Capernaum

Secrets known and unknown

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Capernaum has taught us much about Galilean life in the first millennium of the Christian era. We celebrate these finds but are convinced that what remains hidden beneath rock and sod may be equally astounding. Its secrets have not yet been fully revealed.


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Archaeological efforts were selectively devoted to Capernaum in the 20th c. Tour talks regularly focus on the “White Synagogue” and “St Peter’s house.” But there is much more to this important place than this.

If you are interested in experiencing the biblical Heartland for yourself, consider joining us in the future. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. We are booking new groups for 2022. Shoot me a note at markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

What is big, white, ornate and late?

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The “white synagogue” at Capernaum (Kfar Nahum or “house of Nahum”), Israel, is an oddity.

It is constructed of imported limestone blocks that contrast brightly with the dark basalt stone used everywhere else.

Its scale is monumental. It stands apart in a village dominated by small single-story residential homes. Several rooms in the synagogue are noted: a pillared hall, a patio, a balustrade, a small room, and possibly a balcony (?).

The rooms were graced with ornate decorations on cornices, walls, and columns. These include geometric designs, stars, palm trees, and dedicatory inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek (as seen above).

The synagogue was excavated and reconstructed at the beginning of the 20th century. It was dated by the excavators to the Byzantine period (4th or 5th century). At this time the little fishing village, famous from the Gospels, demonstrates social stratification and visible weath.

This demonstration is a new thing; there is nothing like it from the known village of Jesus’s day. The synagogue of the 1st century remains hidden, perhaps beneath this big, white, late and ornate structure.

Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Mark Kitts.


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Interested in seeing Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee with your own eyes?

Seats are available on three different study-tours scheduled for Israel/Palestine in the coming summer. Dates of travel are May 25-June 4, June 4-15, and June 26-July 7. The window for sign-ups is closing, so move with speed.

For more information on pricing, itinerary, or other details of these educational tours, drop me a line at markziese@gmail.com. For a full list of future travel opportunities, see here.

Upgrades

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If it has been more than five years since you have visited the Roman Catholic portion of the site of Capernaum, you will be surprised to see it today. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront have all undergone significant renovation. The primary structures on display—the “White” synagogue and the House of Peter—appear as before, but other upgrades are striking. The entry area, the plaza, the waterfront provide improved accessibility, seating, garden, and devotional areas.

The site has an occupation history stretching from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD.

The name of the site originates in the Aramaic, Kefar Nahum, or “Village of Nahum” (but not that Nahum!).

It was a significant center in the Galilean ministry of Jesus. As the Gospel of Mark records (2:1), when he “entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.”


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Our most recent group of Bible Land Explorers just completed a walk along the Jesus Trail, a 65 km trek across Galilee. In addition to exploring Capernaum, we visited Nazareth, Sepphoris, Magdala, and Tiberias.

For a list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here. You may also contact me at markziese@gmail.com for more details.

Uncrossable

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Heavy rains in recent days have made for difficult trekking in Galilee. As I post this note it is coming down in sheets and thunder is rattling the windows (I’ve retired for the night. My wet clothes are hanging from every knob and bracket in the room.).

Streams that cut through the Plain of Gennesaret are swollen. Navigating the area on foot requires care. The shot above is the Tsalmon stream pouring over a low water bridge. The name, Tsalmon, ironically, means something like “calmness.”

Gennesaret is a small fertile plain located on the west side of the Sea of Galilee between Migdal and Capernaum. Josephus calls it the most fertile place in the entire country (War 3:516-521).


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Our next group is gearing up and will be arriving in Israel/Palestine soon. We plan to investigate the region of Galilee and walk segments of the Jesus Trail. Follow this journey on our website, or better yet, consider joining us on a future trip! A list of planned group excursions may be found here.