by Yael Adar
In the Pilgrim's Crossing section we spotlight places that may be of special interest to visitors journeying on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The remains of Kursi include the largest monastery ever found in Israel, covering an area of 170,000 square feet. Built during the time of the Byzantines, around the fifth century A.D., the complex included a church paved with colorful mosaics and supported by massive columns.
Archaeologists also discovered a smaller chapel situated high on the rock overlooking the rest of the remains, accessible via a footpath leading up the hillside. This is, no doubt, the spot where ancient pilgrims commemorated the miracle of the cleansing of the possessed man, by Jesus
After the Six Day War in 1967 construction began on a new road from the Eastern Shore of the Sea of Galilee up to an old Syrian outpost in the Golan Heights. A local fisherman keeping tabs on the work noticed remains of pottery and carved building stones at the road site. He notified the Israel Antiquities authorities, whose intervention halted the construction of the new road. The contractors were furious but the road was eventually rerouted in order to preserve the site of what is now known as Kursi.
Kursi is mentioned in Mark 5:1-13 as the place where Jesus drove the demons out of a possessed man and transferred them to a herd of swine. The swine rushed madly down the hill and into the Sea of Galilee, where they drowned. Scholars believe that the swine from the story were probably a domesticated variety of wild pig native to the area, which had long front legs enabling it to swim. This feature proved very useful, as the wild pigs instinctively ran towards water whenever they sensed danger. The new variety retained the same instinct but was bred with shorter front legs. Consequently, when the herd on the hillside fled to the water the pigs were unable to swim and drowned.
During Jesus' time the Eastern Shore of the lake was populated entirely by non-Jewish villages; therefore, Jesus visited there very infrequently. Most of his ministry around the lake was spent at the Jewish farming and fishing villages on the western shore. Kursi was clearly not a Jewish village, since swine were being raised there and the Jewish dietary laws forbid the consumption of pork. However, the Gospels state that sometimes, when Jesus wanted to get away, he went over to the Eastern Shore.
In the continuation of the story from Mark, the possessed man begs Jesus to go with him as he pulls away in the boat. Jesus instructs him, instead, to go home to his family and tell them of the Lord's mercy on him. The man told the story all over the Decapolis, the non-Jewish region to the east of the lake, and people were amazed to hear it. It appears that this story may provide evidence that the spreading of Jesus' message to non-Jews actually began here, on the slopes of the Golan Heights, long before the death of Jesus and the rise of the Apostles.
Those who are unable to visit Kursi may be interested in a program known as the Jubillenium Candle Site. Honor someone close to your heart (or an event) by placing an order for a candle via the Internet or by mail. A candle will be lit and placed in a specially designed glass holder and will burn for 24 hours. The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority and the Jubillenium organization, jointly coordinate the program.
Kursi National Park is located 5 kilometers (3 miles) North of Ein Gev, off Route 92. Turn right (East) at Kursi Junction (Route 789) and look for the turn-off sign to the site, after about 50 meters.
Visiting Hours: October -March - 8:00 AM - 4:00 PM April - September - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Entry fees apply.