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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In Mark 8, Jesus feeds the 4,000 with seven loaves and a few small fishes. Then Jesus climbs into a boat and goes to...Dalmanutha?

And straightway he entered into a ship with his disciples, and came into the parts of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:10)

There is a problem with this: no one seems to know where or even what Dalmanutha is. According to Jamieson, Faussett and Brown's fine Commentaries on the entire Bible, “Dalmanutha may have been a village, but it cannot now be identified with certainty.” 

The parallel verse found in Matthew 15:39 gives us a bit of an idea where and/or what Dalmanutha may have been when it says, “And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.” Now, the coasts of Magdala must be close to the city of Magdala, and this city has been pretty positively identified. According to the Jewish Virtual Encyclopedia,

MAGDALA (Migdal), a city on Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee) in Galilee, about 7 km. north of Tiberias. It is overlooked by a high escarpment near the Wadi Hamam (the Valley of the Robbers). "Migdal" is an Aramaic word meaning "tower" or "fortress." The Greeks called the village Taricheia, a word meaning "pickling," because of Magdala's fish salting industry, one of the mainstays of its economy. The other important element of its economy was its boat-building.

So, where or what is Dalmanutha? Well, according to Ken Dark, Ph.D. lecturer at the University of Reading, a team of which he was a part was conducting a field study in the fields between Midgal and the coast and discovered a town that they believe to be Mark’s Dalmanutha. I found the news in an article published on the Huffington Post entitled “Dalmanutha,Biblical Town Mentioned In Gospel Of Mark, Possibly Discovered ArchaeologistsClaim posted on September 17. The news was earlier published on the Christian Origins website entitled “Dalmanutha Discovered? First-Century Fishing,Farming and Urbanization around the Sea of Galilee” posted on June 7, 2013.

Why does Dr. Dark and his team believe they have found Dalmanutha? The two articles are not particularly clear on that count. It seems that the conclusion is largely driven by (1) the location of “a very large, but previously-unrecognised, Late Hellenistic, Roman-period, and later, settlement between the modern town of Migdal (on the western side of the valley) and the coast, just south of Kibbutz Ginosar, (2) Jewish artifacts found in the area, (3) artifacts that suggest that the area was home to a prosperous fishing village, and (4) the fact that it is a relatively sizable location in the correct general area that is not already otherwise identified.

Can one really conclude based on the foregoing that the newly discovered village is that of Dalmanutha? In my view there is insufficient evidence presented in the article to determine whether this large, unnamed village can be equated with the missing Biblical Dalmanutha. Largely, the conclusion seems to arise that the village is in the correct place and is unknown so it is probably the place that Mark mentioned. However, while I hold the Bible to be inerrant, this isn’t enough to convince me. The Bible doesn’t say that Dalmanutha was a fishing village, that it was sizable or that it was even Jewish. Now, one can presuppose all of this from the fact that it appears to have been on the Sea of Galilee (else Jesus wouldn’t have gone there by boat) which would have had some Jewish inhabitants at the time.  

Still, it seems to me that there must be more that the article has left unrevealed or Dr. Dark is jumping the gun a little here. (But then, he does couch his discovery by acknowledging that the identification of the village with Dalmanutha is “not certain.”) And, the Christian Origins posting does state that more details about the discovery will be revealed in a forthcoming article entitled “Archaeological Evidence for a Previously Unrecognised Town near the Sea of Galilee” which will be published in Palestine Exploration Quarterly 141.3.  However, at this point and based upon what I have seen, while I am not sold that it is Dalmanutha, I cannot say that it’s beyond the realm of possibility that it could be Dalmanutha.

But the fact that Dr. Dark claims to possibly have found Dalmanutha is not nearly as interesting as the fact that a few days after Dr. Dark’s discovery was published in the Huffington Post, one of the Huffington Post’s religious bloggers, Joel L. Watts, was discounting the discovery. According to Mr. Watt in a post entitled "Dalmanutha has not been Found - It Doesn't Exist", Dr. Dark’s identification of the village with Dalmanutha wasn’t only wrong, it was not even possible. He reached this conclusion not because of something inherently troubling about the location of the village or any of the archaeological evidence mentioned, but because Mr. Watt concludes that Dalmanutha never existed.

I maintain Mark is not simply wrong or misinformed, but follows stylistic writing patterns developed shortly before the outbreak of the Jewish Revolt but Lucan, a Latin poet. If we understand this, we will have no need to search for non-existent towns or wonder how Jesus may have crossed the Sea of Galilee so often and in so short of time.

I find the type of analysis displayed by Mr. Watt shallow, at best. You see, Mr. Watt has apparently written a book which explains Mark’s stories and some of the difficulties involved in them which is entitled, “Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary" (Wipf and Stock, 2013). While I admit to not having read his book, I certainly concede that the thesis behind his book may be well-developed and detailed. It may be well-researched and cite good authority. But a thesis is only good if it corresponds with facts. If the facts don’t line up with the thesis, the thesis ought to be abandoned. And when the thesis dictates what may or may not be true, then the thesis is already taking the place of the truth. And that certainly seems to be what is happening here. Mr. Watt, having determined that Mark is wrong on his archaeology, concludes that Dalmanutha must not exist because it is only mentioned in Mark and Mark is wrong. This may seem to be a good conclusion – at least, until those pesky little facts show that Mark may not have been wrong after all.

I certainly acknowledge that Mr. Watt may be right (although based upon what little I have read on his blog I have strong reasons to doubt his thesis). However, by jumping to the conclusion that Dr. Dark is wrong based solely on his own thesis, Mr. Watt shows his unwillingness to consider that he may be wrong. If he were being intellectually honest instead of defending a thesis, he would not jump to the conclusion that his theory is dispositive of the question of Dalmanutha’s existence or non-existence. Rather, Mr. Watt should recognize that it is better to withhold absolutist-type judgment until more evidence is collected. Let’s wait and see what more is learned from the upcoming article and further research rather than jumping to hasty conclusions.

But I guess that’s asking too much of a blogger on the Huffington Post.


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