Located along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the sleepy fishing village of Capernaum would become well-known as the focal point of Jesus’ three-year ministry. Largely undiscovered until the 19th century, Capernaum’s biblical significance brings in thousands of tourists year-round desiring to experience the town in its ancient glory.
Known as the Father of Biblical Geography, the American explorer Edward Robinson discovered the ruins of ancient Capernaum in 1838. British Captain Charles William Wilson later identified the remains of a synagogue while visiting the area in 1866. The synagogue is known to be among the oldest in the world today, built around the Fourth Century AD. Constructed out of ornate white limestone blocks imported from distant quarries, the synagogue was unique for its time, setting it apart from all other buildings in Capernaum, which were made from basalt stone.
The original synagogue during Jesus’ time is believed to have been built from basalt. It is here where Jesus is believed to have given many sermons, including the Bread of Life sermon (John 6:35-59). It is also in this spot where He would heal a man possessed by an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-27), heal the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:3), and raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Luke 8:41-56).
The town walls in Capernaum were constructed with basalt blocks and reinforced with stone, typical for a smaller town during this time period. The houses were one story with cobbled flooring and a series of open windows surrounding the courtyards of each home. The roofs of each home, comprised of light wooden beams and thatch mixed with mud, align with the biblical story of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. With this specific type of construction, it would not have been difficult to remove part of the roof and lower the paralytic man to where Jesus stood.
A study showed that beginning around the Fourth Century AD, a shift began in the way houses were constructed with the introduction of quality mortar and fine ceramics. It was during this period that the ancient synagogue we see today was built.
Capernaum’s Role in Biblical History
Established by the Hasmoneans as early as the Second Century BC, Capernaum would become one of the prominent trading outposts in the Gennesaret area. With a population of about 1,500 people, most of the inhabitants were fishermen.
Centuries later, Jesus would choose this town to be the center of His ministry after departing Nazareth. From Capernaum, He launched His ministry and performed many miracles over a three-year timespan, including the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-39), as well as healing the paralytic man whose friends brought him to the feet of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26).
The House of Peter
In 1990, a modern hexagonal church was constructed by the Franciscans atop what many scholars and archaeologists believe to be the remains of the Apostle Peter’s home. A glass floor located at the center of the church allows an incredible view of the excavated remains beneath.
Despite the passing of centuries, Capernaum still stands today in remarkably pristine condition, giving a wonderful insight into the life of the Holy Land’s ancient inhabitants. With most of Jesus’ ministry taking place at this very site, you will leave enriched and enlightened after exploring the magnificent ruins of Capernaum.
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