Capernaum, the Town of Jesus

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Capernaum is called the Town of Jesus, the most important location of the Messiah ministry in all of the Galilee villages.

Capernaum was a town on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum was a Roman garrison town under the jurisdiction of a centurion. It was the home of Peter and Andrew (Mark 1:21, 29), and a central location for Jesus’ ministry—so much so that He was apparently considered a resident of the city (Matthew 4:13; 9:1; Mark 2:1). It was there that he healed the centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10), Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39), a paralytic (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26), and a demon-possessed man (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 4:31-37). Capernaum was also the setting for the calling of Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32), the sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6:24-59), the miracle of the gold from the fish’s mouth (Matthew 17:24-27), and Jesus’ lesson on the first and the last (Mark 9:33-37). Capernaum was among the Galilean towns which Jesus condemned for their unbelief (Matthew 11:23-24; Luke 10:15).

Relocation to Capernaum
“And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him. And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.”
(Mark 1:21–27 KJV)

Matthew Call

“And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him. And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
(Mark 2:13–17 KJV)

A City of Naphtali Tribe Region
Capernaum (Καφαρναούμ Kapharnaoum). Capernaum was a city of Galilee (Luke 4:31) situated on the confines of Zebulun, and Naphtali (Matt 4:13) on the western border of the lake of Tiberias (John 6:59) and in the land of Gennesaret (Mark 6:53; Matt 14:34) where Josephus places a spring of excellent water called Capernaum. Dr. LIGHTFOOT places it between Tiberias and Tarichea, about two miles from the former; and Dr. RICHARDSON, in passing through the plain of Gennesaret, was told by the natives that the ruins of Capernaum were quite near. The Arab station and ruins mentioned by Mr. BUCKINGHAM, said to have been formerly called Capharnaoom, situated on the edge of the lake from nine to twelve miles NNE of Tiberias, bearing the name of Talhewn, or as Burckhardt writes it, Tel Houm, appear too far north for its site. he entered: Mark 1:39; 6:2; Matt 4:23; Luke 4:16; 13:10; Acts 13:14–52; 17:2; 18:4 Reciprocal: Mark 1:32—at even; Mark 3:1—he entered

Timothy S. Morton, Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Enhanced and Expanded, paragraph 29400.

Central Area in Jesus Ministry

The Gospels indicate that Jesus’ ministry centered around Capernaum, and it would not be inaccurate to label it his base of operations. Matt. 4:13 states that Jesus left Nazareth for Capernaum, and Mark 2:1 describes Jesus as being “at home” there. The Gospels record several miracles as having occurred in Capernaum, including the healing of a paralytic who was lowered through an opening in the roof where Jesus was preaching (Mark 2:1-12) and the exorcism of an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue (1:23–28). Five of the disciples were chosen in or near Capernaum: Peter and Andrew were from Capernaum and were called to follow Jesus near there (Mark 1:16, 29), James and John were fishing nearby when they were called (1:21), and Matthew’s toll booth was apparently stationed there (Matt 9:9-13). Jesus’ unique relationship with Capernaum is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the vehement woe against Capernaum for its refusal to respond to his teachings (Matt. 11:23).

“CAPERNAUM,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 221.

Archaeological Remains

Archaeological excavations fill the void left in literary texts for Capernaum. More than a century of excavations have unearthed some walls and sherds from the Bronze Age, but the most significant remains date to the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods. The most imposing structures are the 4th-century synagogue and the 5th-century octagonal church. The synagogue is one of the largest in Israel; its white limestone facades stood in stark contrast to the black basalt houses that encircled it. Of interest because of parallel names in the NT is an Aramaic inscription on a column from the Byzantine period that reads “Alphaeus, son of Zebedee, son of John, made this column; may he be blessed (CIJ, 982–83). Whether a basalt floor underneath this synagogue represents a 1st-century synagogue or not is disputed. The 5th-century octagonal church known as St. Peter’s House was rebuilt on a 4th-century house church. Christian graffiti makes it likely that this was the site mentioned by the 4th-century pilgrim Egeria as the “house of the prince of the apostles.” One speculates that the remains under this structure, the so-called insula sacra which was built in the 1st century B.C.E. and occupied in the 1st century C.E., were associated with Peter (Mark 1:29-31). Recent excavations have also uncovered a small bathhouse, analogous to those used by Roman soldiers stationed along Rome’s borders. The obvious link to the Capernaum centurion mentioned in the NT is undermined by the bathhouse’s likely date to the late 1st or 2nd century (Matt. 8:5-13 = Luke 7:1-10).
More significant than these later structures for understanding the life of Jesus has been the picture of 1st-century Capernaum that the excavations paint: crudely made basalt houses reinforced with mud and dung and covered with thatched roofs (cf. Mark 2:1-12). Houses consisted of rooms and animal pens centered around a central beaten earth courtyard. The unpaved roads, the crudely made harbor, and the lack of public Graeco-Roman architectural features renders the Gospel’s use of Gk. pōlis hardly appropriate in its proper technical sense (Matt. 9:1; Luke 4:31). With a population of no more than 1500, it was a large village that profited from fishing, as the many fishhooks found there indicate. A 1st-century boat salvaged by archaeologists at nearby Kibbutz Ginnosar provides a good illustration of the type of small boat used by Galilean fishermen. A Roman milestone dating to the early 2nd century confirms that a major road led through Capernaum towards Syria, and Matthew’s traditional identification as a tax collector can perhaps more precisely be tied to border tolls (Matt. 9:9).

“CAPERNAUM,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 220.

The Sea of GALILEE

A freshwater lake in northern Palestine, part of the Jordan River system. The name Chinnereth or Chinneroth (Heb. yām kinnereṯ and variants kinnerôṯ, kinĕrôṯ) is derived from Heb. kinnôr, “harp,” which describes the shape of the lake (Num. 34:11; Deut. 3:17; Josh. 12:3; 13:27). It was later known as Gennesaret (Luke 5:1; 1 Macc. 11:67; Josephus Ant. 18.2; BJ 3.462, 515–16), Tiberiados (Josephus BJ 3.57; 4.456), and the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1). Gennesaret, or Gennesareth (Pliny Nat. hist. 5.15.71), was also the name of a town and a plain above the northwest shore. The name Tiberias comes from the town at the southwest shore named after the Roman emperor (modern Arab. Tabariyeh). Warm springs are located just outside Tiberias, and people would come there for the medicinal properties of the springs. Other towns around the sea were Capernaum to the northwest and Bethsaida to the north.

The lake is 14.5 km. (9 mi.) long and 8 km. (5 mi.) wide and rests in a basin formed by a geological fault. The surface of the lake is between 208.5 m. (684 ft.) and 213 m. (700 ft.) below sea level, depending on the season. The deepest point in the lake is 254 m. (833 ft.) below sea level.

Some 25 species of fish are found in the lake, and the NT includes frequent references to fishing, the size of nets and catches, and boats. Cured fish from Gennesaret were sent as far away as Rome during the 1st century. Josephus (BJ 3.520–21) mentions the common view of an underground connection with the Nile River because both the Sea of Galilee and the Nile were home to coracine, a type of black eel.

In 1986 a boat dating to the 1st century was recovered from the bottom of the lake off the northwest shore near Magdala. It provided an example of the kind of fishing craft used in the sea in biblical times.

“GALILEE, SEA OF,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, 480-481.

The Boat of Galilee or Jesus’ Boat

This fishing boat, excavated from the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, dates to the first century and is likely very much like the boat used by Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25).
Today, visitors can see the remains of this ancient treasure in the small museum inside Kibbutz Ginosar in Israel. In the small museum you can see how the archeologist rescue the ancient boat from the Galilee water and the restoration process along of the years.