By Mike Willis
Little remains of “the town of Jesus,” except for the ruins, enclosed within black basalt walls, excavated by Franciscan monks over the last 100 years. According to Matthew 4:11 Jesus moved to Capernaum from Nazareth to fulfill the words of Isaiah (9:1-2). Jesus performed numerous miracles in and around Capernaum. Enlarged by refugees from Jerusalem after A.D. 70, the town thrived until it was completely destroyed during the 7th century Arab conquest. Franciscans acquired the ruins in 1894 and began a program of excavation which continued into the 1960s. One of the buildings which has been reconstructed is a synagogue which dates from the 2nd century A.D. This synagogue stands on the same spot as the one where Jesus taught.
The village is called Kefer Nahum (village of Naham the prophet). The word kepher, from Myrpk is a village in distinction from a Mykrk a city. The “city” was usually girt with walls whereas the village was not. Capernaum is located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is a quiet place, away from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. Located on the trade routes, it was also a place for tax collection and was the place where Matthew worked as a tax collector, for it was here where Matthew was called to be an apostle and entertained his former publicans (Mark
4:13; Matt. 9:1, 9-13).
Capernaum was an important part of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Here are some of the important things said about Capernaum:
- Jesus made Capernaum his home after he entered his ministry (Matt. 4:13; John 2:12) in fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2.
- The centurian who did not think himself worthy for Jesus to come into his home appealed for Jesus to heal his servant in Capernaum (Matt. 8:5; Luke 7:1ff).
- Jesus instructed Peter to catch a fish, in whose mouth would be a coin for the temple tax, in Capernaum (Matt. 17:24).
- Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21).
- He healed the paralytic borne of four here (Mark 2:1).
- The disciples argued about who would be greatest here (Mark 9:33).
- Jesus performed many miracles here (Luke 4:23). He cast out a demon from a man (Luke 4:31ff).
- While in Cana, he healed the son of royal official who lay ill in Capernaum (John 4:46f).
- After feeding the 5000, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and came to Capernaum where he taught in the synagogue and gave his “bread of life” discourse (John 6:17, 24).
- Despite witnessing so many miracles, the people of Capernaum did not manifest great faith in Jesus (Matt. 11:23; Luke 10:15).
The ruins at Capernaum are impressive. The restored synagogue, dated from the second to the fourth century A.D., is built on the foundations of the first century synagogue. One can be fairly confident that he is standing in the place where Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath day when he is in the synagogue at Capernaum. Some of the carved stones there display the Jewish menorah (lampstand), transporting the ark of the covenant on a cart, a mile marker of the Via Maris, millstones, olive presses, etc.
At Capernaum, Jesus healed the man who was let down through the roof because the door to the house in which Jesus was teaching was too crowded (Mark 2:1ff). The little houses in front of the synagogue at Capernaum give us some picture of what happened that day.
The Roman Catholics have erected a monument at Capernaum over what they believe to be the house of Peter or his mother-in-law. The building is somewhat distracting from the simple little village at Capernaum.