Acre the staging point for his great journey to the Orient.

In the second half of the 18th century, Acre became ruled by a local Arab sheik and then by a harsh Albanian soldier of fortune, Ahmed Pasha, who became known as “al-Jazzar” (the Butcher). The walls were built at this time and they resisted a 60-day siege by Napoleon in 1799.

The present Acre is largely an 18th-century Turkish town built on the ruins of the old city, and almost surrounded by Jewish suburbs.

Above the Crusader town stands the dominant landmark of Ahmed Pasha’s domed mosque, known especially for its beautiful courtyard.

Acre’s old city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many archaeological digs have taken place there.

In Scripture:

Paul arrives at Ptolemais: Acts 21:7

 

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007).
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links:

Acre (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Acre (Akko) (BibleWalks)
Acco, Ptolemais, Acre (BiblePlaces)
Akko (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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