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Capernaum

Israel

A fish-market and frontier post beside the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum became Jesus’ home town and the scene of many of his miracles.

Sign at entrance to Capernaum site (Seetheholyland.net)

Sign at entrance to Capernaum site (Seetheholyland.net)

It was also the home of the first disciples Jesus called — the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the tax collector Matthew (who as Levi collected taxes in the customs office).

In this town:

• Jesus worshipped and taught in the synagogue — where his teaching made a deep impression on the local people because, unlike the scribes, he taught with authority. (Mark 1:21-22)

• In the same synagogue, Jesus promised the Eucharist in his “I am the bread of life” discourse: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:22-59)

• Jesus and healed many people of illness or possession by the devil, including Peter’s mother-in-law and the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue.

• Jesus pronounced a curse on the town, along with Bethsaida and Chorazin, because so many of its inhabitants refused to believe in him.

 

Church hovers over Peter’s house

Capernaum

Modern church over St Peter’s house at Capernaum (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

Capernaum later fell into ruin. A 3rd-century report called the town “despicable;  it numbers only seven houses of poor fishermen”. It was later resettled but again fell into disrepair. The ruins lay undiscovered until 1838, when a visiting scholar gave this description: “The whole place is desolate and mournful . . . .”

Today an ultra-modern Catholic church, perched on eight sturdy pillars, hovers protectively over an excavation site. It is believed to have been the site of Peter’s house, where Jesus would have lodged.

Archaeologists believe the house was in a small complex grouped around irregular courtyards. Drystone basalt walls would have supported a roof of tree branches covered with straw and earth — a fairly flimsy construction easily breached to lower a paralysed man on a mat, as described in Mark 2:1-12.

Excavations show that one room in this interlinked complex had been singled out since the middle of the 1st century. Graffiti scratched on its plaster walls referred to Jesus as Lord and Christ (in Greek). It is suggested that this room was venerated for religious gatherings as a house church. If so, it would have been the first such example in the Christian world.

In 5th century an octagonal church was built around this venerated room. The present church, dedicated in 1990, repeats the octagonal shape.

Ornate synagogue in white limestone

Capernaum

Inside the ancient synagogue at Capernaum (Seetheholyland.net)

Near the church, a partly reconstructed synagogue is believed to have been built on the foundations of the synagogue in which Jesus taught.

Erected in the 4th or 5th centuries, this impressive structure with ornately carved decorations is the largest synagogue discovered in Israel.

Its white limestone, carted from a distant quarry, contrasts with the local black basalt of the synagogue Christ knew. That original synagogue was built by a Roman centurion, the same centurion who had his servant healed after a declaration of faith that amazed Jesus (Luke 7:1-10).

A short distance away, by the Sea of Galilee, can be seen the red domes and white walls of a Greek Orthodox church, built in 1931 and dedicated to the Twelve Apostles.

Related site: Church of the Twelve Apostles

 

In Scripture:

Jesus makes his home in Capernaum: Matthew 4:12-17

Jesus teaches in the synagogue: Mark 1:21-28

Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law: Mark 1:29-31

Paying the temple tax: Matthew 17:24-27

Jesus calls Matthew: Matthew 9:9-12

Jesus condemns Capernaum: Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus heals a centurion’s servant: Luke 7:1-10

Jesus cures a paralysed man: Mark 2:1-12

“I am the bread of life”: John 6:22-59

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-4-6721059

Open: 8am-4.50pm

 

 

References

Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Loffreda, Stanislao: “Capharnaum”, Holy Land, summer and autumn, 2002
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Strange, James F., and Shanks, Hershel: “Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Found at Capernaum” and “Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?”, in The Galilee Jesus Knew (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Capernaum (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Capernaum (BiblePlaces)
Capernaum — City of Jesus and its Jewish Synagogue (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Capernaum (David Hadfield)

Caesarea Maritima

Israel

In the attractive Mediterranean seaport of Caesarea Maritima, the apostle Peter baptised the first recorded gentile convert to Christianity — Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman army.

When this Italian soldier and his household believed in Jesus they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. This event astonished the Jewish Christians but validated the fact that salvation was for all people (Acts 10).

Caesarea

Harbour at Caesarea (© Deror Avi)

Caesarea Maritima (“by the sea”) was the scene of other significant events for Christians:

• It was the headquarters of Pontius Pilate. From here the Roman procurator set out for the Passover festival in Jerusalem, where he sentenced Jesus to death.

• Here the apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years and preached to the last of the Herods, King Agrippa II, who said that if he were to listen any longer to Paul’s persuasion he might become a Christian.

• The city was the home of Philip the evangelist and his four daughters, who were prophetesses. Paul stayed with them when he returned from his missionary journeys.

• At Philip’s home, a prophet named Agabus bound Paul’s hands and feet with his belt, foretelling how the apostle would be handed over to the Romans.

• After Jerusalem was destroyed, Caesarea became the centre of Christianity in Palestine. A Church council held here in AD 195 determined that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday.

 

Founded by Herod the Great

Caesarea

Restored amphitheatre at Caesarea (Berthold Werner)

Caesarea — not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi in Galilee – was founded by Herod the Great on the site of an ancient fortified town. In 22 BC, with no expense spared, he began building a new city and harbour.

Massive breakwaters gave safe anchorage to 300 ships, a sewage system was flushed by the tide, and a vast hippodrome seated more than 20,000 people at chariot races. Later an amphitheatre was built to present chariot races, gladiatorial combats, animal performances and theatrical events. Little wonder that Caesarea has been dubbed “Vegas on the Med.”

During the Roman occupation, clashes between Jews and the majority Greco-Syrian population, who supported Rome, were frequent.

The desecration of Caesarea’s synagogue and the massacre of 20,000 Jews — in a single hour, according to the historian Josephus — culminated in the First Jewish Revolt, which ended with the AD 70 destruction of both Jerusalem and the Second Temple.

 

Bishop’s territory included Jerusalem

Christianity was accepted early in Caesarea. By the end of the 2nd century the city had a bishop, Theophilus of Caesarea, whose territory included Jerusalem.

Well-known Christian Fathers who were active in Caesarea included Origen and Pamphilius. The library they built up was second only to that of Alexandria (in the 7th century it held 30,000 works).

Eusebius, who became bishop in 314, was both the first Church historian and the first biblical geographer. Without his book of place names, the Onomasticon, many biblical sites would never have been identified.

 

Cathedral was never completed

Caesarea

Roman aquaduct that brought water from Mount Carmel to Caesarea (Seetheholyland.net)

Today’s visitors can see a restored Roman theatre built to accommodate 4000 and a Roman aqueduct that brought water from the foothills of Mount Carmel.

Just inside the theatre is a replica of an inscription carved in stone, bearing the name of Pontius Pilate.

The remains of a Crusader walled city, from the 13th century, include a cathedral which was never completed because the vaults below, from an earlier period, were unable to bear the weight.

A severe storm in December 2010 damaged several archaeological sites, including parts of the Crusader city wall and the Herodian wall. A breakwater built in the 1950s to protect the port was smashed into three pieces.

In Scripture:

Philip arrives in Caesarea: Acts 8:40

Agabus prophesies Paul’s death: Acts 21:8-11

Peter visits Cornelius: Acts 10

God strikes down Herod Agrippa I: Acts 12:21-23

Paul is imprisoned in Caesarea: Acts 23:23—26:32

 

References

Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Joseph, Frederick: “Caesarea”, Holy Land, winter 2004
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Porath, Yosef: “Caesarea: Herod and Beyond: Vegas on the Med.”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2004
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Caesarea Maritima (BibArch)
Caesarea Maritima (BiblePlaces)
Caesarea (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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