They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea. ~“Mark” 5:1-2/13
The problem with this famous story is that the Sea of Galilee is about 60km northeast of Gerasa, the land of the Gerasenes. This means that Jesus could not have “immediately” (Ancient Greek: ‘ufus’) met the possessed man in the land of the Gerasenes, after stepping out of the boat. It also means that the pigs would have had to run an epic 60km from the land of the Gerasenes, before arriving at the bank of the Sea of Galilee, where they were reported to have drowned. One can imagine the eyewitness watching Jesus cast out the demons from the men in Gerasa, then quickly grabbing his papyrus and chasing the pigs 60 km with his writing scribe and papyrus in hand to document their demise in the Sea of Galilee. I wonder what he would have missed on his long walk back!? Perhaps Jesus said something of great importance for mankind like; “don’t be cruel to animals, not even pigs, for they are my father’s creation too.”
Further, one could scarcely imagine Buddha’s dismay at Jesus’ inhumane and callus mistreatment of these beautiful and intelligent creatures. Perhaps if Buddha had been present when Jesus sent these innocent pigs to their death, he may have offered Jesus some form of counsel regarding the importance of displaying compassion toward all living creatures. Getting back to the point at hand, to appreciate the significance of “Mark’s” mistake, we need to ask an important question; what are the implications of this geographic error? The primary implication is that the author of this tale was ignorant of the geography of Palestine and thus, was more than likely foreign to that land. The person responsible for telling this story, whomever he might have been, had never been to Palestine and based, at least in part, the details of this fiction, on a crude map of Palestine or an errant manuscript, or even a distorted oral tradition. This fact on its face appears to be of little significance, but when trying to establish whether or not the author was an eyewitness to Jesus, or was relating the account of an eyewitness, it creates an insurmountable problem for believers. How could an eyewitness who was apparently a Jew and a native of Palestine, be ignorant of the distance between the Sea of Galilee and Gerasa? Wouldn’t a native of this area have known that it would have been impossible for Jesus to immediately meet someone in Gerasa after stepping out of a boat on the shores of Galilee, when these two locations are separated by a 60 km walk?
The author of Luke tried to mitigate this error by saying that the event took place in Gerada (Luke 8:26), which is only about 15km from the shore, but this still doesn’t support the claim that Jesus “immediately” met the man after stepping off the boat.
To illustrate this geographical error in a more modern context, let’s put Jesus on trial. Imagine for the moment, that Jesus is not alleged to have exercised demons as the story says, but for the purposes of this parody, let’s say that he is on trial for shooting a man in the land of Gerasa.
The State of Reason vs. Mr Christ
Facts: A pig farmer is found murdered in Gerasa and there is no evidence against the defendant (Mr Christ), but for the alleged eyewitness testimony of man who claims to have been present when Mr Christ allegedly shot the pig farmer in cold blood. The prosecution’s case rests solely on the eyewitness testimony of this witness and nothing else. There is no physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime, no other witnesses, no prior relationship between the defendant and the deceased, no weapon and no apparent motive.
Judge: “Would the defence like to cross examine the eyewitness?” Public Defender (PD): “Yes, Your Honor.”
PD: “Mr… Ahh! It says here your name is just Mark! No last name?”
Mark: “No, I don’t have a last name, just Mark, or John if you like!”
PD: “Mark and or John are your real names?”
PD: “I’ll stick with Mark. Mark, you claimed to have seen the defendant, Mr Christ, shoot the victim in the chest at point blank range with a 357 Magnum. Is that correct?”
Mark: “Yes, that’s correct.”
PD: “Could you please describe for the court, in your own words, what happened that day.”
Mark: “Yes, I remember it clearly. It was a sunny day. I was sitting by the Sea of Galilee enjoying some wine and Psilocybin when I saw Mr Christ step off the boat where he was immediately met by the victim who approached Mr Christ in a threatening manner. Mr Christ took out a 357 Magnum and shot the victim in the chest.”
PD: “What is the name of this place where you witnessed the shooting?”
Mark: “The place is called Gerasa, and we also call it the land of the Gerasenes.”
PD: “Sorry, and once again you say you saw the defendant, Mr Christ, step out of the boat onto the shore of the Sea of Galilee where he was “immediately” approached by the victim? Is that right?”
Mark: “Yes, that’s right.”
PD: “I do apologize, but I’m a little confused. You are saying that you saw the defendant, my client, the man sitting over there, step off the boat and at that very moment, as soon as his foot touched dry land, in your words, ‘immediately’, he encountered the victim by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and shot him dead?” “Is that what you are saying?”
Mark: “Yes!! How many times do I have to tell you?!! Mr Christ exited the boat at which time he was immediately approached by the victim!”
PD: “Your Honor the defence would like to submit this map of the area in question as exhibit A.
PD: Now, Mark, this is a map of the area in question. Can you see the Sea of Galilee?”
Mark: “Yes, it’s here!” (Mark points to the Sea of Galilee on the map)
PD: “And can you show me on this map, where Gerasa is?”
Mark: “Yes, it’s here.” (Mark points to Gerasa on the map)
PD: “According to this map, Gerasa is about 60km away from the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is in a completely different region! You are sure the victim immediately approached the defendant after he stepped out of the boat?”
Mark: “Yes, that’s what I said!”
PD: “So how could the victim have immediately approached my client, on the shore by the Sea of Galilee, if Gerasa, the location in which the victim’s body was found, is 60km away? Mr Christ would have had to have walked for nearly a day, before meeting the victim, but you are claiming he immediately met him after stepping out of the boat at the shore of Galilee. How can this be? Your Honor, the defence would like to call a witness to the stand.”
Judge: “Who is the witness?”
PD: “The witness is a church father by the name of Papias, your Honor. I believe he will be able to shed some light on the witness and his testimony!”
Bailiff: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
Papias: “I do!”
Bailiff: I thought you were forbidden from swearing oaths? (“Matthew” 5:33-37 & “James” 5:12)
Bailiff: Sorry Your Honor, I couldn’t resist.
PD: “Mr Papias, are you familiar with the alleged eyewitness, Mark?”
Papias: “Yes! I have heard from a source I trust, who had heard from a source they trusted, who had heard from a person they trusted, that Mark was a companion and scribe of the Apostle Peter, who was an eyewitness of Mr. Christ.”
PD: “So, you are saying that you heard it from someone, who heard it from someone else, who had heard it from another person, that Mark heard from Peter, the so called eyewitness of Mr Christ, that he did in fact commit the act? Your Honor, this is nothing but hearsay upon hearsay. So upon your testimony, Mark was not an eyewitness at all, but merely an associate of an eyewitness, this Peter character?”
Papias: “Yes, although Peter was also called Simon.”
PD: “That’s very interesting because I also have here an affidavit signed by some of the leading biblical scholars that shows that the alleged eyewitness Mark, is not who he says he is either. Is any one of your Christian associates who they claim to be?”
Papias: “All I know is that Mark was not an eyewitness to the event!”
PD: “Your Honor the defence requests an acquittal, as the prosecution’s case is based solely on the unreliable eyewitness testimony of a man who is not who he says he is and if he is in fact the Mark in question, then according to the defence’s key witness, Papias, he was not an eyewitness at all.” Also the event couldn’t have transpired in the manner described by the witness as the location in which the victim was found was nearly a day’s walk from the Sea of Galilee and so the witness’ testimony is obviously false!
Judge: “There is clearly no evidence linking the defendant to this act and as such, the court has no choice but to grant the acquittal on the basis of a lack of evidence. Acquittal granted!”
Now, if you think that the Judge in the above parody made the right decision due to the lack of evidence, then it is only logical that you also find the evidence of Mark’s testimony insufficient, with regards to the story of Jesus and the demon pigs.