Umm Qais, or Gerasa, was the site of some high biblical drama. Jesus and his disciples left Galilee in a boat, headed for the eastern shore. A storm came up with high winds that tossed the boat about in the waves, terrifying the disciples, but apparently not disturbing the sleeping Jesus. They woke him up and begged him to save them. He gave them a look and said, “Why are you so afraid? Don’t you have any faith at all?” and calmed the storm. (Matthew 8:23-27)
When they got to the other side, they were in Umm Qais, then known as Gadara. Perched atop the mountain, Umm Qais gives startling views of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberius), the Golan Heights, and Mount Hermon in Lebanon. It was one of the most brilliant gems in the ancient Decapolis as a seat of learning and culture. Artists, philosophers, poets, and scholars such as the epigrammatist Meleagros, the satirist Menippos, and the rhetorician Theodoros called it home. The Romans frequently spent their vacation time in nearby Himmet Gader Springs.
Jesus and the guys went on their way into the city, when their progress was impeded by a tortured twisted soul. Here’s how Mark told the story: “And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: because
that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshiped him, and cried with a loud voice, and
said, ‘What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure the by God, that thou torment me not.’ For he said unto him, ‘Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.” And he asked him, ‘What is thy name?’ and he answered, saying, ‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’ And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of
swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, ‘Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.’ And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand), and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.” (Luke 5:1-14) (See also: Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39)
The ruins are astonishing to see. There are two theatres, a temple, a basilica and various shops in remarkable condition. The colonnaded street that runs east/west still shows the ruts worn in the stones by chariot wheels.
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