(cuh puhr' nay um; village of Nahum) On the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee about 2 1/2 miles west of the entrance of the Jordan is located the New Testament town of Capernaum. The origin of the name, Kefar Nahum, indicates a relationship to someone named Nahum. Archaeological evidence indicates a life of the town from Roman times until abandonment in the late Arab period.
The site currently being excavated is known to the Arabs as Tell Hum, and archaeologists are generally agreed that it is the location of ancient Capernaum.
Capernaum appears in the biblical record only in the Gospels where it is mentioned 16 times. As an economic center in Galilee it was more significant than tradition has often allowed. The designation “city” distinguishes it from the “fishing village” category. Perhaps the proximity to a major east-west trade route explains the need for a customs station there. The importance of the city is further demonstrated by the location of a military installation there under the command of a centurion. Fishing and farming were important to the economy and archaeological evidence suggests that there were other light industries contributing to the local prosperity.
In the New Testament Capernaum was chosen as the base of operations by Jesus when He began His ministry. Teaching in the synagogue (Mark 1:21) and private homes (Mark 2:1) was basic to His work there, but the miracles performed there appear to have precipitated the controversy and opposition. The religious leadership challenged the direction of Jesus' ministry (Mark 2:24,
Mark 7:5) and the popular following attempted to take over and force Him into a political position (John 6:15). Mark (John 2:1) referred to Capernaum as Jesus' home and Matthew (John 9:1) described it as “his own city.” It appears that several of the disciples also lived in that town including Peter, Andrew, Matthew, and perhaps John and James. The populace apparently did not accept His messianic role because they fell under the same condemnation as Chorazin and Bethsaida for failing to repent (Matthew 11:20-24).
Talmudic sources of the second century refer to Capernaum as the home of some Jewish heretics (“Minim”) who are generally taken to have been Jewish Christians. An early Christian traveler, Egeria, in 381-384 reported a church on the site of the home of the apostle Peter, and the pilgrim of Piacenza, 573, reported that the site was then a basilica. It should, however, be noted that Jewish presence remained strong at least through the sixth century.
The city was abandoned finally sometimes during the 10th century before the arrival of the Crusaders. Early archaeological work was begun on the synagogue by Wilson and Anderson in 1856. The area near the synagogue was purchased by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land in 1894 and an area of equal size comprising the eastern portion of the town was acquired by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. The synagogue area was excavated in 1905 by Kohl and Watzinger and 1921 by Orfali who also worked the area of an octagonal Christian church built over a place traditionally held as the site of Peter's house. Since 1968, archaeologists Corbo and Loffreda have continued the work showing an important settlement dating to the first century. The Greek section has been excavated since 1978 under the direction of Vassilios Tzaferis and has demonstrated that the city did not die in the seventh century A.D. but shifted eastward and survived until about the Crusader period. Notable finds in recent years have included a major gold hoard (1982) and an early Roman bath house.
George W. Knight