Capernaum was a small Jewish fishing and agricultural community on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was apparently a principal base of Jesus’ operations, with
Various scholars explored and excavated portions of the site in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the late 1960s, archaeologists associated with the Studium Biblical Franciscanum (Franciscan Biblical School) in Jerusalem began more extensive work there, followed a decade later by archaeologists associated with the Greek Orthodox Church. The most famous discoveries are a limestone synagogue constructed in the late fourth or early fifth century C.E. that can now be seen in reconstructed form and an octagonal church built in the fifth century. The church sits atop a first-century house that itself underwent extensive renovation in the preceding centuries. Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac graffiti demonstrate that it was a site of pilgrimage already in the fourth century. Because the fourth-century Christian pilgrim Egeria wrote that she visited the house of Peter, many believe that ancient architectural remains underneath the octagonal church are in fact the disciple’s house.
Archaeological finds from the first century are more modest but nonetheless extensive and important, consisting of basalt houses with accompanying courtyards, streets, and various small objects. Fragments from stone vessels attest to the village’s predominantly Jewish population, as only Jews in this region used such vessels, believing them to be impervious to ritual impurity. Today, Capernaum’s well-preserved finds provide a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists.
Did you know…?
- Capernaum was a Jewish fishing and agricultural village by the Sea of Galilee in the early centuries C.E.
- The name “Capernaum” comes from the Hebrew Kefar Nahum, the village of Nahum.
- Capernaum is the site of several of the Gospels’ stories about Jesus, and
Matt 9:1refers to it as “Jesus’ own city.”
- The extensively excavated site is now a favorite destination for tourists and pilgrims.
- The impressive reconstructed limestone synagogue visible today dates to the late fourth or fifth-century C.E.
- Some scholars believe that Capernaum’s fifth-century octagonal church marks the site of the house of Jesus’ disciple Peter.
- Although a miracle story (
Matt 8:5-13and Luke 7:1-10) mentions a Gentile “centurion,” at Capernaum, the reference is probably to an officer in the army of the Herodian client-king Antipas, not a Roman soldier.
- In addition to the New Testament, other ancient sources such as the writings of the late-first century C.E. Jewish historian Josephus and the rabbis refer to Capernaum.
Have archaeologists discovered the synagogue where Jesus taught?
Early twentieth-century excavators were convinced that Capernaum’s limestone synagogue was the one built by the centurion mentioned in
Many scholars are intrigued by the possibility that the limestone synagogue was built on top of an earlier synagogue that may go back to the first century, pointing to remains of basalt walls and pavements underneath the fifth-century building. Because thorough excavation of the basalt structures would require dismantling the limestone synagogue, it is likely that this question will never be resolved with certainty.
Were Roman soldiers stationed at Capernaum in the time of Jesus?
Some interpreters understandably assume that the centurion mentioned in