Israeli archaeologists find Hebrew inscriptions on ancient slab of marble near the Galilean Sea
In December 2015 Hebrew inscriptions were discovered on an ancient piece of rare marble discovered by Israeli archaeologists during an excavation on the shores of Lake Kinneret [which is 64 sq mi (166 sq km), extending 13 miles (21 km) from north to south and 7 miles (11 km) from east to west, it is pear-shaped]. The lake is c.700 ft (210 m) below sea level and occupies a downwarped basin being fed and drained by the Jordan River.
The finding of the 1,500-year-old slab in the great depression of the Jordan, dug up by scientists in Kursi confirms historians’ belief that the ancient village of Kursi was inhabited either by Jews or Christians.
Kursi lies on the eastern shore of Israel’s most important source of drinking water. Today it is also known for the Talmudic site which is located near the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (also Sea of Chinnereth or Chinneroth, Kinneret, from the Old Testament or Hebrew Tanakh “sea of Kinneret” in Numbers 34:11 and Joshua 13:27, also known as Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias) on the bank of a river bed, Nahal Samakh, descending from the Golan Heights, where one can find the ruins of a 5th century monastery and its church, staying in use throughout the Byzantine period (in Israeli-Judaic terms: the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods). In the New Testament the lake is named variously from nearby geographical features – Galilee, Gennesaret, or Tiberias. The lake was the source of a thriving fishing industry in the time of Christ. The fish life of the Sea of Galilee has an affinity with that of the East African lakes. Fish species to be found today include damselfish, scaleless blennies, catfish, mouthbreeders, tilapia or ‘St. Peter’s fish‘ and barbels.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote of nine cities on the shores of the lake in ancient times, but of those only one of the four Jewish holy cities, the Israeli city on the western shore Tiberias has survived. Kefar Naḥum (ancient Capernaum), near the northwestern shore, has preserved one of the most beautiful synagogues of the Galilee region, dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries ce. A sanctuary for the Druze (an independent sect founded in the 11th century with a creed containing elements of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) is located near the Moshav shitufi Kefar Ḥittim near the western shore.
The finding of the 1,500-year-old slab with Hebrew text is the first indication that there was a Jewish presence, and it reinforces the belief that the town of Kursi was the place where Jesus performed the ‘Miracle of the Swine.’ At this place Jesus healed one or two men possessed by demons by driving these into a herd of pigs (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28–34, Luke 8:26-39). The apostle look at the miracle from a different angle and as such details differ somewhat in the three gospels dealing with the episode, and again some more in different ancient manuscripts of those same gospels. The events take place in the land of either the Gerasenes, Gadarenes or Gergesenes located near the modern city of Jerash, Jordan (Mark 5:1, Matthew 8:28, Luke 8:26). Exorcised was either one man (Mark and Luke) or two (Matthew). The whole herd of swine subsequently ran into the Sea of Galilee and perished.
The Israeli archaeologist Dan Urman started his research when in 1970 by road construction the labourers bumped on the ruins of a monastery. The major excavation took place between 1971 and 1974. Dan Urman and his Greek colleague Vassilios Tzaferis for the Israel Antiquities Authority 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.
Prof. Michal Artzi of Haifa University and Dr. Haim Cohen in concert with the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority supervised the recent excavations and finding of the stone slab.
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