For many of us, giving a talk to a room of just 50 or 100 people is a difficult task—that is when there is no public address system.
Yet Jesus spoke outdoors to crowds 100 times that number. On one occasion, 5,000 men—not including women and children—heard him speak. He so captivated them that they didn’t think about eating. In another incidence, 4,000 men, besides women and children, heard his teachings and witnessed his healings, again foregoing food (Matthew 15:29–39; Mark 8:1–10, Luke 5:1-3).
1 So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.”
1 That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. 3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “……. . 9 “He who has ears, let him hear.”
THE Gospel of Matthew reports that Jesus Christ “went aboard a boat and sat down, and all the crowd was standing on the beach. Then he told them many things by parables.”.
In their book Come See the Place: The Holy Land Jesus Knew, Robert J. Bull and B. Cobbey Crisler raise some interesting arguments regarding this account. They ask: “How could one be heard by ‘a large multitude’ without the benefit of some sort of sound amplification? We would have asked the same.
Among several coves near Capernaum, there is one that has recently been found to have such sound characteristics of a natural amphitheater. It is located around mid-way between Capernaum and Tabgha, amongst the major areas of Jesus’s Galilean ministry. Acoustical tests were carried out on this site to show that ‘a great multitude’ of some five thousand to seven thousand people could indeed have clearly heard a person speaking from a boat located at a spot near the cove’s center.”
Archaeologist Cobbey Crisler, together with acoustic engineer Mark Myles conducted tests near Tell Hum, site of ancient Capernaum. “The Acoustics and Crowd Capacity of Natural Theaters in Palestine”, Biblical Archaeologist Dec 1976, pp. 128–41.
Front page of the historic article.
Archaeologist Crisler and acoustic engineer Myles conducting sound tests at Tell Hum, site near ancient Capernaum, 1976.
Meticulous measurements were made in the experiments
Cove of the Sower* 60 years ago
Same spot in 2008, a road now spans the upper part of the Cove.
There “the land slopes gently upward from the Sea of Galilee to a modern road more than a football field away.” Crisler went out slightly into the cove and stood on a large rock in the water. To begin, Miles set up a sound generator on the rock, a little more than 30 feet (10 meters) offshore. The device emitted a “shrill, sustained tone” whose signal strength Miles measured while walking away from the shore along a couple lines centered on the rock and radiating outward at roughly a 30-degree angle. The signal was clear all the way to a road about 300 feet (91 meters) away.
Then he inflated balloons of the same size to produce a uniform sound and punctured them at measured intervals of time. Myles, using an electronic volume meter, registered the decibel levels as he walked upward toward the road. Crisler then came onto the shore and repeated the balloon puncturing there. The sound intensity was greater from the rock in the water cove rather than from the shore ! Interestingly, while Crisler was out in the cove, several automobiles with tourists stopped on the road. He could clearly hear one person ask: “What’s he doing down there?” Another answered: “I don’t know. He’s just standing there holding some red balloons”!
Evidently, if people are on a hill or an incline as near Capernaum, the speaker, at an appropriate distance below and away from them can be heard, and his voice is being amplified. Crisler and Myles theorize that Jesus and other Biblical personalities who addressed large audiences deliberately “sought out open areas known for their natural amplification properties and used them in mass communication.”
Crisler and Myles have also made investigations “to determine how many people could clearly have seen Jesus the day he spoke there.” Assuming it was a bright, cloudless day, they estimated that “an audience of 5,000 and 7,000 could have heard and seen Jesus speaking from offshore.” Indeed, large crowds from throughout the Holy land had flocked to Galilee to see the miraculous healer as he addressed them in parables. The Capernaum location with its bowl-shaped natural amphitheater indeed allowed everyone to hear him clearly.”
Of course, it cannot be stated dogmatically that Crisler and Myles have discovered the actual site of Jesus’ shoreside lecture. Yet, in an area of such fine acoustics, Jesus’ command to “listen” would have been most appropriate. (Matthew 13:9). Similarly, his use of the word “ears” and the many forms of the verb “to hear” could easily be appreciated by all his listeners in such a place.
Matthew 7:28-29 “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teacher of the law”.
Jeremy and Barry of the “Following the Messiah Ministry” take a difficult trek across the shore of the Sea of Galilee to come to the Cove of the Sower and performed a small experiment of ‘speaking and hearing’ (AMAZING Sound Experiment at the Cove of the Sower - YouTube).
Jesus having a robust voice does not suffice. The listener must also need to filter the speech from the ambient noise. No doubt the crowds were noisy: people coming and going, internal chatting, fussy children, the wind rustling the grass, goats and sheep bleating in the background. The human brain, however, possesses an uncanny ability to focus on intelligible sounds in the midst of competing dialogue. Yes, that’s the point, our Lord Jesus was teaching them about the truth that they needed and wanted to hear. Jesus knew that hearing was not enough. One has to hear with the heart, not just with the ears. The brain can also make partial speech whole.
Jesus was insistent that they hear and understand the parable of the “sower”: He begins the parable with “Listen; behold” (Mark 4:3) and ends with “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” and “take care what you listen to” (4:23–24). How interesting that Jesus used the surrounding terrain both for acoustic enhancement and as an illustration of the receptivity of the human heart to his message.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 took place somewhere around the city of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). The feeding of the 4,000 occurred in the Decapolis (Mark 8:1–9; see 7:31). Both locations have excellent acoustical topography. In short, natural amphitheaters exist all along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus used them as “public address systems” to teach the crowds.
Ancient Roman-built Amphitheatre, making use of similar acoustics principles
(Actually validating the above assertions)
Come to think of it, our Lord will not need to speak to us through the mic, perhaps those who help to spread His words do. He speaks to us directly, into our hearts, as Lord, teacher and friend.
Romans 10:17 “... Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God”. Faith simply comes by taking in God’s word. I have come to realize that if a Christian thinks they can walk in strong faith without continuing to hear the word of God, they’re fooling themselves.
*Cove of Sower is supposed to be where Jesus delivered the Parable of the Sower in His sermons.
B. Cobbey Crisler, “The Acoustics and Crowd Capacity of Natural Theaters in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 39.4 (1976): 128–41, doi:
HOW COULD A CROWD OF THOUSANDS HEAR JESUS TEACH? Bible Study Magazine 10.2307/3209424. https://www.biblestudymagazine.com/amphitheaters
Images: B. Cobbey Crisler, “The Acoustics and Crowd Capacity of Natural Theaters in Palestine.” The Biblical Archaeologist 39.4 (1976): 128–41, doi: How Did the Crowds Hear Jesus? https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1988446#h=2
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