Did Jesus Sail Across the Mediterranean?

I was watching History Channel’s H2 this past Easter (April 8, 2012) and they had this series called Secrets of Christianity running all day (how appropriate -_-). Being a Christian, the title caught my attention. The series’ six episodes were aired and repeated later in the afternoon, beginning with Vesuvius and the Fear of God, followed by The Messiah Before Jesus,  and continuing with The Lost Voyage of Jesus, The Roman Army’s Secret Christians, Selling Christianity, and ending with Nails of the Cross. I didn’t watch all of them. I caught half of The Messiah Before Jesus and the whole of The Lost Voyage of Jesus–the episode I will be focusing on.

Secrets of Christianity is a documentary series done by documentary director and producer, Simcha Jacobovici. Jacobovici has a background in philosophy, politics, and journalism. He is most famous for his series The Naked Archeologist.


Find out more about Simcha Jacobovici at: <http://www.apltd.ca/pages/people/simcha-jacobovici> and <http://www.hellomagazine.com/profiles/simcha-jacobovici/>

So the premise of the episode The Lost Voyage of Jesus is that Jesus’ journey to the region of the Gadarenes, or Gerasenes, depicted in the Gospels of Mark (4:35-5:20), Luke (8:22-39), and Matthew (8:18-34) did not take place on the Sea of Galilee but on the Mediterranean. He claims that the storm described in this story could not have taken place on the placid waters of Galilee but rather on the Mediterranean Sea, which is known for violent storms. He sites further evidences to prove this claim.

The central point to his argument is that Jesus set out to fulfill “the sign of Jonah.” What Jacobovici believes the sign of Jonah to be is bringing the lost sheep of Israel back to the fold, that is, those tribes that were scattered during exile returning to Jerusalem. He then goes on to say that part of the tribe of Gad had settled in Spain. His reasoning for this is that in the ancient world, there was a region in southern Spain called Tartessos. Situated in the area of Tartessos was a coastal town called Gades/Gadir/Gadira, now modern-day Cadiz. He speculates further that because the town of Gades has Gad in its name, it is evidence that it was inhabited by members of the tribe of Gad. Jacobovici believes Tartessos to be the place referred to in the Book of Jonah as Tarshish.  It is his assertion that Jonah set out to minister to these Gadites in Tartessos before God caught up with him. Since the sign of Jonah is interpreted to mean the reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel, it is essential that Jesus undertake this journey as part of his Messianic duty. From this perspective, Gades, Spain could easily be seen as the land of the Gadarenes that Jesus and his disciples traveled to.

Upon arriving at Cadiz, Spain, Jacobovici examines the coastal landscape and compares it to what is described in the Gospel story.

Mark 5:1-14, from the NIV

1  They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.  2  When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him3  This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.  4  For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.  5  Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  6  When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.  7  He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”  8  For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”  9  Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”  10  And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.  11  A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside.  12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.”  13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned14  Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened.

He remarks that  the scenes described in this passage indicate that the tombs were not far from the shore but were actually quite close, and that there were hills among the tombs. The passage explains further that the hills were on the coast and that they were steep. The fact that the pig herders ran to the town to tell the people what had happened and that the people came out to see, suggests that the town was nearby. Jacobovici continues by saying a cemetery with a nearby town means that it was a necropolis, or city for the dead. That there were pigs leads him to believe that this was not a Jewish community but a pagan or Gentile one since contact with pigs is considered a sin in the Torah. He believes the pigs described in the story were used as sacrifices in celebration of the dead. This fact is more evidence for Jacobovici that this event did not take place in the Jewish area of Galilee.

After examining the evidence and the surrounding landscape, Jacobovici concludes that the area matches the description found in the Gospels. Not only are there steep hills along the coast, but there is a fairly large number of tombs with a nearby village where pigs are minded. However, because Jacobovici is using the NIV Bible, he points out a problem in the translation. He says that the word translated as ‘lake’ in the original Greek actually refers to salt water, not fresh water, and should be rendered more accurately as ‘sea’; further evidence to support his claim that the events described took place on the Mediterranean Sea rather than the fresh water lake of Galilee.

Although the area checks out as a possible location for the events found in the Gospels, Jacobovici reexamines the story and suggests that the storm encountered at “sea” forced Jesus and his disciples to dock at the nearest port, which he says would have been on the Balearic Island of Majorca off the eastern coast of Spain. He remarks that this location fits the description found in the Gospels also. Interestingly, there is a group of Spanish Jews that Jacobovici spends some time with on the island who claim they are the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. These supposed descendants of Jesus believe that Jesus was an ordinary man who lived a normal life, died, but was not resurrected. He is regarded as a good teacher, nothing more. There is even site in Majorca under a certain tree where a footprint is preserved that locals regard as the footprint of Jesus. As much effort as Jacobovici puts forth in demolishing accepted biblical interpretations, he spends little time scrutinizing these claims and passively accepts what is being said.

Central to his objective, he sites the passage near the end of the story about the villagers asking Jesus and his disciples to leave.

Mark 5:15-17 , from the NIV

15  When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  16  Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man– and told about the pigs as well.  17  Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

Jacobovici interprets this to mean that Jesus’ attempt at persuading the Gadarenes to return to Jerusalem was unsuccessful. He then comments that the language used in the Gospel story is obscure and that the exact location of the land of the Gadarenes was meant to be concealed, since it would reveal that Jesus failed at this central task of reuniting the lost tribes of Israel as his role of Messiah. This leads Jacobovici to conclude that Jesus was not a true Messiah.

The thing about this show is Jacobovici knows where he is going and is just stringing the viewer along by using references and facts that support his views, while ignoring or casually brushing aside others that contradict them. The show purports to reveal secrets about Christianity but does more to create a work of fiction similar to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” By the end of the documentary, it is clear what Jacobovici’s agenda is. That he travels extensively on the show to the places relating to the subject of each episode does make for an interesting watch though.


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3 thoughts on “Did Jesus Sail Across the Mediterranean?”

  1. Interesting read. The History channel tends to always try to find anything they can and re-interpret it in a naturalistic way. Also interesting is that Jacobovici doesn’t address the notion of the demoniac? Does he lend it some credence?

    1. Sorry for the late reply Spencer.

      I didn’t write everything down that was said in the show. I was going to at first but realized that it was going to be pretty long…so I condensed it.

      He doesn’t really get into demon possession but does question whether or not anyone could live in the tombs. Interestingly, one of curators for the site at Cadiz said that he encountered a homeless man in one the tombs before.

  2. I believe that Jesus would almost certainly have visited the shores of the Mediterranean but whether he went there with his apostles is questionable? More likely he may have traveled there before he was 30 and before his ministry began. It is only 35 miles from the Sea of Galilea to the Mediterranean . Who could resist going there? It would s well over 2000 miles by boat from Jerusalem to Spain by sea! Perhaps a 5-7 day voyage in those days?

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