Gadara, the Decapolis city near Galilee.
Site of the demon possessed being freed by Jesus with the demons entering into pigs
Did the Gospel writers mix up Gadara and Gerasa (Jerash)?

Ruins of Gadara at high point of city - close to the west theatre


The ruins of Gadara are found at modern Umm Qais (alt. Um Qeis, Umm Qays) in northern Jordan. Located on a steep hill, approximately six miles (10 km) southeast of the Sea of Galilee and two miles (3 km) from the Yarmuk River, it was one of the ancient cities of the Decapolis [click link for an overview of the Decapolis and a listing and index of all Decapolis cities]. The Decapolis cities were highly influenced by Greek culture (Hellenistic), which had gained influence in the region primarily from the inclusion of the Galilean and Jordan River Valley region into Alexander the Great's empire. By the time of Jesus, Roman and Greek culture and religion were a part of the daily life of these cities.

Gadara is mentioned only once in Scriptures, immediately following the miracle of Jesus calming the wind and the waves. Even then, it is a reference to the "the region of the Gadarenes" not specifically the city itself.

Matthew 8:28-34 When he arrived at the other side [of the Sea of Galilee] in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." 32 He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region. (NIV)

Late first century historian, Josephus, speaks directly of Gadara, even noting that Gadara and Hippos were Greek cities. (Other ancient writers also wrote of the city, including Polybius, who lived circa 203-122 B.C., and Pliny the Elder, who wrote circa 77 A.D.). Earlier Josephus referenced the people of the region as Gadarenes showing that the Bible's usage of the term was common place.

There were also certain of the cities which paid tribute to [Herod] Archelaus: Strato's Tower and Sebaste, with Joppa and Jerusalem; for as to Gaza, and Gadara, and Hippos, they were Grecian cities, which Caesar separated from his government, and added them to the province of Syria. Now the tribute-money that came to Archelaus every year from his own dominions amounted to six hundred talents. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 17.11.4)

...for as the Gadarenes saw the inclination of Caesar and of his assessors, and expected, as they had reason to do, that they should be delivered up to the king, some of them, out of a dread of the torments they might undergo, cut their own throats in the night time, and some of them threw themselves down precipices, and others of them cast themselves into the river, and destroyed themselves of their own accord; which accidents seemed a sufficient condemnation of the rashness and crimes they had been guilty of; whereupon Caesar made no longer delay, but cleared Herod from the crimes he was accused of. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 15.10.3)

It's notable that this one reference of Josephus is in regards to precipices. The area around and between the city and Galilee has many. The Bible speaking of the pigs rushing down a steep bank alludes to the same topography.

Collage of part of the east-west street.
Behind this is a steep drop off, but due to a sand storm visibility was greatly reduced.
Click on this photo for a closer view (Use your browser back button to return).

While Gadara was a ways from the Sea of Galilee, it would have been important for the city to control some land along the Galilee shore. Indeed, in Josephus more than thirty references to the place, he notes that Gadara control land to the shores of Galilee bordering on that controlled by Tiberias to the west.

So when Justus had, by his persuasions, prevailed with the citizens of Tiberias to take arms, nay, and had forced a great many so to do against their wills, he went out, and set the villages that belonged to Gadara and Hippos on fire; which villages were situated on the borders of Tiberias, and of the region of Scythopolis. (Life of Josephus, Section 9)

The event with Jesus freeing the demon possessed was most certainly in Gadara controlled territory, close to Galilee, 5 to 6 miles from the city itself. That this territory was considered important to Gadara is shown by the fact that more than one of their coins had a ship on it - something that would have been used at Galilee and not in the Yarmuk River. Commerce is the likely reason that would make control of shore area on Galilee necessary. Fishing, of course, would be an important industry, but so too the ability to trade with other cities surrounding Galilee. Showing that all this was effective, Josephus specifically noted that by his time, many people of Gadara were wealthy.

For the men of power had sent an embassy to him [Vespasian], without the knowledge of the seditious, to treat about a surrender; which they did out of the desire they had of peace, and for saving their effects, because many of the citizens of Gadara were rich men. (Josephus: Wars of the Jews 4.7.3)

Though the Biblical text does not say one way or the other, it is not improbable that the men healed of demon possession were Gentiles. As the Decapolis cities were primarily Gentile, and Jesus had them return to the Decapolis cities as a witness, they may have been the first gentile missionaries.

Bible skeptics and atheists like to raise this account of the demon possession and pigs as "proof" that that the Bible has contradictions. They do so because the two parallel accounts of Mark and Luke, in most modern translations, begin by stating the location differently than the "region of the Gadarenes" of Matthew.

Mark 5:1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. (NIV) [Entire account 5:1-20]

Luke 8:26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. (NIV) [Entire account 8:26-39, note also name usage in verse 37]

Reading only from the King James translation, there would appear to be no possible contradiction at all as it uses "Gadarenes."

Luke 8:26 And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. (KJV)

Mark 5:1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. (KJV)

The discrepancy between Bible translations comes from the usage of different manuscript families. Many later manuscripts, including those that the KJV are based on, do have "Gadarenes" but unfortunately it appears to be later scribal revision attempting to "correct" or harmonize the gospel accounts. This was likely done with good intent but it was completely unnecessary as the following examples will show.

Possible explanations

#1. The wording "Garasenes" is merely a variant name for "Gadarenes". Variant names are very common in Bible times. The Biblical writers therefore had no problem using the variant they (or their readers) were familiar with, usually without feeling any need of explanation.1 Places were often being renamed by various rulers, or even through language changes2. Translators sometimes harmonize variant names, including spelling variants, so as to help their readers in understanding who is being referenced. It is quite probable that some of the translators and copyists did this with "Garasenes", treating it merely as a variant, which ended up having the harmonized "Gadarenes" in later editions. While it is remotely possible that this is a name variant, it is one that is unattested in other passages, historical reference, or archaeological finds. For this reason, the term "Garasenes", found in many earlier manuscripts, was likely there for a specific reason. In fact, some manuscripts have the name "Gergesenes" which is likely a variant of the same name.

#2. With the city of Gadara being six miles from Galilee, for people to work at Galilee in any territory controlled by Gadara, there would have been smaller villages or towns nearby the Sea. A twelve mile round trip on foot or animal, would have been an unnecessary waste of time which certainly would have mandated this closer occupation. This closer inhabitation may have been the one specifically referenced by the term "Garasenes" while Matthew legitimately placed it in the region controlled by Gadara. The greatest argument against this is that there was a large Decapolis city named "Gerasa" which was 37 miles (60 km) southeast of Galilee. Their dispute is "Why would there be two cities with similar names?" in the region. This, in fact, is not a valid argument as there were many duplicate place names throughout Israel and its region. Obviously, only the larger more important place would have a better opportunity to be recorded in history, especially if one was a Decapolis city and the other a small Galilean village. A location on the eastern shore of Galilee, called Kursi, is cited as a candidate for the location of the smaller settlement near Galilee that may have had identical or similar name to Gerasa (perhaps Gergesa). The geography near Kursi, with its high embankment in close proximity to Galilee, not to mention ancient tombs that have been found in the area, all lend credibility to this site.

Steep hillside along eastern shore of Galilee

Mark A. Chancey, in his book, The Myth of a Gentile Galilee, notes the possibility of a second Gerasa at the time of the Jewish revolt (circa 68-69 A.D.).

"Vespasian attacked a Gerasa (War 4.487), but Applebaum and Segal argue that this was probably not the Decapolis city, since it was never in Jewish hands ("Gerasa" NEAEHL, vol II, 471), while Krealing suggests that Vespasian attacked Jewish villages in the territory of Gerasa ("History," 45-46). (Excerpt from Footnote 134 on Page 137)

If there was village by the name of Gerasa at Galilee it would have certainly been under Jewish control, by this time, as the Jews had made concerted effort to fortify and control the immediate region before the Roman response. It is far less likely that there would be significant Jewish villages deep into the Decapolis territory surrounding Gerasa (Jerash).

#3. Gerasa or Jerash, another Decapolis city, could be what is being referred to. Many automatically assume, contrary to the last point, that it has to be the large Decapolis city of Jerash that is being referenced. Some mock this as evidence that the Biblical writers were ignorant of geography, making reference to a large Decapolis city in the region but unaware that it I to far away from Galilee. Yet, for all the economic reasons stated earlier, Jerash too would want a presence at Galilee, even thought more than 30 miles father away. Though semi-autonomous, Decapolis cities would work together as it benefited them, including possible joint administration or over lapping control of mutually beneficial territory. It has been proposed that Jerash (Gerasa) and Gadara shared the use and administration of the shore area at Galilee for mutual economic reasons. A similar theory proposes that they had neighboring shore regions, placing the event with Jesus approximately midway. Either way the gospel writers would be accurate in their general references, not feeling the need to provide additional details about circumstances that contemporary readers would have been familiar with.

Matthew 8: 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.

One certainty is that the region where this took place was a Gentile controlled area. This is clearly shown by the fact that pigs were being raised on a large scale. Pig, of course, was an unclean animal under Mosaic Law and would never have been tolerated in Jewish controlled areas. That it was specifically stated to be a "large" herd also presupposes that they were being raised for a larger market than a small Galilean market, either Gadara or Jerash certainly being the highest possibilities.

Certainly there is no reason to doubt the veracity of all the Gospel accounts concerning this region, my personal preference weighing in with possibility number two above, though number three is a close second. Perhaps additional evidence will be uncovered in the future, as so often happens, which will make this clear.


An interesting note, only indirectly related to Gadara, is that a major Epicurean philosopher to the Roman world (circa 58 B.C.) came from this place. While scriptures note the Epicureans in relation to Paul's visit to Athens, it is obvious that this belief system was widespread throughout the Roman world, including the Decapolis cities.

"... Philodemus, originally from Gadara in Syria (just south of the south-east corner of the Sea of Galilee), had popularized Epicurean ideas among the young Roman aristocrats... Philodemus' philosophical writings were recovered in the eighteenth century on about a thousand papyrus scrolls that were found charred but legible, in the library villa in Herculanuem... which was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE"3

Epicureans had a reputation as hedonists due to their dictum "pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily."4 In reality they lived in out to various degrees and in diverse manners, even to the extreme of asceticism. Regardless, the focus was on personal happiness. In fact, though the Epicureans acknowledged the many Roman gods, they believed that they were completely uninterested in what human's did.5

A fragment of Philodemus' Epicurean writing. See links in end note 3 for more images.


Map of the ruins of Gadara. Note wetern theater almost center and east-west road running left-right, closer to the top.
The Byzantine church terrace is directly north of the West Theatre before the east-west road.

Looking down at the West Theater at Gadara

View from the stage area of the West Theater at Gadara. Note destruction of upper level

Passage way at Gadara west theater with missing ceiling arch

Intact passage way at Gadara west theater

Top row nicer seating at Gadara west theater with seat backs!


The Byzantine church terrace, looking down from the west theater
This 6th century structure was built over/out of a public building dating to the 2nd century

Another view of the Byzantine church terrace

Note the black basalt pillars in contrast to the others in the background

Corinthian capital on a basalt pillar

Part of the public water fountain - the Nympheum - on the east-west road

The "podium monument" on the east-west road, heading west from the church.

The Sanctuary on the east-west road, heading west from the church on left hand side of the road.


Street of shops, running north-south from the east west road.

Looking out to the street from inside one of the shops

View to the west along the east-west street. Note basalt pavement stones

Diagram of how the pillars would have supported structures along both sides of this main road.

Some of the ornate stonework that would have graced structures along the roadway


End Notes

1. An exception, where the gospel writer chose to explain a name variant for the sake of his Roman (Gentile) readers - and, even then, only in one place - is the apostle John's reference to the Sea of Galilee...

John 6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias) (NIV)

Another example, this from the Old Testament, regarding a king, is the name of Uzziah. In many places, including 2 Chronicles and Isaiah, he is called Uzziah, yet in 2 Kings 15 he is referred to as both Uzziah (verse 13) and also as Azariah (verses 1, 6 & 8).

One ancient writer, Pliny the Elder, refers to the Decapolis city of Gerasa as "Galasa", perhaps another variant, or maybe a misspelling that was never corrected. It's hard to know.

2. Caesarea Philippi is a great example of a place that kept changing names.

3. Excerpt from Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman. Page 266. Philodemus is thought to have lived from 110 B.C. to 40 or 35 B.C. Though born and raised in Gadara, by the time he was thirty he lived in Rome. UCLA links for more on the ancient documents that were found...

4. Ibid, Page 265

5. Ibid, Page 268


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