Capernaum, in the Galilee of northern Israel is a Biblical village, located not far from other important Christian sites in Israel such as Bethsaida, the Mount of Beatitudes, and Tabgha, as well as the Jordan River and Tiberias on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Today the town of Kfar Nahum (Talhum in Arabic) stands where Capernaum once stood, and the site attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists from around the world every year.
History of Capernaum
In Biblical times Capernaum was one of the main trading villages in the Gennesaret area which was a vibrant populated and prosperous part of Palestine and was inhabited by about 1,500 people many of whom were fishermen. Many travelers, caravans and traders passed through Capernaum on the Via Maris, the main trade route connecting Damascus in the north and Egypt in the south. There remains a Via Maris highway mile stone in Capernaum today. The village was thought to have prospered from the 2nd century BC to the 13th century AD when it reverted to a simple fishing village until the 1800s.
The late establishment of the town explains why Capernaum is not mentioned in the Old Testament but the town is deeply significant to Christians as it features prominently in the New Testament.
Capernaum in the New Testament
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, brought up in Nazareth and preached in Jerusalem but it was the significant Galilean Ministry years which he spent in Capernaum and where he performed many of his miracles. Capernaum became his home and the Bible calls it Jesus’ “own city”. Matthew 4:13 tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum after being tempted in the wilderness. Here he met James, John, Peter, Andrew all fishermen and Matthew a tax collector, five of his future disciples.
Many who visit Israel to explore its historical and religious sites explore Capernaum. While it is possible to drive to the site on your own, the best way to explore the site and surrounding areas is on a fully guided Highlights Around the Sea of Galilee Tour.
The Ancient Synagogue
It was in the Capernaum synagogue that Jesus gave the Sermon on the Bread of Life (John 6:35-59) ” Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day”. Although dating the synagogue has been problematic it is thought that the synagogue Jesus knew was built of black basalt rock and now lies beneath a more recent construction. In this synagogue Jesus would regularly preach (John 6:59, Luke 4:33). Christ expelled a demon from a possessed man here (Mark 1:21-27) and cured a Roman officer’s servant of palsy, the centurion is thought to have had the synagogue built (Luke 7:3). Here Jesus is also credited with raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Luke 8:41-53).
The original synagogue was destroyed and later replaced in approximately 200AD. The remains of the synagogue include one complete wall, the ruins of the other walls and several columns. It was constructed in white stone unlike the characteristic black basalt rock used for other Capernaum buildings. You can still see some of the stucco work, frescos and motif carvings on the walls as well as inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic commemorating the synagogue benefactors.
The Church and House of Peter
Archaeologists uncovered an early Christian home in Capernaum thought to have been the home of Peter. Jesus cured Peter’s mother-in-law here (Matthew 8:14-16) and is thought to have lived in this house while in Capernaum. This is the site where Christ cured a paralytic who was lowered in through the roof (Mark 2:1-12). After Jesus’ death the home became a place of worship and several architectural changes were made which distinguished it from other homes. In the 5th century an octagonal church was built here to preserve the remains of the Insula Sacra or holy site. Many inscriptions in Greek, Armenian, Estrangelo and Latin were found on the ancient stones. There now stands a modern hexagonal Franciscan church over the spot thought to have been Peter’s house. There is a glass floor so that you can still see the ancient original church below.
Despite having performed many miracles in Capernaum Jesus was disappointed in the village’s lack of faith and eventually cursed Capernaum. Capernaum is one of Israel’s most sacred Christian pilgrimage sites where believers can sit on the stone benches in the ancient synagogue where Jesus would have sat and walk the streets he would have walked. In 2000 Pope John Paul II visited this sacred Christian site.
Modern day Kfar Nahum is the site of a Franciscan monastery and a Greek Orthodox church, you can also see the ruins of several ancient stone homes as well as the Biblical home of Peter, the church and the synagogue.
In the area of Capernaum
Capernaum is set beside the Sea of Galilee in the beautiful Galilee region of northern Israel. There’re loads of great things to do in the area – from some of the most important Christian sites in Israel to fun adventures and leisure activities.