1 And they came to the
other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.
2 And when he was come out of the boat, straightway there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
3 who had his dwelling in the tombs: and no man could any more bind him, no, not with a chain;
4 because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been rent asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: and no man had strength to tame him.
5 And always, night and day, in the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out, and cutting himself with stones.
6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped him;
7 and crying out with a loud voice, he saith, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the Most High God? I adjure thee by God, torment me not.
8 For he said unto him, Come forth, thou unclean spirit, out of the man.
9 And he asked him, What is thy name? And he saith unto him, My name is Legion; for we are many.
10 And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
11 Now there was there on the mountain side a great herd of swine feeding.
12 And they besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
13 And he gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered into the swine: and the herd rushed down the steep into the sea, in number about two thousand; and they were drowned in the sea. 14 And they that fed them fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they came to see what it was that had come to pass.
15 And they come to Jesus, and behold him that was possessed with demons sitting, clothed and in his right mind, even him that had the legion: and they were afraid.
16 And they that saw it declared unto them how it befell him that was possessed with demons, and concerning the swine.
17 And they began to beseech him to depart from their borders.
18 And as he was entering into the boat, he that had been possessed with demons besought him that he might be with him.
19 And he suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go to thy house unto thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and how he had mercy on thee.
20 And he went his way, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men marveled.
Most pilgrims looked for the site of this event on the eastern shore between En Gev and Kursi (the side of Wadi Semakh). At Kursi are the ruins of a Byzantine monastery at what is thought to have been Gergesa as the place recorded for this event in some early manuscripts.
The homeless man was living in tombs or burial caves and was exceedingly fierce and hostile. He scared people and had been in trouble with the law, fettered and chained, he had broken loose.
There is no cliff overhanging the sea at Kursi. It is true the lake level was different in those days, but we do not know by how much. A hydroelectric project designed in the 1930's lowered the Jordan River bed where it flowed out of the lake by a few feet.
One pilgrim could not imagine a herd of pigs being able to drown themselves along the shore and looked at some of the nearby sheer cliffs and described the place as a "lover's leap" and the swine might have instead ran off the edge of the cliff. There is a steep cliff overhanging the shore to the south of Kursi, but it is not directly over the water.
There is a place where the lake bed has a steep drop off close to shore as described by John MacGregor, The Rob Roy on the Jordan (pgs 378-380), c. 1869, c. 1904:
Between Wady Semakh (at the Kursi Junction) and Wady Fik (near Kibbutz En Gev) there are at least four distinct localities where every feature in the Scripture account of this incident may be found in combination. Above there are rocks with caves in them, very suitable for tombs, and farther down there is ample space for tombs built on sloping ground--a form of sepulture far more prevalent in Scripture times than we are apt to suppose. A verdant sward is here, with many bulbous roots which swine might feed upon. And on this I observed--what is an unusual site--a very large herd of oxen, horses, camels, sheep, asses, and goats, all feeding together. It was evident that the pasturage was various and enough for all--a likely place for "a herd of swine feeding on the mountain."
Khersa, near this, in ruins, was probably the Gergesa of old, and, as has been observed repeatedly by authors, this might well be in the "country of the Gadarenes," though a considerable distance from the town of Gadara. We are told that, "the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place." It does not say a "high" place, but "steep," and that they "ran" (not, they "fell") down this "into the sea." There are several steeps near the sea here, but only one so close to the water as to make it sure that, if a herd "ran violently" down, they would go "into the sea." But the place which I regard as most likely for the site of this event is at the end of the short plain under some rocks, and near the green plateau, where the swine could feed. Here, for a full half-mile, the beach is of a form different from any other round the lake, and from any I have noticed in any lake or sea before. It is flat until close to the edge. There a hedge of oleanders fringes the end of the plain, and immediately below these is a gravel beach, inclined so steep that, when my boat was at the shore I could not see over the top even by standing up, while the water alongside is so deep that it covered my paddle (seven feet long) when dipped in vertically a few feet from the shore. Now, if the swine rushed along this short plain towards this hedge of underwood (and in the delta of Semakh, their usual feeding place would be often amount to thick brushwood of that kind), they would instantly pass through the shrubs, and then down the steep gravel beyond into deep water, where they would surely be drowned.
Photo of the Semakh Delta July 2006, Lake Tiberias
The stream flowing into the lake is seasonal. There were some steep banks a few feet high along the stream and a steep drop off along the shore. Seasonal floods from the Golan altered the shape of this stream delta and the depth of the water along the shore. A later journey to this area revealed the shoreline was once again altered by flood and/or bulldozer-earth moving equip. and this swimming hole was eliminated. There are pay for use beaches a short distance to the north of the parasailing location. The alteration of this beach may have been for economical reasons.
Note: The language used to describe the event was from an era two thousand years ago, or later modification of the original text. The story is difficult to understand. I described the story as best I could with added description as to how it might have occurred. The important thread in the verses was that Jesus healed a mentally ill person who had been made an outcast due to his bad temper. The healing was as complete as the outcast was made sane and was able to return without being a threat to his community. As for demons going from a person to pigs and causing a stampede; that is doubtful. Stampedes amongst livestock were caused by loud noises or sometimes because of irrational fear spreading through the herd. Lemmings occasionally stampeded into the sea without reason or logic. Some people claimed to be several people as in a multiple personality disorder. This one claimed he was a legion.
Other Steep Slope
During a tour of Israel I bought a small inflatable boat in Tiberias and set out from a northwestern beach south of Magdala. To my left was Mt. Arbel. There are numerous burial caves along the SE face of Arbel and other caves on the mountain reportedly used by revolutionaries during the reign of Herod the Great as reported by the Roman era historian Josephus. As I rowed nearer to Magdala, the lakeshore road was above me far to my left. From the lakeside road the land quickly descended to the lake. I rowed as fast as fast as I could toward Magdala, then one of my plastic-aluminum oars snapped with half of it descending to the bottom as my hand did not reach it in time. I had to use my remaining oar to paddle to shore as I was a long ways from shore and did not want to break my remaining oar. I saw the lake bottom was deep all the way to a narrow shelf near the shore. The area was strewn with talus boulders from the mountain and road construction. Stepping out of my boat and on to the shore I climbed a steep rise up to the asphalt road and walked back to the beach where I started using the shoulder of the road.
NW Corner of 'Sea of Galilee' July 2006
Some of my earlier descriptions of Kursi and the tale of the man possessed by a legion on the pages of Israel Photos III.