The Demoniacs at Gergesa

After the stilling of the tempest He comes to the Matt. viii. 28-34. country of the Gergesenes. As He landed He was met Mark V. 1-18. by two men possessed by demons, whose dwelling was Luke viii. 26-39. in the tombs near by. Beholding Jesus they run to meet Him, and He casting out the demons permits them to enter a herd of swine that was feeding near. The swine so possessed run down the hill-side into the sea, and so perish, and the inhabitants coming to Him desire Him to depart from their coasts. After directing the healed demoniacs to proclaim through Decap- Mark V. 19, 20. olis what had been done for them, He returns to Ca- Matt. ix. 1. pernaum.

As the Lord left the shore at even, and afterward fell asleep, we may infer that the storm came on in the night. The landing at Gergesa on the eastern side must then have

been the next morning, as there is no mention that He returned that night to Capernaum, or landed elsewhere. He was met by the demoniacs so soon as He came out of the ship; and that it was broad daylight appears from the fact that He was seen by them afar oif, (Mark v. 2-6.) *

The exact spot where Jesus met the demoniacs is uncertain. The first point of difficulty is to harmonize the various readings of the Synoptists. Without entering into a discussion upon this point, which could lead to no definite result, we find mentioned three distinct places, Gadara, Gerasa, and Gergesa, Of the two former we have some knowledge. Gadara is mentioned by Josephus3 as the capital of Perea, and as destroyed by Vespasian. It is generally admitted that it stood upon the site now known as Um Keis, where very considerable ruins are still visible. Um Keis lies some six or eight miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, and about sixteen miles from Tiberias, and three south of the Jarmuk, or ancient Hieromax. Gerasa is also mentioned by Josephus3 as lying upon the eastern border of Perea, and as captured by a lieutenant of Vespasian. " In the Roman age no city of Palestine wras better known than Gerasa. It is situated amid the mountains of Gilead twenty miles east of the Jordan, and twenty-five north of Philadelphia, the ancient Rabbath Amnion."4 Gergesa is mentioned by Origen as an ancient city lying upon the Lake of Tiberias, and near the shore, and he adds that the precipice was still pointed out from which the swine rushed into the sea.5 Alford, however, doubts whether there ever was a town named Gergesa near the lake; still, as he thinks that " Gergesenes" in the text could not, as a conjecture of Origen, have found its way into so many ancient versions and manuscripts, he adopts it as the true reading.1 He adds: " We cannot say that a part of the territory of Gadara may not have been known to those, who, like Matthew, were locally intimate with the shores of the lake, by this ancient and generally disused name."

i See Greswell, ii. 335. 9 War, 4. 7. 3.

s War, 3. 3. 3 ; 4. 9. 1. 4 Smith's Diet. Bible, i. 678.

6 Origen quoted in Alford on Matt. viii. 28 j see Reland, 806.

Regarded merely as a question of topography, Gerasa must be at once rejected as the place of this meeting with the demoniacs, because too distant; unless indeed we suppose it to have been the name of a province so large as to embrace Gadara and all the region to the lake. So also Gadara, if the city be meant, is too remote to answer to the conditions of the narrative, for this plainly implies that the city w^as upon, or near the shore. Mark (v. 2) says: "And when He was come out of the ship immediately there met Him out of the tombs," &c. Luke (viii. 27) says: " And when He went forth to land there met Him out of the city a certain man," &e. These statements cannot well be explained otherwise than that the demoniacs met Him, as observed by Alexander, " as He landed, not merely after He had done so, which would admit of an indefinite interval ; whereas the landing and the meeting were simultaneous, or immediately successive." It is not indeed said that the place of landing was close to the city, but Jesus does not seem to have left the spot where the demoniacs met Him upon the shore, and to which "the whole city came out to meet" Him; from which circumstance it may fairly be inferred that the city was at no great distance. Besides, although the place where the swine were feeding is spoken of as " a good way off," yet it was obviously near the lake, for it is simply said that after their possession they ran down a steep place into the sea. Thomson (ii. 35) satisfactorily shows that this city could not be Gadara.

1 Bleek (Synoptische Erklarung i. 365) thinks Origen's words show that there was such a place in his day, the traditional site of the miracle, and one answering to its conditions.

" I take for granted, what I believe to be true, that Um Keis marks the site of Gadara, and it was therefore about three hours to the south of the extreme shore of the lake in that direction. There is first a broad plain from Khurbet Sarura to the Jarmuk ; then the vast gorge of this river, and after it an ascent for an hour and a half to Um Keis. ISTo one, I think, will maintain that this meets the requirements of the sacred narratives, but is in irreconcilable contradiction to them. It is true that a celebrated traveller, from his lofty stand-point at Um Keis, overlooks all intervening obstacles, and makes the swine rush headlong into the lake from beneath his very feet. But to do this in fact, (and the Evangelists deal only in plain facts,) they must have run down the mountain for an hour and a half, forded the deep Jarmuk, quite as formidable as the Jordan itself, ascended its northern bank, and raced across a level plain several miles before they could reach the nearest margin of the lake, a feat which no herd of swine would be likely to achieve, even though they were possessed."

If upon these topographic grounds, which are substantially those of Origen, we reject the claims of Gadara, we turn back to Gergesa. We have already referred to the testimony of Origen to Gergesa as an ancient city near the lake, and having a precipice hard by, which tradition in his day pointed out as the place wThere the swine ran down into the sea. Eusebius says that at his day, a village was shown upon the mountain near Lake Tiberias, where the swine ran down.1 There is then no reason to doubt that at the time of Origen, and afterward, a town existed by the name of Gergesa near the lake, and which tradition made the scene of this miracle ; and the absence of all later mention of it shows only that it had fallen into decay. The site of this city Thomson finds on the eastern shore directly opposite the plain of Gennesaret, and near the point where Wady es Samak enters the lake.

1 Raumer, 218, note 331.

Here he found some rums, and the name as given him by the Bedouins was Kerza or Gersa. "It was a small place, but the walls can be traced all round, and there seem to have been considerable suburbs. I identify these ruins with the long lost site of Gergesa."—" In this Gersa or Chersa we have a position which fulfils every requirement of the narrative, and with a name so near that in Matthew as to be in itself a strong corroboration of the truth of this identification. It is within a few rods of the shore, and an immense mountain rises directly above it, in which are ancient tombs, out of some of which the two men possessed of the devils may have issued to meet Jesus. The lake is so near the base of the mountain, that the swine rushing madly down it could not stop, but would be hurried on into the water and drowned. The place is one which our Lord would be likely to visit, having Capernaum in full view to the north, and Galilee over against it, as Luke (viii. 26) says it was. The name, however, pronounced by Bedouin Arabs is so similar to Gergesa, that to all my inquiries for this place they invariably said it was at Chersa, and they insisted that they were identical, and I agree with them in this opinion." Thomson strengthens this result by describing the topography of the shore of the lake to the south of Chersa, the mountains receding from the shore, and the plain between them becoming broader. "There is no bold cliff overhanging the lake on the eastern side, nor indeed on any other, except just north of Tiberias. Everywhere along the northeastern and eastern shores a smooth beach declines gently down to the water. There is no 'jumping off' place, nor, indeed, is any required. Take your stand a little south of this Chersa. A great herd of swine, we will suppose, is feeding on this mountain that towers above it. They are seized with a sudden panic, rush madly down the almost perpendicular declivity, those behind tumbling over and thrusting forward those before, and as there is neither time nor space to recover on the narrow shelf between the base and the lake, they are crowded headlong into the water and perish. All is perfectly natural just at this point, and here I suppose it did actually occur."

This discovery of the site of Gergesa removes all topographical difficulties from the sacred narratives. It is therefore unnecessary to mention in detail the other solutions that have been proposed, as that of Ebrard, (324,) who in answer to De Wette attempts to show that Gadara was but an hour distant from the sea. Stanley (372) places the scene of these events in Wady Feik, nearly opposite Tiberias.

The difficulties connected with the various readings in the texts of the Synoptists belong to another department of criticism. If, however, " Gergesenes" (Matt. viii. 28) was the reading of some manuscripts of Matthew before the time of Origen, we may readily suppose that this Evangelist mentioned the name of the city, although small, as one not unknown to his Jewish readers. The Evangelists, Mark and Luke, mention only the name of the larger and more important city, as more likely to be known to their distant readers, to whom exact topography was unimportant.1

We may then thus picture this incident to ourselves. The Lord, leaving Capernaum at even to avoid the ever-thronging multitude, directs his course southeasterly toward Gergesa. The storm bursting suddenly upon them during the evening, He, by His word, calms the sea. Very early in the morning He lands upon the coast of Gergesa, a little way south from the city. Here He is met, as He lands, by the demoniacs. Upon the steep slopes of the adjacent mountain the swine were feeding, and to Him upon the shore came out the inhabitants of the city, "beseeching Him to depart from their coasts.

i Meyer in loco; Ebrard, 325; Ewald, Christus, 338; Porter, ii. 319.

Matthew mentions two demoniacs ; Mark and Luke but one. How shall this discrepancy be explained? Lightfoot, (on Mark v. 1,) who supposes that Gergesa was the name of a district embracing within it Gadara, which was a heathen city, makes one of th§ two to have been a Gadarene, and the other a Gergesene. Matthew mentions both, but Mark and Luke mention only him from Gadara as a heathen demoniac, " that so they might make the story more famous." Some, as Ebrard, make Matthew to have blended this case with that of the possessed healed at Capernaum, (Mark i. 23.) Da Costa supposes that Matthew knew that there was in fact but one, but that he might have seen a man attacked by the demoniac, and so gives the impression upon his mind as if there were two !

The common and most probable explanation is, that there were indeed two, but that one wTas much more prominent than the other, either as the fiercer of the two, or as of a higher rank and better known, and therefore alone mentioned by Mark and Luke.1 That their silence respecting one of the demoniacs does not exclude him, Robinson thus illustrates:a "In the year 1824 Lafayette visited the United States, and was everywhere welcomed with honors and pageants. Historians will describe these as a noble incident in his life. Other writers will relate the same visit as made, and the same honors as enjoyed, by two persons, viz., Lafayette and his son. Will there be any contradiction between these two classes of writers ? Will not both record the truth?" Greswell (i. 210) thinks that one of those thus healed became a disciple, and that the other did not.

3 So early, Augustine; and recently, Alexander, Krafft, Stier,* Greswell, Ellieott.

2 Har., 195.

. The former being thus better known, and his case invested with a personal interest, Mark and Luke speak of him only, and in much detail; whilst Matthew, who desires only to illustrate the power of Christ over evil spirits, mentions the healing of both, but says nothing of their subsequent history. He prefers, however, the conjecture based on Luke viii. 27, that this one demoniac was an inhabitant, and probably a native of Gergesa ; but not the other.

Meyer, on the other hand, rejects all attempts to explain away the discrepancy ; and Alford, who supposes that there was but one demoniac, thinks that perhaps his words, " My name is legion, for we are many," (Mark v. 9,) may have given rise to the report of two demoniacs in Matthew.

The request of the Gergesenes that Jesus would depart from their coasts, shows how material interests ruled in their minds, and how unprepared were they to understand the real significance of His work. The healing of the demoniacs, so mighty a miracle, and their restoration to sound mind, and to their families and friends, were of less value than the loss of their swine.

The direction to the healed to go to their homes, and proclaim what the Lord had done for them, so contrary to His general custom, shows that it was His desire to call attention to Himself in this section of the land; and, by making this miracle widely known, prepare the way for subsequent labors. Perhaps, also, something in the moral condition of the healed made this desirable for them.