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Capernaum (Capharnaum, Kfar Nahum)
Meaning: Nahum’s town
Capernaum was a large Galilean fishing village and busy trading center. This place is of special interest to Christians because of its frequent mention in the history of Jesus Christ. Peter, Andrew, James and John also lived here. It played a unique and important part in Christ’s life and ministry, and in his outreach to the people of Israel. The inhabitants of Capernaum, including various high ranking citizens, were given unique and abundant opportunities to hear Jesus Christ’s message firsthand and witness His awesome power and love.
2.5 miles (4 km) from the Jordan River, Capernaum stood on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee (modern Lake Kinneret, which the Bible also called the lake of Gennesaret, Sea of Chinnereth and the Sea of Tiberias). The ancient city of Capernaum was abandoned about a thousand years ago or more, and was rediscovered by archaeologists beginning in the 1800s. In modern times, it is called Kefar Nahum (Hebrew) and Talhum (Arabic).
The Gennesaret area was one of the most prosperous and crowded districts of Israel. Capernaum lay on the great Via Maris highway between Damascus (Syria) and Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea, and between Tyre and Egypt. Customs taxes were collected from travelers at this crossroads (Matthew 9:9). This was the job of Levi, the tax collector, who became Christ’s disciple and was later named Matthew. Jews criticized Jesus for befriending him and other tax collectors.
Caravans stopped at Capernaum to resupply themselves with produce and dried fish. At the lake shore, where Peter and other fishermen worked, archaeologists discovered a fish sales area.
After our Lord’s expulsion from Nazareth (Matt. 4:13-16; Luke 4:16-31), Capernaum became his “own city.” It was the scene of many acts and incidents of his life (Matt. 8:5, 14,15; 9:2-6, 10-17; 15:1-20; Mark 1:32-34, etc.).
SYNAGOGUE—The Bible tells us that a Roman centurion built a synagogue here for the Jews (Luke 7:1-5). His servant was later healed from severe palsy by Jesus (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). The remains of what must have been a beautiful basalt synagogue has been discovered by archaeologists. As expected for such a sacred building, it was found at the highest point in town.
This is the synagogue where our Lord frequently taught (John 6:59; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:33). Here, Jesus cured a demon-posssed man (Mark 1:21-28) and delivered the sermon on the bread of life (John 6:25-59). He even restored the life of the daughter of one rulers of this synagogue (Mark 5:22; Luke 8:41).
The synagogue is near the lake, and is built so that when the Jews prayed here, they faced Jerusalem. It was destroyed along with Jerusalem's temple, around 70 A.D. Many years later, it was replaced with a white stone synagogue (perhaps 250-300 A.D.) (shown above).
PETER’S HOUSE—Only a few hundred feet from the synagogue, the stone house of the disciple Peter has also been found at Capernaum. This is where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and others (Matthew 8:14-16). Jesus may have lived with Peter while staying in Capernaum. In the years following Jesus' death and resurrection, the house apparently became a house-church. Centuries later, Christians honored the site by building a church here. It was destroyed in a later conquest of the city. Archaeologists have excavated both the church and the earlier house below. Stanislao Loffreda reported,
Mary, the mother of Jesus, made her way to Capernaum with her other sons (Matt. 12:46,48,49). It was here that Christ uttered the memorable words, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!”
Some miracles of Christ that occurred at Capernaum are:
Despite the unique number of evidences our Lord presented to them, most of the people of Capernaum remained unrepentant disbelievers. Because they turned so strongly away from the uniquely gracious light given, they were strongly judged. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” (Luke 12:48). Thus, along with nearby Chorazin and Bethsaida, Capernaum received a very stern warning from Jesus (Matt. 11:21-24). “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” Ultimately, the cities were all destroyed, and Capernaum became virtually uninhabited ruins for centuries.
Today, Capernaum’s inhabitants consist of a Franciscan Monastery and a nearby Greek Orthodox Church.
Photographs for this article supplied by ChristianAnswers associate, BiblePlaces.com