R. Page, II
Jerusalem Institute for Biblical Exploration
Vice-president for Academic Affairs
Kursi Excavation CO-Director
In our earlier article, you were informed that the original Kursi
Excavation was directed by Vassilios Tzaferis for the Israel Antiquities
Authority. These excavations took place between 1971-1974. Throughout
these seasons the majority of the work of the Kursi excavation focused on
the church and chapel. In Area C, away from the church to the northwest, a
staircase was found leading down to some unknown area. It was decided that
this area would not be explored at this time due to lack of funding and
other commitments. However, Professor Tzaferis determined that one day
this area would be excavated.
We also mentioned earlier that another underground room
was accidentally discovered behind the apse of the church in 1998. Again
we determined that one day we would open this area and see what we might
find in this location, Area D.
By accident, luck, or providence, I happened upon two
generous families who donated the funding for our excavation in 2001.
After speaking with Vassilios we decided to make a new excavation in these
areas (C and D) in September 2001.
In area D the work was very slow in the beginning. The team working there
had to dig through thick stone and plastering. Eventually they were able
to open the underground room and enter it. What they found was an empty
room used for some unknown purpose. Later similar rooms were discovered in
Area D which led us to the conclusion that this area was once used as the
necropolis of the monastery. We will continue to explore this area in
Area C proved to be more interesting and challenging.
Our original intention was to explore the staircase and where it might
lead. However, on the first day of the excavation walls began appearing
very quickly and near the surface. We decided to follow the walls and to
see what they might tell us about a building that had obviously been
located here in antiquity.
On the second day of the excavation a shaft was exposed that was
apparently connected to the staircase. We decided that on day three we
would put some of our team in the staircase and remove as much dirt as
possible from the lowest level and that we would follow the steps down.
The team worked here for two days and we decided that there might be a
danger of the ground collapsing into the staircase and the team was
removed. We determined that any subterranean rooms would have to be
entered from above (through the roof or ceiling).
In the meantime more walls were appearing every day.
Soon we began to discover drain pipes, pools, and water drainage channels.
Eventually we found two rooms containing hypocausts and we concluded that
we had found a part of a bath complex. We had located the caldarium of the
Why a bath complex in a Byzantine monastery? This was a
curiosity for me and did not seem consistent with other Byzantine
monasteries or churches found in Israel or neighboring countries. In fact,
I can think of no other Byzantine monastery in Israel with a bath complex.
Through research we discovered that this area, the area
of Biblical Gergesa, was a very important pilgrim site during the
Byzantine Period in Palestine. This area is the first place in the Gentile
world to be exposed to the teachings of Jesus . Jesusí first Gentile
convert was the demoniac of Gergesa (see Matthew 8, Mark 5, Luke 8). He
later became the first Christian, Gentile evangelist (Mark 8). Therefore,
this place had and has tremendous importance for Gentile Christians.
During the Byzantine Period, Western Christian pilgrims
refused to visit Capernaum or Korazim:
to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done
in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long
ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it
will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you,
Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down
to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of
judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you. (Matthew
Jesus condemned Capernaum and Korazim. Therefore, Western pilgrims would
visit two different sites to memorialize Jesusí ministry in this region.
One site, Tabgha, is on the western shore of the Kinneret. The other,
Kursi, is on the eastern shore of the lake.
The presence of the bath, discovered in our 2001
excavation, suggests that there might also have been an inn or hostel
here. The monks provided a place of shelter and even a bath complex for
their pilgrim guests, and, perhaps, earned income for the monastery from
The 2002 Kursi Excavation will be from August 31-September 23. We will
expand our work in Area C to the north and east. Perhaps we will find the
additional rooms of the bath complex. In Area D we will continue to probe
the subterranean rooms of the possible necropolis of the monastery. Anyone
interested in joining our excavation can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or toll-free in the US at 888. 431-7902. Registration forms will be
available by December 1, 2001.
See also: Kursi
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