Capernaum is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The name Capernaum, in Hebrew Kfar Nahum, means “Nahum’s village”. Currently the site is primarily under the ownership of the Franciscans and partially, by the Orthodox Church. It is called the “Town of Jesus” because it was the center of his ministry and where he lived with Peter in his home. Even though it was known as his town, it was among the three cities Jesus cursed after seeing so many miracles and yet by and large still not believing. The three cursed cities were Beit Saida, Korazim and Capernaum and all three are still ruins today.
Jesus may have chosen to live in Capernaum because of its closeness to the border between the Golan and the Galilee. Herod Phillip ruled over the Kingdom of the Golan to the east (Banias/Caesarea Philip) and was not a threat to Jesus. Conversely, Herod Antipas controlled the Galilee, including Capernaum. He was a potential threat to Jesus, having already executed John the Baptist. By living in Capernaum, Jesus could easily go north if He felt threatened by Herod Antipas. Jesus was primarily preaching to the Jews living in the Galilee and so it makes sense for Him to be positioned there. (The area east of the lake was more gentile/pagan as one might surmise from the demons from the possessed man fleeing into the swine at Kursi).
Historical and archaeological evidence:
Archaeological excavations carried out on the site showed evidence of a Hellenistic Period (perhaps 2nd century BC) town. At the time of Jesus, in the 1st century AD, the town grew. It lay on an important trade route from Mesopotamia to Egypt and benefited from the fishing industry. The evidence of the town’s relative prominence includes the presence of a Roman centurion with a detachment of soldiers (Matthew 8 v 5 – 9), a customs station (Matthew 9 v 9) and a high officer of the king (John 4 v 46).
On the site today, one can see remains of a 3rd – 4th century AD synagogue. Excavations show that this synagogue was built on the remnants of a 1st century AD structure, possibly the early synagogue in which Jesus himself taught (Mark 1 v 21 – 29; Luke 4 v 31 – 38).
The House of Peter:
A major discovery was a house believed to be the one in which the apostle Peter resided and where Jesus came to live having been forced to leave Nazareth. According to Matthew 8 v 14 -15 Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum.
The House of Peter was believed to have been used as a house church or domus ecclesia in the 1st century AD. At the very least it commemorated a spot considered to be sacred. The main room in the house was plastered over from floor to ceiling. The pottery in the house changed from cooking pots and bowls to large jars and oil lamps. The house changed its function from a residential place to a place of gathering. These must have some of the earliest Christian gatherings. In time the plastered room was renovated and turned into “the central hall of a rudimentary church”. Hundreds of graffiti were discovered in Greek, Syrian and Hebrew with clear Christian content: “Lord Jesus Christ help thy servant” or “Christ have mercy.”
This primitive church building was later replaced by an octagonal church building in the 4th – 5th century AD. The octagonal foundations of the church can be seen today, both at ground level and viewed through a glass portion of the church above. The church, like the synagogue, was built in limestone instead of the local basalt.
The female pilgrim, Egeria, visited Capernaum in the late 4th century and describes the place in her writings as a domus ecclesia. A later pilgrim also writes about the “church above the House of Peter.”
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