Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 16th, 2013 by Joel Watts

No, Dalmanutha has not been found – because it doesn’t exist

Israel, Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias)

Israel, Sea of Galilee (Lake of Tiberias) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Owen Jarus is reporting the discovery of a new town on the Sea of Galilee. It is very close to Magdal, and thus the immediate conclusion is to suggest it is Dalmanutha.

A town dating back more than 2,000 years has been discovered on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, in Israel’s Ginosar valley.

The ancient town may be Dalmanutha (also spelled Dalmanoutha), described in the Gospel of Mark as the place Jesus sailed to after miraculously feeding 4,000 people by multiplying a few fish and loaves of bread, said Ken Dark, of the University of Reading in the U.K., whose team discovered the town during a field survey.

This isn’t new.

Mark is known for his radical geography — Actually, he is conservative, as in following some of the literary geographic rules of the time. Matthew is not.

Both present the story.

Mark in 8.10. Matthew in 15.39.

Both present the story in much the same way, except for the name, of course. Matthew elsewhere had ‘corrected’ Mark’s geography so to see it here is nothing surprising.

So, if this is Dalmanutha, then we are supposed to believe either Matthew got his geography wrong or Jesus completed this event twice, once in each town. To be honest, I think it is more plausible to have Jesus perform the miracle twice than to have Matthew completely uncharacteristically get his geography wrong contra Mark.

As I point out in my book, there is a better explanation, following other notable cases in Mark’s Gospel — that he was writing this place name to hide his intention. Either in Latin or Aramaic, Dalmanutha can mean several things important to the expected context of the author. But, you’ll have to read for that answer.

Every time they find a shard of something, they will seek to pin it to so-called biblical archaeology. This is no different than what Simcha does every time he finds a window frame or a vase.


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Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


15 Responses to “No, Dalmanutha has not been found – because it doesn’t exist”
  1. You’re going to make us buy your book before fostering discussion of this? D:

    • Ha! Yes.

      No. 😉

      I believe Mark followed some existing rules of the time (namely likely those by Lucan, the Latin poet) to write to his audience via what James Scott has labeled a ‘hidden transcript.’ Lucan was known for taking real places and naming them something rather odd, but still intelligible for his readers.

      In the Aramaic, Dalmanutha may mean something like the place of the widow.

      During the Jewish Revolt, Magdala was the scene of a real ugly event — where the old men and other men who couldn’t work were killed and the others sold into slavery.

      • Ah, as in H. אַלְמָנָה. But what then to make of initial ד? Surely this couldn’t be proper form for a toponym…

        I seem to recall in some dialects of Aramaic that there was occasionally a nominal prefix ת…is that what you’re thinking of? But again, I’m not sure if this is attested for toponyms.

      • Also, I hadn’t spent any time with Dalmanoutha before, but…while this may be far out, if we’re running with ‘hidden transcripts’ here, I thought of וּבְרֶדֶת הַטַּל עַל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶה (Num 11.9). This is, of course, the episode of the manna.

        Further, during the Dalmanoutha visit in Mark, the ‘Pharisees’ ask for a sign _from heaven_. But most importantly, the incident itself is sandwiched between two feedings (of fish, then bread). And recall Num 11.4-5, “…also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt…'”

        Might we imagine טל מחנ(ו)ת? Or, there’s also a ms variant in Mark, Δαλμουναι (though not well supported).

  2. the ghost of d.f. strauss. or if you prefer, gerd luedemann

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