Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bauckham on the Kursi inscription

RICHARD BAUCKHAM has e-mailed with some reflections on the recently-discovered Aramaic inscription found on a marble tablet near the Sea of Galilee. I reproduce his message with his kind permission.
The statements attributed in the press to Michal Artzi are rather inaccurate and muddled. (Of course, we need not blame her for what she is reported as saying.)

The name Kursi is first attested unequivocally in the sixth century (in Greek as Χορσια). The first explicit evidence associating it with the miracle of the pigs is from the eighth century, but it was already a site that Christian pilgrims visited in the sixth century and so that association may well be older, but we do not know how old.

There is also one rabbinic reference to a Jewish settlement called כורסאי (y. Mo'ed. Qat. 82c), which may be the same place. (I assume this is the passage intended when it is reported that the new discovery "proves the historical accuracy of one of the Talmudic passages.")

It seems odd that, having discovered an inscription from c. 500 CE (it would be interesting to know how they date it), the archaeologists should go to the New Testament in search of evidence for the Jewish settlement there. The NT story is set in the "land of the Gerasenes/Gergesenes/Gadarenes", and refers to a city, but the city is not necessarily very near to the site of the miracle. I think it was probably Hippos. But wherever it was it was a GENTILE city (they kept pigs)!

We already knew there was a Byzantine Christian settlement, attached to a large monastery, that has been excavated. The archaeologists seem to have found evidence of a separate Jewish settlement near the harbour. This is not especially surprising. There is plenty of evidence of Jewish settlements in the Golan in that period. The lake near Kursi was one of the very best parts of the lake for fishing.

There seems to me nothing in all this that gives "significant support" (or any support at all) to the location of the miracle of pigs at this site.

Artzi is also quoted as saying "Until now we had no proof that Jewish settlements, which have disappeared over the years, actually existed during that period on the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee, except for the town of Migdal.” Actually Magdala (Migdal) was abandoned after the earthquake of 363 CE. What about Tiberias? By 500 there was a Christian presence there, but surely still a mainly Jewish population?

I'm sure you must be right about מרמריה. "Lady Mary" would have to be מרתא מריה surely? I see the more recent press reports are saying the word most likely means "marble" - perhaps because they have read your post?
Yes, most of the reports now say that the inscription is in Aramaic, and the ones at Breitbart, Christian Today, The Blaze, Haaretz, and even the University of Haifa press release (the latter two apparently updated) give "marble" as one option for the meaning of the word. Haaretz and Haifa University correctly say that it is the more probable option. You heard it first at PaleoJudaica!