The wandering journeys. Was Jesus an itinerant preacher?
The wandering journeys of Jesus and his disciples
Was Jesus an itinerant preacher? My analysis concludes: not much.
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Note: all emphases are mine.

1. Introduction

The travels of Jesus and his disciples are first mentioned in Mark's gospel. Some trips are short and the destinations very close to Capernaum:
- Bethsaida: 3.5 miles NE (Mk6:45, Mk8:22)
- Gennesaret: 2-5 miles SW (Mk6:53)
- Dalmanutha: 5 miles SW (Mk8:10)
Others are just ramblings with little or any narration and with few or no naming of visited places (Mk1:39,6:6b,6:56,7:31,8:27,10:1).
Since GMark was the first one written, and the other gospel authors apparently following its lead, it is the one we will study most, regarding the wandering journeys. But what about the other gospels?

2. Jesus' travels in GMatthew, GLuke and GJohn

A) In Matthew's gospel, the author followed "Mark" in that regard, as for almost anything else: 90% of GMark's is incorporated in Matthew's one. "Matthew" changed the timing of the first trip in Galilee only (Mk1:39 & Mt4:23) from after the "miraculous Sabbath" in Capernaum to before it. However, this trip is very different (and considerably embellished) from the one in GMark:
Mt4:23b-25 "[with disciples plucked out from their boat! Mt4:18-22]
... healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria;
[only in GMatthew: a good clue about where this gospel got written]
` and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. Great multitudes followed Him; from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan."
Finally, in the same wandering, after the "sermon on the mount" (only found in GMatthew!) we have the sequence of the instantly cured leper (in public this time! Mt8:1-3), the main feature of the corresponding ramble in GMark.
"Matthew" eliminated also two wandering trips with disciples (Mk6:56, Mk8:22) including the longest, the one through Sidon and the Decapolis, most likely NOT to have Jesus going into Gentile territories (see Mt10:5). Therefore, only four of those trips are left in GMatthew (Mt4:23, Mt9:35, Mt16:13, Mt19:1).

a) "Matthew" changed "region of the Gerasenes" in Mk5:1 to "region of the Gadarenes" (Mt8:28) because Gadara (about 6 miles south of the Sea of Galilee) was likely to have some territory along the lake but not the more prominent city of Gerasa (about 30 miles south). Gerasa and Gadara were two of the Hellenist "Ten Cities" (the Decapolis). "Luke", who did not know about the geography of the area, kept "region of the Gerasenes" (Lk8:26), according to GMark.
b) "Matthew" correctly removed Bethany (Mt21:1) from being "at the Mount of Olives" (Mk11:1). Bethany was about 2 miles (Jn11:18) east of Jerusalem, in a valley behind (& southwards of) the Mount of Olives, and not on the old road of Jericho. On that matter, "Luke" once again followed GMark (Lk19:29,Ac1:12).

Essentially, Jesus seems to be traveling less in GMatthew than in any of the other gospels and appears to spend most of his time in Capernaum. It is also in this gospel that Jesus:
"... went and lived in Capernaum ..." (Mt4:13)
as his new home, and confirmed by:
"Jesus stepped into the boat, crossed over and came to his own town." (Mt9:1)

B) In Luke's gospel, before the visit to Nazareth (Lk4:16), Jesus is teaching in the synagogues of Galilee (Lk4:14-15) with no disciples.

a) The visit to Nazareth in GMark and GMatthew is in the middle of Jesus' ministry, NOT at the beginning as in GLuke.
b) It seems both "Matthew" and "Luke" wanted the fluky "miraculous" Sabbath in Capernaum ("HJ-2a") NOT be (as in GMark) the start of Jesus' ministry & the origin of his fame (as mainly a healer). Instead, they tried to present him as a very popular preacher & teacher, well before the "revealing" Capernaum episode, which, in this context, become unimportant.

Then, after the Sabbath in Capernaum, he preaches in the synagogues of Judea (or Galilee or land of the Jews - the ancient manuscripts do not agree), again with no disciples (Lk4:44). Then, he is described to be going in a town called Nain with disciples & a crowd (Lk7:11), Judea & surrounding country (Lk7:17) and then to other unnamed towns & villages with disciples & female followers (Lk8:1).
That's prior to "Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem" (Lk9:51), through Samaria & Jericho, and arriving there (Lk19:45), seemingly many weeks & exactly 425 verses later (37% of the gospel!).

a) Despite the statement in Lk9:51, and the ensuing (& successful) efforts for a safe passage through a Samaritan village and other places (Lk9:52-10:17), and the reminder at Lk13:22 ("And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem."), Jesus is still, many verses later "... as He went to Jerusalem ... through the midst of Samaria and Galilee." (Lk17:11)
b) The table indicates which gospels specify each of the three "places" below as being a city (Greek 'polis') or not.
Remark: as explained in HJ-2a, in the first century Capernaum was an unwalled primitive town of less than 1500 inhabitants.

Nazareth Capernaum Bethsaida
c) GMark is the only gospel where Jesus does not preach in cities (Capernaum (???) & Jerusalem excepted).

In GLuke, Jesus seems to be always on the road, going to Capernaum for only two short visits (Lk4:31-43, Lk7:1-10)!

And, contrary to GMatthew, there is no mention of Capernaum being home for Jesus.
Therefore, Jesus and his followers would have been wandering through the rainy and cool late fall & winter, sometimes "disguised" as "extreme" Cynic-like sages:
Lk9:3 "He told them: "Take nothing for the journey- no staff [conflicts with Mk6:8], no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.""
Also, as the Cynic-like wanderers (who had cloak, wallet and staff but no sandals, their main trademark), they would be requested to remove their sandals:
Lk9:3,10:4,22:35 "Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals,
[conflicting with Mk6:9 "Wear sandals but not an extra tunic."]
` did you lack anything?" "Nothing" they answered."
Very unlikely! These winter months were better spent at home and certainly many of Jesus' followers had one in Capernaum or nearby (& family members too!).
Josephus' Wars IV, VIII, 3 "The ambient air is here also of so good a temperature
[in Jericho, Judea balmy warm spot by the Dead Sea]
` ... even when snow covers the rest of Judea."
Philo of Alexandria, Hypothetica:
"for in the winter they [Essenes in Judea] are thick cloak found"
Either that or get wet, cold, sick and die! And walking on rocky paths (between villages) with tender feet not only would be most painful, but also, through cut and infection, likely to generate gangrene.

a) The Cynic-like sages and their (hardened) bare feet were likely to travel on paved roads between cities.
b) In GLuke, followers or disciples, involved in missionary work without Jesus, (Lk9:3,10:4,22:35) are requested to be without sandals and money (also in Mt10:9-10). But during the normal wanderings with Jesus, this is not the case (Lk3:16,8:3)!

C) In John's gospel (the canonical final version), most travels of Jesus are meant to get him from one location to another. The destinations are Jerusalem (to attend feasts) & nearby Bethany (five times: Jn2:13,5:1, Jn7:11: about 3 months stay, Jn11:18,12:12), Galilee, either Cana (twice: Jn2:1,4:46), Capernaum (three times: Jn2:12,6:1?,24) or a far shore of the lake (Jn6:1), the lower Jordan valley (twice: Jn1:28,10:40), and Ephraim, an area between Jerusalem and Samaria (about a 3 months stay in winter).
Jn11:54 "Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples."

Note: there is no evidence Ephraim was a city, before or during Jesus' times! However, Ephraim is the territory of one of the twelve tribes and a mount in the vicinity of the ancient city of Shechem.

Jesus' only ramblings occur in the Judea countryside (Jn3:22-4:3, early on and with his disciples baptizing) and Galilee (Jn7:1, about 6 months in the summer, with NO narration & mention of disciples!).

Note: according to Jn7:3-4, in the latter part of Jesus' ministry, most of his disciples are from Judea!

As in GLuke, Jesus does not seem to spend much time in Capernaum (Jn2:12-13, Jn6:17,59,7:1). And according to Jn2:12, Jesus brings his mother & brothers to Capernaum. In the other gospels, they try to do the opposite, that is bring back Jesus to Nazareth (Mk3:21,31; Mt12:46; Lk8:19)!
And of course, most trips in GJohn are not reported in any of the Synoptics and vice versa.

Note: regarding the traveling of Jesus, the original GJohn is much closer of GMark. See later, for more details "John's gospel, from original to canonical"

3. The wandering trips in Mark's gospel

A) Mk1:39 "So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons."
Comment: as I explained in "HJ-2a", this trip was motivated by Jesus wanting to escape the "mob" in Capernaum (Mk1:37) by going "to the nearby villages" (Mk1:38). The only thing known about the trip is the curing of the "leper" and:
Mk1:45-2:1 Darby "... But he, having gone forth, began to proclaim [it] much, and to spread the matter abroad, so that he could no longer enter openly into the city [Capernaum, considering 1:33], but was without in desert places and they came to him from every side."
This wandering (without followers: see "HJ-2a") may have lasted between one and two months:
a) Jesus is described to preach in synagogues (Mk1:39). This is likely, according to Mk1:21,6:2. But from those same verses, we gather that Jesus had to wait for the Sabbath to do so. Consequently, preaching in synagogues could have taken many weeks (one synagogue, one week).
b) The recovery of the "leper" is highly suspicious as being instantaneous. His healing took probably weeks.
c) Relatively few people welcomed back Jesus in Capernaum (as in Mk2:1-2). The hundreds of those who mobbed him earlier (Mk1:32), or tried to do so (Mk1:37), had time to cool off.

In all likelihood, it was during this wandering that:
a) Herod Antipas got married with Herodias.
b) Herod executed John, during a visit to Macherus, weeks later.

B) Mk6:6b "Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village."
Comment: nothing else is reported. Why?

C) Mk6:56 "Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment.
[no mobbing as in Mk1:33,3:10,5:24: not credible at all!]
` And as many as touched Him were made well.
["many" (Mk1:34,3:10) has become a systematic "all"!]"
Comment: this trip occurs after Jesus and his disciples landed at Gennesaret (Mk6:53). No village or town of that appellation is known to have existed. However, this name was used for a small but fertile plain along the lake, 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, located between 2 miles SW of Capernaum and the populous city of Taricheae (also called Magadan (Mt15:39) & possibly Magdala), 7 miles SW. The plain was considered a garden of Palestine and well watered (allowing for irrigated summer crops). Consequently any town or village nearby would also be close to Capernaum; and it is likely the people of this area would have come earlier to Capernaum (a few miles away) in the hope to get healed.
"Mark" probably did not know that the two places were not far of each other. He might have heard the name and assumed that the land of Gennesaret was very large and existed by the "sea", but a fair distance from Capernaum; and he had Jesus go there.
No preaching is reported.

Note: according to Mk1:37-38, Jesus goes "to the nearby villages" when told a crowd is looking for him. Later (Mk1:45), Jesus does not show himself in "the city" (likely Capernaum) because, again, many people are after him in order to be healed. Furthermore, in Mk3:9-10:
"So He told His disciples that a small boat should be kept ready for Him because of the multitude, lest they should crush Him. For He healed many, so that as many as had afflictions pressed about Him to touch Him."
But now, he enters cities without fear (!!!), and the miracle seekers behave (!!!), and all of those who touch him are healed (!!!)

D) Mk7:31 "Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis."
Comment: this alleged trip is most controversial because it has Jesus going north to a Gentile city (this is the only time, in the synoptic gospels, that Jesus would visit a named (& true) city other than Jerusalem!) for no mentioned reason at all. Then, backtracking completely, and bypassing Capernaum, Jesus would have gone farther south in the Decapolis (and still no preaching). What did this senseless and extensive walking achieve? Possibly to have Jesus "transported" to places that the author heard about.

E) Mk8:27a "Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi."
Comment: no preaching here also. Another mention of a different area.

F) Mk10:1 "Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them."
Comment: during this alleged trip, we read in Mk10:10a "When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this." (see also Mk7:17). Which house was it?
The previous mention of a house is in Mk9:33a "They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ..."
Did "Mark" (or, more likely, an early interpolator) decide to insert 10:1, without paying attention to 10:10a? That is very plausible considering:
Mk10:1 can be seen as an afterthought and "correction":
- Up to that point (and right before the trip to Jerusalem Mk10:32), very important Judea (and TransJordan) was absent among the places visited by Jesus.
- As we saw already, there was no indication so far that Jesus preached (and crowds came to him) in visited locations such as Mk7:31 (southern Phoenicia) & Mk8:27a (villages around Caesarea Philippi). That seems to have been rectified by "again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them".
Certainly Mk10:1 gives the impression that Jesus & disciples spent some time in Judea and across the Jordan, before going to Jerusalem (Mk10:32) via Jericho (Mk10:46). Mission accomplished! But ... too bad that "in the house again" is a smoking gun!

a) The synoptic gospels seem to have forgotten about winter. The whole of Jesus' public life is happening during a perpetual summer!
b) How to explain that Jesus' followers, such as the poor fishermen, for weeks or months would abandon their family (Peter had one for sure)?
Who was getting the "daily bread" on the table for the dependants left home?

4. General remarks

Of the six rambling trips that Jesus allegedly did with his disciples, very few things are reported.
a) "Mark" was probably anxious to show Jesus was not staying in Capernaum, just a normal town among others, not a suitable dwelling place for a "Son of God" or Christ. Jesus had to spend a lot of time outside of Capernaum, not only Galilee, but also Judea, even beyond the Jordan and north into southern Phoenicia.

b) "Mark" and his Christian community must have known that Jesus' public life had been short (less than one year). It is likely that, in order to prevent his death to look premature and aborting his "ministry", he had Jesus always on the move, wasting no time, going all over Greater Palestine. And then, as we saw already ("HJ-3a"), "Mark" stretched the days of Jesus' visit to Jerusalem, giving him a lot of time to preach in the holy city, the logical pinnacle of his public life.

Note: Paul rated 'apostles' (propagators of the gospel) ahead of anyone else:
1Co12:28 "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues."
Jesus also had to be a great apostle!

Consequently, prior to his execution, Jesus would have fulfilled all works to be normally expected from him: preaching his gospel to the (Aramaic speaking) Jews all over the southern Levant including Jerusalem. His execution did not interrupt anything: Jesus' commission (a critical part of God's plan) had already been done.

c) It is likely that "Mark" tried to project Jesus and his disciples as resembling the Cynic-like vagabonds:
Mk6:8-9 "These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff --no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.""

In the Roman world of the first century C.E., the Cynic-like wandering sages were written about (mostly by Stoic philosophers) towards the end of the century (and more so later), but not earlier:
Musonius Rufus (30?-100?) (presumably referring to itinerant Cynic-like sages) "... only a cloak is preferable to wearing one [chiton]. Also going barefoot is better than wearing sandals, if one can it, for wearing sandals is next to being bound ..." (Fragment XIX)
Dio Chrysostom (40?-120?) "Someone who is unkempt and wears his garment closely wrapped about him and has no companions on his walks, a man who makes himself the first target for examination and reproof. ... I am well aware that it is customary for most people to give the name of Cynic to men who dress as I do;" (Discourses 33.14, 34.2)
Epictetus (55?-135?) "And how is it possible that a man who has nothing, who is naked, house-less, without a hearth, squalid, without a slave, without a city, can pass a life that flows easily? See, God has sent you a man to show you that it is possible. ...
So do you
[would-be Cynics] also think about the matter carefully; it is not what you think it is. "I wear a rough cloak even as it is, and I shall have one then ... I shall take to myself a wallet and a staff, and I shall begin to walk around and beg from those I meet, and revile them ..."
Lo, these are words that befit a Cynic, this is his character, and his plan of life. But no, you say, what makes a Cynic is a contemptible wallet, a staff, ..."
(Discourses, 'On the Calling of a Cynic', 3.22)
From this website: "Cynicism continued to decline in the first centuries B.C.E and C.E. and merely survived in the eastern Mediterranean in obscurity. Cynicism underwent a revival during the second century C.E. of the Roman empire."
The Cynic-like sages were known NOT to wear sandals but they did carry staff (stick or pole). But how to explain the transition from WITH staff and sandals (GMark) to WITHOUT staff and sandals ("Q")?
As follows: Mark's community must have observed former disciples, like Peter, with sandals. "Mark" certainly never thought of Jesus as barefooted:
Mk1:7b "... whose sandals I [John the Baptist] am not worthy to stoop down and untie."
Later, the "Q" people wanted to have Jesus' followers outdo the Cynic-like wanderers. So the staff and sandals were removed.
But Jesus keeps his sandals in Lk3:16! However "Matthew" made a "correction" and suggested that Jesus' sandals could be carried (instead of being worn):
Mt3:11 "... whose sandals I [John the Baptist] am not fit to carry ..."
More information about the dating of "Q" in the Q source

5. Conclusion

In all likelihood, Jesus spent most of his (short) public life in & around Capernaum and probably never went on any time-consuming wandering trips (except for the one mentioned in Mk1:38a "to the nearby villages"). Later, the gospel authors took the liberty to rearrange & correct (as "Matthew" did) and even to expand & change (as "Luke" and "John" did) on the alleged trips of Jesus.
Let's also note here, that, in all of "Q", only three localities are mentioned, as having been visited by Jesus:
Lk10:13-15 "Woe to you, Korazin [a town 2 miles north of Capernaum]! Woe to you, Bethsaida [a town 3.5 miles NE of Capernaum]! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. ... And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths."
The author of the aforementioned passage certainly confined Jesus' miracles into a very small area!
Let's also say there is no recorded historical impact from these alleged crusades by Jesus and/or followers. After Jesus' crucifixion, 'Acts' (2:42-46,8:1,21:18,etc.) and Paul's letters (Gal1:18-22,2:1-10) show the former disciples settling in Jerusalem. There, most of them led a sedentary life, unlike itinerant preachers.
Strangely, some of the main proponents of Jesus as the tireless itinerant sage do not give him much time for his alleged wanderings:
"While I used to toy with the idea that GJohn might justify the idea that HJ [Historical Jesus] had an extended public career, I have long since abandoned that notion. I now think that Crossan is correct. HJ was a flash in the pan, with his public career ... lasting less than a year, perhaps only a couple of months." Malhon H.Smith, on Crosstalk
And if "he lived in Capernaum" (Mt4:13), and his followers too, how could Jesus spend most of his time away from it?