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Where did Jesus Feed the 5000?

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While The Octagon Tour presents the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha on the northwest shore of Lake Galilee, as the location of the miracle of The Feeding of the Multitude, I have to be honest and admit that I am not totally convinced that the feeding of the 5000 occurred at this location, where the miracle is traditionally commemorated. Another theory suggests that this miracle took place on the Southwest part of the lake. Although there is some relatively early historical attestation which cites this event as having occurred at Tabgha, the reasons for the alternative theory are, in fact, based entirely on the text of the Gospels.

1. Tabgha is only 1.5 miles away from Capernaum, a short walk along the road that bordered the northern shore of Galilee. Following the miracle of the feeding of the multitude (Story 101), it is said that Jesus walked on the water (Story 102) and that He went directly to Capernaum (Story 103). However, as stated, Capernaum is only 1.5 miles away from Tabgha as one walks along the seashore. Now take note - of those who followed Jesus from the miracle of the feeding to Capernaum, it is said twice (John 6:22, 6:25) that they intended to go to Capernaum to find Him, and that they had to cross to the “other side” of the sea to get there. If the miracle happened in Tabgha, all that they would have to do is walk 1.5 miles down the road to get to Capernaum. But they didn’t. Twice it is said that they entered their boats and found Him on the other side of the sea, in Capernaum (John 6:22, 6:25). This wording would have been very strange if Capernaum were just 1.5 miles to the east along the shoreline.

2. “Other side”. Apart from the issue in question, the term “other side”, referring to boat travel on the Sea of Galilee, is mentioned six times in the Gospels. Every time it refers to traveling across a wide expanse of water. If the miracle of the feeding had taken place in Tabgha, there would have been no wide expanse of water to travel on, and hence the term “other side” (Matthew 14:22, Mark 6:45, John 6:22) would probably not have been used.

3. The Mountain. Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46, and John 6:3,15 all say that the miracle of the feeding took place next to a specific mountain. However, there is no mountain within a comfortable walking distance from Tabgha, nor is there one from where He and the disciples would have seen a crowd coming to Him. On the contrary, the site on the Southwest side of Galilee is on the slope of a very high mountain (Har Menorim), where they would have had a sweeping view of the approaching crowds.

4. A desolate place. Matthew 14:15, Mark 6:35 and Luke 9:12 all describe the place of the feeding as a “desolate place”. In the first century, the southwest shore of Galilee was far more desolate (being four miles from Tiberias) than Tabgha (which was only 1.5 miles from Capernaum, and only two miles from Chorazin). Moreover, the grassy vegetation and wide surface area of the shore near Har Menorim certainly fits the description of the place where the miracle took place.

5. Philip. Jesus’ question to Philip regarding where they were to buy bread has nothing to do with Philip’s knowledge of where the local stores were (as if the miracle happened near Bethsaida), but it is part of a larger lesson involving Philip about the true identity of Jesus, which is concluded in Jesus’ conversation with Philip in John 14:8,9.

6. The middle of the sea at the fourth watch. Matthew 14:23/Mark 6:47/John 6:16 says that Jesus sent His disciples away from the site of the feeding at evening (about 6:00 PM). John 6:19 says that they rowed about 25 or 30 stadia (2.9-3.5 miles), and Mark 6:47 says that this distance put them in the middle of the sea. Matthew 14:25/Mark 6:48 says that they arrived at this distance during the fourth watch of the night (between 3:00 and 6:00 AM). Matthew 14:24/Mark 6:48 says that they were straining at the oars, for the wind was contrary to them. Also, to assume that they started in Tabgha would be to assume that the wind blew them into the middle of the lake, which the text does not say.

7. “Pass them by”. Mark 6:48 says that Jesus intended to pass them by while walking on the water. If Jesus had started out from Tabgha, and the boat was in the middle of the lake, then “passing them by” would mean that He was heading south or southeast. However, this trajectory is not consistent with His commands to have them go to Bethsaida (on the northeast side of the lake), nor Capernaum (on the north side). If Jesus had intended for them to go to either Bethsaida or Capernaum, then He would have passed them by as coming from somewhere in the south. This suggests that Jesus’ point of origin was some point on the southern part of the lake. And only the southwest side of the lake has mountains (a necessary component in the story).

8. “Sea of Tiberias”. At the beginning of this story (John 6:1), John the Apostle refers to the place where they gathered as on “the other side of the sea of Galilee, or Tiberias.” By referring to the lake as the Sea of Tiberias, John is probably indicating from what vantage point the Lake was being addressed. For example, when the Lake is called Lake Gennesaret, it is because the speaker is referring to it from the vantage point of the Valley of Gennesaret. If it is called the Sea of Tiberias, it is because the speaker is referring to it from the vantage point of Tiberias. In other words, the lake changes names, all depending on your orientation. John’s referral to the lake as the Sea of Tiberias may signify that the place from which the Apostles sailed was near Tiberias, which Har Menorim is.

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