- What was Capernaum?
It was the center of Jesus’ Activity at the Sea of Galilee. See Map above; the numbers correspond with list below
1 Calms a storm from the boat
2 Sends demons into swine
3 Feeds 5,000 men
4 Walks on sea
5 Feeds 4,000 men
6 Traditional location of Sermon on the Mount
(NB The Sea of Galilee was also called Lake of Gennesaret and Sea of Tiberias.)
Capernaum is the most often named city in the N.T. It was of sufficient size to be always called a “city,” Mt 9:1. It had a busy port for the many fishermen who had lived there. Capernaum was mentioned in Roman and Jewish sources.
Jesus traveled there from Nazareth, to the borders of Zebulun and Naphtali, and found his first disciples, Andrew, Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. (Matt 4:13-22). Jesus taught in their synagogue (Jn 6:24-59). Jesus resided for a time at Peter’s house in Capernaum, teaching and healing the sick (Lk 4:31-41). Once He had left, He rebuked the city for their unbelief (Lk 10:15). Capernaum grew larger at the time of Jesus (early Roman period, 1st C AD), reflecting this growth a synagogue was built in the center of the village.
Recently there have been excavations that have uncovered the 2-story synagogue. (This is from an era later than Jesus, but below this synagogue, they have found another smaller synagogue which is from the 1st century AD.) The later one was of a beautiful ornamented style cut in limestone, rather than the typical black basalt seen around the area, and was 65 feet long. The carved stone ornamentation depicted stylized plants, fruits, 5-pointed stars, geometric motifs, and even mythological figures. Their were also dedicatory inscriptions written in Aramaic and Greek.
Today, near the synagogue, there is an octagonal Byzantine church with a mosaic floor built upon the site believed to be the house of Peter. Recent excavations beneath this church has revealed houses dating back to the first century. Some believe that one of these houses could very well be the house of Peter.
As to the synagogue, the Bible tells us that a Roman centurion built a synagogue for the Jews. Luke 7:1-5. His servant was later healed from severe palsy by Jesus Matthew 8: 5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. As expected for such a sacred building, it was found at the highest point in town.
Only a few hundred feet from the synagogue, the stone house of the disciple Peter has also been found at Capernaum. Jesus may have lived with Peter while staying in Capernaum. In the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the house apparently became a house-church. Centuries later, Christians honored the site by building a church here. It was destroyed in a later conquest of the city.
Archaeologists have excavated both the church and the earlier house below. Excavations revealed one residence that stood out from the others. This house was the object of early Christian attention with 2nd century graffiti and a 4th century house church built above it. In the 5th century a large octagonal Byzantine church was erected above this, complete with a baptistery. Pilgrims referred to this as the house of the apostle Peter.
Literary sources and recent archaeological discoveries make the identification of the house of St. Peter in Capernaum virtually certain. The house was built at the very end of the Hellenistic period (first century B.C.). In the second half of the first century A.D. some peculiar features set apart this building from all the others so far excavated in Capernaum. Here, in fact, the pavements received floors of lime several times. Interesting enough, many pieces of broken lamps were found in the thin layers of lime. …One hundred and thirty-one inscriptions were found. They were written in four languages, namely: in Greek (110), Aramaic (10), Estrangelo (9) (A Sematic language which flourished during the 1st half of the 1st century AD.), and Latin (2). The name of Jesus appears several times. He is called Christ, the Lord, and the Most High God. An inscription in Estrangelo mentions the Eucharist. There are also symbols and monograms, namely: crosses of different forms, a boat, the monogram of Jesus. The name of St. Peter occurs at least twice: his monogram is written in Latin but with Greek letters. In another graffito St. Peter is called the helper of Rome. A third inscription mentions Peter and Berenike. This Peter, however, might be the name of a pilgrim. On several hundred pieces of plaster, decorative motifs appear. The colors employed are: green, blue, yellow, red, brown, white and black. Among the subjects one can distinguish floral crosses, pomegranates, figs, trifolium, stylized flowers and geometric designs such as circles, squares.