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The Church of the Multiplication

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Did Jesus Bless the Loaves and Fish on this Rock?

This site is always part of our live Octagon Tour.

Location - Galilee North Shore

Map Coordinates - 32.873437, 35.549171

Merged Gospels story - 101

The Church of the Multiplication is the traditional place where Jesus fed a multitude of people numbering in the thousands. He did this with only a few loaves of bread and a few fish. The church is on the north shore of Lake Galilee at a place called Tabgha, which means seven springs.

There are actually two stories about Jesus miraculously feeding a multitude. In one instance He fed over 5000 people (The Merged Gospels, Story 101). On another occasion He fed over 4000 (Story 110). And while there is still some lingering doubt as to exactly where these two events actually took place, history strongly suggests that the early Christians believed that the feeding of the 5000 occurred right here.

The church was built in 1964 AD. Like most other churches in the Holy Land, this one rests on the foundations of earlier churches.

Jesus feeding the multitude.

This number, 5000, actually refers to the men who were there, but it didn’t include any of the women or children. If you were to combine all these people, you would realize that the size of the crowd that Jesus fed was probably well over 5000. It could be easily over 10,000.

The story of the feeding of the 5000 is told in every one of our four Gospels. It is written that large crowds had followed Jesus into a remote area near the shoreline of Lake Galilee. Toward nightfall they were getting hungry, and Jesus told his Apostles to feed the crowd. But all they had were five loaves of bread and two fish. It was at this point that Jesus miraculously multiplied the food so that everyone in the crowd could have enough to be satisfied.

The First Church On This Site.

The first church was built here in around 350 AD. It was small, and its foundations can still be seen under a glass panel on the right side of the current altar. The building was oriented so that it would run parallel to an ancient road that was built on the north shore of Galilee called the Via Maris. A physical description of this church was provided for us by the Spanish lady pilgrim from Spain, named Egeria. In 381 AD she said this region had a grassy field, which the Bible also confirms.

The Second and Third (Modern) Churches.

A second church was soon built a hundred years later, but in the year 614 AD a Persian army marched through the Holy Land and completely demolished it. In fact, the destruction was so great, that in 670 AD the pilgrim Arculf came here and reported that only a few columns were left standing. It did not take long for this shrine to completely disappear under the sands of time, and it wasn’t rediscovered until 1932. The architects who built the third church fashioned it the same size as the second church.

Among the highlights of this second church are these fifth-century mosaics (pictured below), which happen to be the earliest known examples of Christian floor mosaics in the Holy Land.

The Nilometer.

While the mosaics on the floor of this church are generally depictions of birds and flowers, on the right side there is a curious depiction of a column called a nilometer, a mosaic built in the 5th century.

The mosaic of a nilometer at the Church of the Multiplication.

The top part of this nilometer is original, whereas the bottom part was reconstructed in the 1980s.

In the word nilometer you can hear the word Nile, and there’s a reason for that. Nilometers were used for measuring the annual flood level of the Nile river. The Greek letters in this nilometer correspond to the numbers 1 through 10, starting at the bottom, and each level measures one cubit. The level with an S (between the epsilon and the zeta) was called the semeion level, the level that was required to have a successful crop that year. Anything below the semeion level indicated an inadequate water level for crops. When the semeion level was reached, a signal was sent rapidly throughout Egypt. Dikes blocking the irrigation canals would open and the fields would be flooded.

This is not the only nilometer found in the Holy Land. There are several other sites where you see the same mosaic. All of that sounds very Egyptian, and very secular, so why are there mosaics of nilometers in the Holy Land?

First of all, remember that these mosaics were laid during the Byzantine era, when the entire Roman empire had one official religion – Christianity. Christianity was starting to degenerate from a religion of humble and huddled masses to a political force of the high and mighty. Secular (and even pagan) art started appearing on the floor of many churches, and the nilometer mosaics are a good example of this. They were nothing more than an icon of Roman culture, of which, at that time, both Egypt and Palestine were a part.

The Loaves and Fishes Mosaic.

This loaves and fishes mosaic is one of the earliest Palestinian mosaics in the Holy Land.

This mosaic was discovered in 1932 AD, and you can see a picture of a basket flanked by two fish. There are loaves in the basket, but only four of them. The Bible clearly says that when Jesus fed the 5000 five loaves of bread were multiplied. So where is the missing loaf?

Here’s the answer. The priest who is serving communion at any moment is holding the fifth loaf. You see, whenever worshippers take communion in this church, the loaf that is in the hand of the priest is a stand-in for the missing loaf in the mosaic.

The Stone.

Here I am examining the stone at the Church of the Multiplication.

The Spanish pilgrim, Egeria, describes the original church that she saw in 381 AD as having a stone on which the Lord placed the bread, and that this stone had become an altar. The stone wasn’t in the same position that it is now. It was a little closer to the nave. She also said that visitors often chipped away at the stone in order to take a piece home as a souvenir.

The small original church that Egeria described was significantly enlarged about a hundred years later (the second church), and the new floor plan was identical to the modern church that we see today. This famous rock at the front of the church was then moved to its current position, and it was put under the altar of the second church, where it sits today.

The Meaning of the Story.

The day after Jesus performed this miracle of the feeding of the multitude, in the sermon that He preached in Capernaum, He explained to His Apostles what the miracle of the loaves and fishes meant. He told them that He was the bread that came down from heaven.

Do you remember that just before He fed the crowd, Jesus told His Apostles to give the people something to eat? It’s obvious, with so many people that this was impossible. They had so very little to eat. Then, after Jesus fed the crowd, He instructed each Apostle to pick up all the scraps so that nothing would go to waste. And how many baskets were filled with these scraps? Twelve – one basket for each Apostle.

According to Jesus, the bread inside these baskets represented Himself. It’s all very symbolic, but what it means is that Jesus was preparing these men to travel the earth, each carrying the message of Christ, Who is the bread that came down from heaven, the One who gives life to everyone in the world.

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