Capernaum, known as "Capharnaum" in Israel, is located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee about 30 miles northeast of Jesus's hometown of Nazareth. During his day it was a prosperous and crowded region, and it was here that Jesus lived after he began his ministry. Matthew says it was "his own city" (Matthew 9:1).
A Franciscan monastery stands guard over the site:
It was in Capernaum that Jesus recruited Peter, James, and John to be "fishers of men" and where he called the publican Matthew to join them. It was where he began his ministry in the synagogue and taught his first parables. And it was here that he performed eleven of the thirty-seven miracles mentioned in the New Testament, including healing Peter's mother-in-law, healing the centurion's servant, curing a man of an unclean spirit, healing a man sick with palsy after he was lowered through the roof into the room where the Savior was preaching, raising the daughter of Jairus, healing the man with the withered hand, detecting the touch of the woman with the issue of blood and then healing her, and directing the apostles to catch a fish and find a coin in its mouth with which to pay taxes.
As we sat in the shade of a few of the large trees, Michael transported us back over 2,000 years while he shared the stories, doctrines, and methods of the world's greatest teacher. Then he sent us out to explore on our own.
A 4th century synagogue was discovered by archaeologists, and then, underneath that synagogue, they found an older one that dated back to the time of Christ. The evidence is pretty good that this is an "A" site, the actual synagogue of Jesus, the place where he began his public ministry. Most of the synagogue ruins we could see were from the 4th century, but they give visitors a good idea of the dimensions and shape of the earlier synagogue.
It was this Capernaum synagogue Jesus visited on the Sabbath after he called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be "fishers of men." Those who heard him expound on the scriptures in the synagogue that day "were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes."
And after that, his fame was spread throughout the region, and there was no peace for Jesus anymore. As I read the Gospels that cover Jesus's time in Capernaum, I am struck by how one miracle seems to follow right after another, sometimes several in a single chapter, and I think about the emotional and spiritual strength that must have required of him. No wonder he needed time alone on the far side of the Sea of Galilee.
As in so many places in Israel, this is a "pinch me" place--a site I have read about in the scriptures all my life, and where I had the incredibly good fortune to visit.
There are many ruins other than those of the temple, partial walls and doorways that give a hint of the lives of former residents. These and the earlier "synagogue of Jesus" are built from black basalt, in contrast to the white limestone of the 4th century synagogue:
It's interesting to note how close "Peter's house" would have been to the synagogue. It makes me wonder if he wasn't more than just a simple fisherman:
|Picture from here|
|Fish design on the supporting structure for the modern church|
Without further proof, it is hard to definitively state what happened 2,000 years ago, but clearly these few rooms were important enough to be used for over 300 years before the 5th century church was built directly over them, and it seems very plausible that they had some connection to Jesus.
No wonder the Franciscans consider this a very holy place. This could be the place Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law and others, and may even be where Jesus stayed while he lived in Capernaum.
The church surrounding the glass floor is a very modern Catholic church. The colorful mosaic altar shows the feeding of the 5,000 with loaves (on the left) and fishes (on the right):
A series of beautiful woodcarvings are hung between the windows around the periphery of the room, some illustrating events that occurred in Capernaum, and others highlighting important events from the life of Jesus in general. Some have Latin explanations carved into a piece below the woodcarving, and others are left for the viewer to interpret.
The calling of the apostles:
|"Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and he saw, and rose up and followed him, as did Matthew."|
Calling Peter to be the head of the church (Note the keys in his left hand):
|"You are Peter and upon this rock will I build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."|
|"He saw Peter's wife's mother with fever when he was come in, and healed it and all who were sick."|
|And, bringing one sick of the palsy, they uncovered the roof. I say unto thee: Arise and take up thy bed and walk."|
No caption on this one, but it looks like it may illustrate the scripture in Matthew 18:3: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
No caption here either, but it looks like it might be the raising of Lazarus:
A tribute to Mary:
|"Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, Thou art the joy of Israel, Thou art the honor of our people."|
A caption under the statue reads "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will built my church. Matthew 16:18."
(That particular interaction between Jesus and Peter did not occur in this place, however, but further north at Caesarea Philippi.)
That night we had a chance to take a boat out on the Sea of Galilee late at night.
|Where are you, Kasey? Oh, THERE you are!|
We enjoyed our visit to Capernaum, a peaceful place looking out over the tranquil, vitreous Sea of Galilee:
[T]hese unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness, that never, never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines, and fade and faint into vague perspective;
The vibrant landscapes and peaceful shores make this area ideal for reflection and meditation and perfect for a spirit-enriching experience.
On the other hand, Mark Twain was right when he mused:
One of the most astonishing things that have yet fallen under our observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which sprang the now flourishing plant of Christianity. The longest journey our Saviour ever performed was from here [Capernaum] to Jerusalem--about one hundred to one hundred and twenty miles. . . . Instead of being wide apart--as American appreciation of distances would naturally suggest--the places made most particularly celebrated by the presence of Christ are nearly all right here in full view, and within cannon-shot of Capernaum. Leaving out two or three short journeys of the Saviour, he spent his life, preached his gospel, and performed his miracles within a compass no larger than an ordinary county in the United States. It is as much as I can do to comprehend this stupefying fact.