Monday, February 9, 2009

Decapolis: An Accidential Landing?

After teaching to the crowds along the Sea of Galilee the Gospel of Mark tells us about a decision Jesus made, “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side…” What Jesus meant was he desired to go to the other side of the great lake known as the Sea of Galilee.

Was Jesus simply bored with his surroundings?

Did He merely want to see what was on the other side of the body of water?

Just why did Jesus want to venture to the other side of the lake?

While the disciples were still stumbling and bumbling around trying to make sense of their Master we have the luxury of knowing the rest of the story. We know that Jesus never did anything without a plan….without reason.

Mark 4: 35-41 not only explains that Jesus wanted to go to the other side of the lake the disciples are shown very clearly that Jesus can control natural elements as he quiets the storm and calms the waters.

Once the group arrives on the opposite shore….a region the text refers to as the region of the Gerasenes… Jesus immediately meets up with the demon possessed man. In fact, Mark 5:1-20 explains the man “with an evil spirit came to meet Jesus”. “No one could bind the man anymore, not even with a chain”, and he was forced to live in the tombs. “No one was strong enough to subdue him, and he cried out and cut himself with stones.” Truly, this man was in a bad state.

It’s easy to simply read over the mention of the story’s location….the region of the Gerasenes and not give it another thought, isn’t it? I mean isn’t the whole purpose of the series of events to show that Jesus could deliver men of demons?

Perhaps, but I’m a social studies teacher, so give me some latitude here.

The Gerasenes is an area that was also known in Jesus’ time by another name. The region was known as the Decapolis…a Greek word meaning “ten cities”. This was a region southeast of the Sea of Galilee that included the cities of Damascus, Philadelphia, Raphana, Schythopolis, Gadara, Hippos, Dios, Pella, Gerasa, and Kathana.

Some of the cities date back to the time of Alexander the Great. They are grouped together because of similarities in language, culture, location, and political status. The ten cities had been given limited freedom from Jewish domination by the Roman general Pompey when he captured Palestine in 63 B.C.

Actually, the exact names of the ten cities are debated by scholars, but most tend to go with the list I give above….which is the same list Pliny the Elder provided in his writings.

The fact that these cities were so Greek in nature and were not dominated by Jewish tradition and culture meant that as far as Jews were concerned the region Jesus and his disciples found themselves in was one of Gentile impurity. No wonder demons were lurking about.

The location of the story also shows that Jesus always intended on bringing His message to the Jews and Gentiles alike.

Getting back to the possessed man…..the demons possessing the man number many as they respond to Jesus their name is Legion, a word referring to the largest Roman military unit of 6,000 men, 120 horsemen, and various technical personnel.

In a humorous twist of events the demons request to enter the bodies of a nearby herd of pigs….more than likely a spot they believed they could reside until another suitable human body was found.

Why a herd of pigs?

More importantly why is a herd of pigs mentioned in an event concerning Jews?

Would a self-respecting Jew own a herd of pigs?

Hardly, but remember….we aren’t in a normal Jewish village. This story takes place in the Decapolis, a region full of Gentiles. A herd of pigs could be...would be expected.

The humor in the story continues as the lowly pigs….a herd of approximately 2,000 pigs….decide to drown by throwing themselves over a cliff rather than serve as host to the many demons who inhabited the man.

The man freed from the demons instantly wants to leave with Jesus and stay by his side.

I’d be tempted to ask to go along, wouldn’t you?

Jesus, however, tells the man to return to his family and tell everyone he meets what has been done for him serving as a prompt for us today……we are to tell others what Jesus means to us….what Jesus has done in our lives.

What has He done in your life?
The picture with this post is the floor of a Byzantine church built near the site where Jesus drove the man's demons out.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Wordless: Verse 55

This picture is a dungeon hole at the location that is traditionally held as the house of Caiaphas who is also referred to as Joseph, son of Caiaphas. He was the Roman appointed Jewish high priest at the time Jesus was arrested. The Gospels of Matthew of John mention Caiaphas being involved in the trial of Jesus following the arrest of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane. Refer to Matthew 26:57-67.

You can view a list of other bloggers who are also wordless today here.
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