Sunday, October 18, 2015

Israel - Capernaum

Location of Capernaum (map from
After crossing the Sea of Galilee and visiting the Mount of Beatitudes, we traveled a short distance to Capernaum.  Capernaum, meaning "village of Nahum"1  lies on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee north of the shore where we docked.  Early in Jesus' public ministry, He left his home town of Nazareth and "headquartered" in Capernaum (Mt. 4:12-13; Mk. 1:14-28).

According to Beck, Jesus' move from Nazareth, a secluded valley town, to Capernaum, a town near trade routes, expanded the reach of Jesus' gospel message.2 More people would hear Jesus and carry knowledge of His message to more of the land.  Jesus' ministry in this region of Galilee was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  Isaiah predicts that this region will see a great light, though they live in darkness (Isa. 9:1-2).  Matthew, in his gospel (Mt. 4:12-17), states that Jesus' move to Capernaum and His ministry in the surrounding area is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah's aforementioned prophecy.  This area was influenced by spiritual darkness, but Jesus brought to it the light of His truth.

Peter's House below the Octagon Church
It was in this town that Jesus called Andrew, Peter, James, and John (Mt. 4:18-22, Mk. 1:16-20).  He also called Matthew the tax collector to follow Him while in Capernaum (Mt. 9:1-13; Mk. 2:1,14-17; Lk. 5:27-32).  Jesus had performed miracles in Capernaum.  It was here that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law (Mk. 1:29-31; Lk. 4:38-39).  In fact, Peter's house is reputed to have been found in the ruins of Capernaum.  To the left is a picture of what is believed to be Peter's house (in the center), over which a 5th century church was built.  Suspended over the both of them is the current "Octagon Church".  One can see the bottom of the Octagon Church at the top of the picture.

The primary structure found at Capernaum are the ruins of the 4th century synagogue built of white
The Synagogue at Capernaum
limestone.  This was the first time I had seen any structure built before the 18th century.  It was incredible to see the 1,600 year old white columns, walls, and floor.  This was the first of many amazing sights I would see on this trip.  These were the types of archaeological ruins that I had only seen in pictures prior to this!  I could not believe that I was here seeing this for myself with my own eyes!

When we first entered the synagogue, our tour guide, Boaz Shalgi from EDI Travel, requested the group sit down while he explained something of which I had never thought.  Most rabbis during the first century did not accumulate a following until they were older and well respected.  Jesus was only 30 years old and He had disciples learning under Him.  Even the crowds were following Him.  Not only was this little known teacher from Nazareth gaining a following, He was comparatively young and just starting ministry.  The religious leaders of the time were frustrated and jealous.  You can watch Boaz teaching on this subject here.

The First Century Foundation
Underneath the foundation of the Byzantine synagogue is the black basalt foundation of what is believed to be the synagogue from Jesus' time.  To the left is a picture of a cutaway of the 4th century synagogue so that we can see that it's foundation is built on the foundation of black basalt rock indigenous to that area.  This picture shows the foundation of the synagogue that Jesus would have taught in when He taught in Capernaum!  There are a number of different sights to see in Capernaum, but in my opinion none of those compare to seeing the synagogue.

Next Stop: Magdala

1 George W. Knight, The Holy Land: An Illustrated Guide to Its History, Geography, Culture and Holy Sites (Ulrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2011), 250.

2 John A. Beck, Discovery House Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2015), 246-247.