Dalmanutha -- more likely south of Tiberias, not north (thus not near Magdala)

A few days ago, Bill posted an article here on the Cadre (or just beneath this one if you're reading this on the index page) discussing the claim announced by some archaeologists earlier in June this year that they may have found the site of Dalmanutha on the shore of Lake Galilee, one of the few remaining Biblical references for the region that doesn't have at least a plausible archaeological identification.

Bill (BK's) article wasn't mostly about the details of this tentative possible identification, but about the subsequent rejection by a radical hypersceptic who thinks GosMark was merely literary fiction so there's no reason to go looking for Dalmanutha to begin with. Details of all this can be found (with further links) in Bill's article.

While we're on the topic, I thought I'd write up a slightly expanded (and corrected) version of a couple of footnotes I supplied to that scene in my "To The Puppies!" harmonzation entry in March of 2008, which can be found at this link. On this topic I currently follow a theory suggested more than a hundred years ago by Edersheim in his mammoth The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, such that I also doubt a town of Dalmanutha will be found -- though not for the same reason as the hypersceptic mentioned in Bill's article! Just as ironically, neither am I ideologically opposed to being wrong about this and the archaeology team being right after all.

To extend the providential irony further, the theory I'll be talking about has connections to observations long noted by scholars that Jesus, during this portion of GosMatt and GosMark, has been following a route later taken by Titus and Vespasian when entering Palestine on their campaign to put down the Jewish revolt of the late 60s (ending with Jerusalem's sacking and the destruction of the Temple in 70CE). Which is part of the case being proposed this month in a new book by a different hypersceptic, Joseph Atwill, arguing that Christianity as a religion (and Jesus Christ himself) was invented by the Roman government in a counter-propaganda campaign to pacify the Jews into submitting to Roman rule. (He previously argued this in 2005, in Caesar's Messiah, with a "Flavian Signature" re-release and update in 2011, but the sequel The Single Strand is on the way. News agencies have started running articles based on the promotional material created by JA and perhaps his publisher which can be found in its original form at this PRWeb link. If there is any "Ancient Confession Found" about this, per his article's title, he doesn't bother to talk about it.)

No doubt we can expect to see the same impact of that theory on the scholarly world across the board, among believers and unbelievers alike, as the last time he tried this (i.e. almost nothing), but the occasional ripples of discussion should prove amusing and illuminating in their own ways. Meanwhile, for a far less sensationalistic and nuanced discussion of a far more boring topic, feel free to click on the jump and proceed!

The incident in Dalmanutha is reported in the Gospel According to Mark (GosMark) chapter 8 verses 10-13, where it follows immediately after the Feeding of the 4000, and is followed by Jesus challenging the disciples to figure out what He means by the "leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod" in comparison to both of the previous feeding miracles as they're traveling back north to the region of Caesarea Philipi and (traditionally) Mount Hermon again, where the Transfiguration will happen and thence a return to the Galilee and Capernaum region by another land route.

The same incident is reported in the Gospel According to Matthew (GosMatt) 15:39-16:4.

A harmonization of the account might read:


Now stepping into the boat, after sending the crowds away, He went straight into the region of Dalmanutha, into the city-limits of Magadan.
And out come the Pharisees and Sadducees!
And they begin discussing with Him, testing Him, inquiring to have Him show them a sign out of heaven.
But sighing in His spirit, He is answering them and saying: "Why is this generation seeking for a sign!? Truly I tell you, if there shall be given to this generation a sign--!!
"A wicked and adulterous generation for a sign is seeking; but a sign will not be given to it... except the sign of Jonah." (i.e. repent, or face destruction.)
And leaving them, stepping into a boat again, He went away to the other side (north, back to the 'pagans'...)


There are some minor differences to the account. (GosLuke and GosJohn don't include it, possibly because neither of them include the incident with the 4000.) Mark's adverb "immediately", one of his favorites early in his account, makes it seem as though Jesus steps from the scene of the feeding into the boat on the lake, i.e. the mountain or hill where it happened was on the lakeshore; Matthew is more general about the location but also places the feeding along the Sea of Galilee (15:29). Mark clarifies a little more that Jesus fed the 4000 in the Decapolis region (7:31), a large somewhat ill-defined area flanking the east and south sides of Lake Galilee, south of the region of Trachonitus ruled by Herod's brother Philip, from which each author loosely indicates Jesus had previously traveled, and would be returning to after being hounded out of Dalmanutha.

The first and for our purposes most important difference is that Mark calls the area where Jesus lands (after stepping into the boat) {eis ta merê Dalmanoutha} (8:10). {Merê} is an accusative plural form of {meros}, which is an old root form of what at the general time of GosMark's composition was the more modern word {meiromai}, to get a section or allotment or division or share. In other words {meros} is being used here as an object of the previous preposition {eis}, "to" or "into", the way we might say colloquially in English "into the parts of Dalmanutha" or one way to say "into the area of Dalmanutha".

GosMatt by contrast says Jesus came {eis ta horia Magadan}, into the boundaries or limits of Magadan. And here a bunch of text critical scrummage begins. Get ready!

While there are some early texts of GosMatt which Magadan, and a somewhat larger set that spells the same word a little differently, as Magedan, the majority of GosMatt texts read some variety of Magdalan or Magdala (or in a few cases Magdalou). All the texts do agree on the object of the preposition being {ta horia}, the plural of horion, from which the term "horizon" is derived by the way, just as we use it today (although its New Testament usage is more like "horion" or boundary or limit). It's only the town name that is disagreed upon.

The weight of text critical principles would be difficult to assess, given the spread of variation: on one hand, why would anyone substitute an unknown town name of Magadan for the well-known name of Magdala if Magdala was original? On the other hand, the textual witness to Magadan or -den is small enough, and confined to certain sub-branches of a textual family, to suspect a transcription error somewhere.

On the other hand, the textual witness of GosMark scatters all over the place, with variations of horia Dalmanutha instead of meros, and then variations either way of all sorts of ways to spell Magadan but very few occurrences of Magdala. (One sub-branch of copies from the family of D unical texts says the heck with it and goes for Melegada!--which to textual geeks like myself is kind of hilarious.)

We can be pretty sure from comparing how the two texts branched out, and from clear scribal harmonization habits elsewhere, that the Marcan variations resulted from people trying to make GosMark fit with GosMatt by 'fixing' Dalmanutha to Magadan or on rare occasion to Magdala. But then it's very strange that they tried so rarely to repair the text to Magdala considering how often Magdala shows up in copies of GosMatt!

What this tells us is that GosMark's textual variations lend strong support to Magadan, not Magdala, being the original reading of GosMatt 15:39, despite GosMatt's own textual variations being uncertain.

What difference does that make? Aren't Magdala and Magadan basically the same name? Kind of, yes; both are ways of referring to an area that has a watchtower or fort. (Relatedly, "Mary Magdalene" might not refer to where she came from, so much as being a nickname based on her being the first, or one of the first, witnesses to Christ's resurrection.) Magadan could also be a variation of Meggido, which is another name based on the concept of a watchtower or fort, namely the inland fort that watched over the road crossing the plain named after that fort leading to the Mediterranean coast from southeastern Galilee Lake, the famous Plain of Armageddon where so many battles were fought (and the final battle was expected to be fought). That doesn't mean "Magadan" was supposed to be Tel Meggido, but an area south of the local governing city of Tiberias might have been named that due to the road. Whereas Magdala was surely north of Tiberias, between it and Capernaum (and Capernaum's "fisherton" suburb of Bethsaida), in the Ginosar Valley region, known in the Latin of that period as Gennesaret (which the Romans also sometimes called Lake Galilee before Herod established the town of Tiberias).


Now, we know there was an old tower-fort north of Tiberias, destroyed by the Romans before or during their early 1st century occupation of the area; and that accounts for the name Magdala. (Magdla and Ginosar are both modern names in that area, by the way, with Kibbutz Ginosar having been established in 1927 as a fortress and stockade using land leased from nearby Magdla.) Was there any such area south of Tiberias?

Yes, and quite a tragically notorious one by the late 1st century, near the market town of Tarichoea, also sometimes spelled Tarichaea, known in more recent times as Kerak, famous on the Lake as a major node for fishermen to sell their catches, to be salted and dried and sent westward and southward along various highways meeting in the area (one of which went through the plains of Meggido). The reason a produce market, especially one for fish export, had grown up here was due to a bay in the area, very possibly the most important bay on Lake Galilee for fishermen considering how important this market was for exporting their wares, and for importing wares they could take back home to other places on the Lake.

And now we come to that peculiar name "Dalmanutha", which on one hand doesn't seem to be Jewish, and on the other hand doesn't seem to be Greek. Edersheim suggests that it's a transliteration of a local pidgin Semetic name, built from "LMN" which in Rabbinic Hebrew means "bay" (transliterated otherwise in Greek as {limên}), "-utha" as a Aramaic suffix by which a noun could be converted to a name, and the prefix "de-" (which Edersheim didn't try to explain, to be critically fair to the weaknesses of the theory). In effect the name would mean THE Bay, the most important bay on the lake; but it wouldn't make much sense to anyone not a fisherman on the lake in those days.

Another point of interest is that this area south of Tiberias is on some accounts included in the Decapolis region, thus not an area that either Sadducees nor members of the Pharisee party would have wanted to visit. Mark doesn't mention the Pharisees (and in the sequel incident Jesus tells His disciples to beware of the leaven of Herod as well as the Pharisees.) Matthew mentions the Sadducees (and Jesus warns His disciples against their leaven instead of the Herodians in GosMatt's account of the sequel incident rowing back across the lake).

Is that a problem for the historicity? It wouldn't be of course if we're talking about the area north of Tiberias, which is one reason why "Magdala" is attractive as a solution -- and to be fair, any important bay on the lake might have been called Dalmanutha, and the Magdala region did also have an important fisherman bay there.

But Mark has some odd wording there. Matthew says the Pharisees and Sadducees {proselthontes} "are approaching" Jesus (using a present-tense narrative effect common among all four Gospels), but Mark says the Pharisees {exêlthon} "out-came" to question Jesus. Which begs the question, came out from where? Mark doesn't say, but they're coming out to Jesus from somewhere they had been staying nearby. As a major export market area, Tarichoea might be expected to have kosher facilities for observant Jews, whereas by contrast technically the whole city of Tiberas would have been considered unclean due to a cemetery within its city limits. Magdala, more firmly within the generally kosher and nationalistic Galilee region, might despite evidence of its pagan population have proved less of a problem for visiting religious leaders.

It's peculiar that GosMatt mentions Sadducees at all, since as a party they kept much closer to Jerusalem and its areas (such as vacation homes in Jericho, down south near the ford across the Jordan into Arabia). But a harmonization with GosJohn indicates that Jesus had departed His last Jerusalem visit (toward the end of the year) telling His religious opponents (including some off-and-on supporters among the Pharisee party) that He was planning to go somewhere they wouldn't be able to follow. Some had harshly joked that this must mean He was going to kill Himself (and thus go to hell!); but others had wondered if He was going to go to the Greeks (or pagans more generally). In both GosMatt and GosMark, Jesus has in fact just returned to Lake Galilee after a long looping trip up north to Tyre (and possibly Sidon) and then east and southward again (presumably visiting Damascus along the way) through Philip's territory into the Decapolis region east of the lake. Effectively this would be a tour of the northern and northeastern extents of God's promised range of Israel's territory (which is one reason why that area is hotly disputed even today), but since the area was largely pagan it would in fact have counted as going somewhere Jesus' more fastidiously Jewish opponents would have preferred not to go.

Sadducees, however, being on more familiar terms with the ruling Roman class, might reasonably have had a better idea of any kosher areas to stay while waiting for Jesus to show up among the pagan areas of Lake Galilee; so their presence in Matthew's account conjoins with Mark's peculiar wording (even though he doesn't mention the Sadducees being there) to point toward some kind of special difficulty being overcome by these opponents in finding and challenging Jesus. To which, notably, Jesus in both accounts replies by leaving the area and returning deep into more pagan (though still nominally Israeli) areas northeast of the Lake: areas He would be less likely to be hounded by His opponents among the Jewish religious elite.

It isn't an ironclad argument, and a different theory might suggest that by then Jesus' opponents knew there was someone in Magdala whom Jesus would try to visit sooner or later, so had sent a deputation to watch for Him there. There is no reason to assume only one deputation had been sent out anyway; representatives of the Sadducees could have teamed up with local Pharisees, despite their parties being in opposition to each other more usually, to watch for the return of Jesus in several areas. But I do think the details point a little more suggestively to an area south of Tiberias instead of northward (and to a bay, not an on-land locale, called Dalmanutha by the locals in any case).

There is one more major difference of detail between the two accounts, however, which is found only in GosMatt (although a version of the saying is reported in some different Synoptic incidents), and which points even more solidly south to the area of Tarichoea.

GosMatt 16:2-3 features Jesus replying that they ought to know signs of trouble coming by the appearance of the sky, tacitly comparing the scholars to the local fishermen who are better at reading "signs" thereby than these scholars. Whether these verses are original to the text or not, is textually disputed: they are both found and missing from early textual families in Greek and other languages, but found in practically all later copies. Verse 4 is indisputably original to GosMatt, but includes a detail different from its parallel verse in Mark 8:12, where Jesus replies (sighing deeply to Himself) that no sign will be given to this generation.  In Matt 16:4, Jesus says no sign (or attesting miracle) will be given to them, who are asking for a sign that He has authority to be saying the things He does, except "the sign of Jonah".

Elsewhere in this Gospel (Matt 12:39), the author reports a similar refusal saying, but there Jesus explains He means the sign of being three days and three nights in the grave -- itself a highly peculiar saying, since Matthew knows as well as any of the other authors that Jesus definitely did not stay in the grave more than two nights (and maybe even only part of one, depending on how GosMatt is read. For an extended discussion of some of the linguistic oddities, explaining why some scholars aren't sure about the crucifixion and resurrection timing, see my three part article from this year, "Why Is It Good Friday Instead Of Good Thursday?") But I'll have to come back to that oddity in a later article, especially since in Luke 11:29 version of that saying there is no reference to a resurrection event.

At least two out of three times then, Jesus references the sign of Jonah without connecting it to something like a resurrection after three days (and the other time the connection doesn't seem right to properly fit the sign!) -- so is there some other sign Jesus is talking about? Jonah had been sent to Ninevah to warn them to repent or else their city would be destroyed; presumably no one from that city had been around to see him vomited up on the shore a hundred miles away by a sea monster. The only sign they were going to have was a sign that came too late. (Unless "the sign of Jonah" actually refers to an old rabbinic theory about the pharaoh from the days of the Exodus, popular in Jesus' day and afterward, and probably referenced by St. Paul in the 9th chapter of his epistle to the Romans. But that's a theory for a different article.) But it was a sign that they should still be able to see coming a long way off, like sailors on the lake seeing a red sky and knowing a storm is coming.

And indeed such a sign, though not an attesting miracle, that their city would be destroyed unless they repented, was eventually given, not north of Tiberias in Magdala, but south at the fort near Tarichoea and its bay. For Vespasian (and Titus his heir), following the road south from Damascus through Caesarea Philipi, to the north side of the lake and then down its western side through Tiberias (a town that remained loyal to Rome during the first Jewish Rebellion), met and slaughtered his first major resistance here, filling the bay with bodies and blood of around 6500 dead Jewish zealots. The Roman collaborator, Josephus the historian, a general for the Galileans at the time, betrayed survivors into the circus of nearby Tiberias, promising clemency for all who came, resulting in the slaughter of another 1200 people, too sick and old to be sold into slavery with the other 30,400 whom the Romans captured thereby: the first but far from the last to be sent by war into the Roman diaspora.

Notably, when Luke reports a similar saying about people being able to read the signs of storms coming in the sky but cannot read the signs of coming times, in a different scene at Luke 12:54-59, he connects it to a warning given not much later in Matthew (when Jesus returns from the Trachonitus region to Capernaum for the final time, warning His disciples to put aside their pride and to forgive their brothers from their hearts without seeking limits to how often they have to do so) and to a warning given much earlier in GosMatt's Sermon on the Mount: "Why do you not even on your own initiative judge what is right? For while you are going with your opponent to appear before the magistrate, on your way there, make an effort to be released from him [i.e. settle what claims he has against you] in order that he may not drag you before the judge, and the judge turn you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you shall not get out of there until you have paid the very last cent." (NASV translation)

So again, while this detail isn't ironclad evidence that the scene is supposed to be taking place at a fisherman's bay with a nearby fort south of Tiberias instead of north of it, the weight (such as it is) does currently seem to me to point that way.

How this all helps prove that Roman aristocrats invented Jesus Christ and Christianity to quell Jewish zealots into slavery to Rome, should be conclusively obvious. I SAID IT SHOULD BE CONCLUSIVELY OBVIOUS! {wry g}


Jason Pratt said…
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