4th c. synagogue at
Hebrew: Kefar Nahum ("Village
Town on the
northwestern shores of the Sea
of Galilee, about 2.5
miles from Bethsaida.
Its location on the "sea road" from Damascus to Ptolemaļs
gave it new strategic & economic importance when Herod's
kingdom was divided among his sons (4
BCE). As the Galilean
village nearest the border with the Golan,
barely 2 miles from the influx of the Jordan, Capernaum was the
most likely site on the west side of the lake for a toll station
with a military garrison to be maintained by Antipas. This
temporary strategic importance as a border post disappeared,
however, when Galilee
was united to the kingdom of Agrippa
The gospels identify Capernaum as a center for the public
activity of Jesus [Mark 1-3, John 4 & 6]. But modern
archaeological excavations do not justify the synoptic gospels'
characterization of the town as a "city" [polis;
Matt 9:1, Mark 1:33, Luke 4:31]. The most significant of the
sparse remains of 1st c. structures at the site are: (a) a large
plastered room venerated by early Christian pilgrims as the
house of Peter & (b) a black basalt foundation under the
massive 4th c. synagogue.
Scholars disagree whether this foundation belonged to the
synagogue mentioned in the stories of Jesus. The 4th c.
synagogue built over it is the largest yet found in Israel, too
large to be justified by the size or significance of the town
for local Jews. This synagogue was never mentioned by Galilean
rabbis & is right next to the Byzantine church that
Constantine constructed over the reputed "house of
Peter." Together these facts suggest that this
"synagogue" was constructed for Christian pilgrims. If
so, the foundation beneath it may also not have belonged to a
functioning Jewish synagogue.
Mark 1:21 // Luke 4:31
Mark 2:1 (Matt 9:1)
Matt 8:5 // Luke 7:1 (John 4:46)
Matt 11:23 // Luke 10:15
John 6: 17, 24, 59.
For further recent
information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:
Horsley, Richard A. Archaeology,
History & Society in Galilee. (Valley Forge PA: Trinity
Press International, 1996) pp. 112-117, 137-138.
Perspective on the
World of Jesus
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Mahlon H. Smith
All rights reserved.
an American Theological
Library Association Selected Religion Website
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