The small fishing village of Capernaum was established by the Hasmoneans in the second century BCE along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. With a small population of roughly 1,500 inhabitants, the town was chosen to be the center of Jesus’ three-year ministry. Largely undiscovered until the 19th century, Capernaum’s biblical significance brings in thousands of tourists year-round desiring to experience the town in its ancient glory.
The American explorer, Edward Robinson, known as the Father of Biblical Geography, discovered the ruins of ancient Capernaum in 1838. British Captain Charles William Wilson identified the remains of the synagogue while visiting in 1866. The synagogue is among the oldest in the world today, built around the fourth century CE. The building was constructed out of ornate white blocks of limestone imported from distant quarries, setting it apart from all other buildings in Capernaum, which were made from basalt stone.
In 1894, Franciscan Friar Giuseppe Baldi recovered part of the ruins from the Bedouins. The Franciscans quickly raised a protective fence around the ruins to cease all vandalism that was occurring at the site. The Franciscans also planted palms and eucalyptus trees imported from Australia to create a relaxing oasis for visitors.
The town walls were constructed with basalt blocks and reinforced with stone, very normal for a smaller town of this time. The houses were typically all one story with cobbled flooring and a series of open windows surrounding the courtyards of each home. The roofs of each home, comprised of light wooden beams and thatch mixed with mud, align with the biblical story of the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. With this specific type of construction, it would not have been difficult to remove part of the roof and lower the paralytic man to where Jesus stood.
A study showed that beginning around the fourth century CE, the construction of the houses began to change with the addition of quality mortar and fine ceramics. It was at this time that the ancient synagogue we see today was built.
Capernaum in the New Testament
Recorded in all the synoptic gospels, Jesus chose this town to be the center of His ministry after leaving Nazareth. From Capernaum, He launched His ministry of teaching and performing a wide array of miracles over a three-year timespan. In the gospels of Luke and Mark, Jesus taught in the synagogue one Sabbath and healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus also healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Luke 4:38-39), healed the servant of a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5), as well as healing the paralytic man whose friends brought him to the feet of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26).
Capernaum is believed to be the hometown of the Apostles Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Matthew. In 1990, a beautiful memorial was constructed atop what many scholars and archaeologists believe to be the remains of the Apostle Peter’s home. A glass floor located at the center of the church allows an incredible view of the excavated remains below.
Hundreds of years have passed and Capernaum still stands today in remarkably pristine condition, giving a wonderful insight into the life of the Holy Land’s ancient inhabitants. With most of Jesus’ ministry taking place at this very site, you will leave enriched and enlightened after exploring the magnificent ruins of Capernaum.