The Story of Kursi (Gergesa)
KURSI is a part of the National Park system in Israel. It is located about midway along the eastern shore of the Kinerret (Sea of Galilee). The name Kursi is the modern name of the site, known in Herodian/Roman times as Gergesa. Gergesa is associated with two miracles reported in the Gospel of St. Mark. The first of these is the "Miracle of the Swine," (Mark 5: 1-20. The second is the "Feeding of the 4,000," (Mark 8: 1-10). Also see information found in The land and the Book: An Introduction to the World of the Bible, Charles R. Page, II and Carl Volz, Abingdon Press, Nashville,, TN, page 147.
The archaeological park is located about 1 km east of the unexcavated tel Gergesa and is found in the area of the necropolis of the village of Gergesa. Jesus' work in this forbidden area (by Jewish Law) is considered by many scholars as the earliest beginnings of the Jesus movement into the Gentile world. Therefore, it is a most important part the evolution of the early Christian Church. The site was declare a major Christian pilgrim site in the 1970's.
Kursi, like most major excavation sites, was discovered by accident in 1970. The israeli government was building a new road to connect the Kinerret to the Golan Heights following the occupation of the Golan during the Six Day War of 1967. As the initial road grading was being done, Mendel Nun, a fisherman from Kibbutz En Gev, noticed small tiles were appearing in the dirt being removed and stopped the preparation for the road. A team of archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority came north to the area and determined that this was an unidentified and unknown antiquities site. From 1971 - 1974 excavations were carried out under the direction of Vassilios Tzaferis and Dan Urman of the IAA. The major finding of their work was the discovery of the ruins of largest Byzantine monastery and church ever found in the Levant.
Excavations were renewed between 2001 - 2004 led by Vasillios Tzfaeris and Charles Page, again for the IAA. Discovered at this time was evidence that a late Roman - early Byzantine community also existed within the monastic grounds located to the north of the church. Evidence was also found that the monastery, church and Christian community were violently destroyed by a genocide campaign carried out against Christian churches and communities throughout modern day Israel and Palestine by Persian invaders between 611/12 and 614 of the Common Era. The destruction of the Kursi community has been dated to the earliest dates of this Persian invasion and is most likely the first site destroyed by the Persians at this time. Following the expulsion of the Persians the site was reoccupied until 718 when it – and much of the Jordan River Valley - was totally destroyed by a massive earthquake. After this, the site was abandoned. We discover evidence of occasional camping in the area by later Arab nomadic peoples in the presence of specific examples of ceramic materials dating to post-Christian Kursi.
We resume our excavations in May 2017 to further define the extent of the ealry Christian community that once existed on this site.
The Biblical Story:
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the (Gergesenes). And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; 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. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; 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." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"
Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." 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.
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. 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. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.
As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 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." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
-- Mark 5:1 - 20