We have talked in our sister site about the mysterious Magdala Stone – the only extant specimen that probably presents a contemporary 3D depiction of the Second Temple. This enigmatic find was discovered near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Well this time around, another fascinating object found near the Sea of Galilee (at the famed Kursi site) has held the attention of experts. It entails an Aramaic inscription in Hebrew letters that were etched on a marble slab dating from around 1500 years back. The presence of this script even in 5th century AD, and that too along the eastern coast of Levant, alludes to the scope that the settlement was still Jewish (or at least Judeo-Christian) during the time. And if further archaeological endeavors confirm this fact, it would be the first time that historians have come across a predominantly Jewish town in this particular zone, even after 500 years of Jesus Christ’s existence.
But arguably more interesting (and rather ironic) hypothesis relates to the inscription in question here, and how it may have pertained to Jesus Christ himself. According to the New Testament, Jesus visited a site called the ‘Land of the Gederenes’ (a name that refers to Biblical Kursi) during his journeys around the Sea of Galilee. As the book goes on to describe, he performed a miracle by shooing away a demon from a possessed man and then passing it on to a herd of pigs. Unfortunately for the swines, they madly rushed forth into the sea and then got drowned.
As for the actual inscription in the 140 cm by 70 cm marble slab, the researchers were able to decipher two words – ‘amen’ and ‘marmaria’. This latter can either refer to marble or by a long stretch refer to Maria’s great Rabbi, as ‘mar’ originally means Rabbi. In any case, it is pretty safe to assume that the settlement was also Jewish 500 years earlier to the inscription engraved on the stone. And if combined with the Biblical narrative, the figure of Jesus probably visited the site after crossing the Sea of Galilee. So simply put, given its solitary harbor status (circa 1st century AD), this present site might indeed be the very same place which has been described as Kursi in the New Testament.
But the incredible ambit of this marble slab is not just limited to the enigmatic inscription. In terms of design, the engraving was specially made on a marble slab commissioned from Greece. This contrasts with other inscriptions found in the area that were mostly made on floor mosaics. Moreover, the slab was discovered at the entry point of an inner room within an ancient structure that probably served as a synagogue. As Michal Artzy of the University of Haifa, one of the archaeologists involved in the project, made it clear –
The dedication comprises eight lines, so that it is very detailed or expansive. In most cases we do not find so many words in Hebrew letters engraved on stone, so the person to whom the inscription was dedicated must have had a tremendous influence on the local people. There is no parallel for such a detailed and expensive dedication in archaeological findings to date in Israel.
Lastly, beyond just the marble slab, the researchers were also pleasantly surprised by the scale of the ancient harbor-city. In fact, the recession of the Sea of Galilee water level allowed the teams to return to the excavation sites around the breakwater. On further assessment, they noticed that Kursi was a far bigger settlement that previously imagined, and thus was probably a strategic harbor for the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire circa 5th century AD. Furthermore, the proximate city of Sussita was also possibly a part of this thriving urban conglomeration that got served by the accessible harbor.