Capernaum – Israel

Capernaum comes from the Hebrew ‘Kaphar Nahum’ or ‘Village of Nahum’. It was in an area settled by the Tribe of Nahum after the Conquest and was on the border with territory assigned to the Tribe of Zebulun (see Matthew 4: 13). Located on the northern shore of the Galilee, the Via Mare ran past here. And importantly, this served as small port and fishing village in the 1st Century. This village is one of the most mentioned places in the New Testament.

Tour guide Dr. Dave Reid explains the significance of Capernaum

Scriptural Significance

The village of Capernaum is one of the most mentioned places in the New Testament:

  • Peter and Andrew were fishermen here when they received the Lord’s call (Matthew 4: 18)
  • James and John also received that call as fishermen here (Matthew 4: 21)
  • Matthew worked here as a tax collector (Mark 2: 1, 13 – 14)
  • Jesus taught in the synagogue (John 6: 24 – 59)
  • Jesus cast a demon out of a man while in the synagogue (Luke 4: 31 – 37)
  • Peter found the coin in the mouth of the fish, which was used to pay the tax collector (Matthew 17: 24 – 27)
  • Jesus resided for a time in Peter’s house and healed Peter’s mother-in-law while he was there (Luke 4: 38 – 39)
  • Jesus healed multitudes in this place (Luke 4: 40 – 44)
  • Jesus rebuked the city for its unbelief (Luke 10: 15)

Archeological Significance

Excavations have produced some interesting finds. Chief among these are a two-story synagogue, an insula or compound, and another structure believed to be a home once belonging to Peter’s mother-in-law:

This synagogue is actually one synagogue sitting on the remains of another. The basalt platform (notice the dark base) dates prior to 70 AD.  We know this because it has characteristics that are unique to that time period. This was probably the synagogue the Lord taught in while He was here. The limestone portion of the building (the lighter upper portion) dates to later – probably the 4th Century. Its configuration bears out that it was constructed sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It was only afterwards that synagogues began to be built with an entrance and archway facing Jerusalem.

Directly next to these ruins are the remains of an insula, apparently of some prominent person within Capernaum. An insula is a compound where an extended family would usually live. In the center of the complex would be the family room, where the entire family would get together to eat for example.  Connected to this central room would be individual rooms. Children and their spouses would live in some of these while rearing families of their own. This seems to be the predominant living arrangement for families in Galilee during the 1st Century (and is very much still the custom in that part of the world). The location directly next to the synagogue, has led archeologists to surmise this to be the home of the synagogue ruler – the lead rabbi or teacher.  Again, such was the practice of the time. If so, this could very well be the home of Jairus, the daughter of whom Jesus raised from the dead (Luke 8: 41 – 50).

Nearby is a site that has intrigued historians the most.  There is good reason to believe that ruins of a home once belonging to Peter’s mother-in-law, has now been unearthed. 

For one thing, a Byzantine Church dating to roughly the 5th Century once stood above these ruins. Historians have noted that the Byzantine Church had a very good track record of identifying authentic sites.  Further, tradition would suggest that the early Christians continued to meet here right up until the time of Constantine (@ 311AD). Most compelling of all though is that 131 separate inscriptions have now been identified within the center room of the structure.  These inscriptions refer to Peter, the Apostles, and to Mary – the mother of Jesus. Although quite difficult to see in this photo, the faint traces of some of these inscriptions can be seen on the little plaster that remains on one of the columns.

A Franciscan Church has recently been built over the remains of this site. Many humorously refer to it as the UFO Church, given its odd shape. Note in the foreground, is the home that might very well have belonged to Jairus.

This photo was taken from the Franciscan Church (i.e., from the location where Peter’s family’s house would have been) and looks back across Jairus’s home toward the synagogue.

This shows the close proximity of everything within ancient Capernaum. It was a relatively small fishing village with perhaps no more than 1500 or so residents during the time of the Lord’s ministry.