Capernaum (Mark 9)

Illustration: Church at Capernaum built over the house of the apostle Peter.

Jesus chose as the headquarters for His Galileean ministry the city of Capernaum, on the Northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In Matthew 9:1 Capernaum is referred to, in fact, as Jesus “own town”. Jesus stayed in Peter’s house there and frequented the Capernaum synagogue. Residents of the town were simple folk who made their living from fishing, agriculture, industry and trade. The road leading to Damascus passed nearby, providing a commercial link with the regions to the north and south.

It was in the vicinity of Capernaum that Jesus chose several of His disciples: the resident fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew (Mark 1:16-18); John and James, the sons of Zebedee, also local fishermen (1:19-20); and Matthew, a tex collector (2:13-14). In addition, Jesus performed several miracles there. He cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (1:29-31), healed many townspeople of diseases and demon possession (1:32-34) and restored a paralytic on a pallet let down with ropes by his friends through a roof (2:1-5). Elsewhere in the town Jesus healed the servant of the Roman centurion under whose auspices the local synagogue had been constructed (Luke 7:1-10).

The remains of what was probably a first century synagogue were discovered beneath those of a later, Byzantine period synagogue. The first century structure archaeologists uncovered featured a basalt floor 18 m wide by 24 m long. Too large to have been a private dwelling, this was very possibly the synagogue at which Jesus taught (Mark 1:21). Impressive remains of the Byzantine era synagogue can still be seen by visitors today.

A site that may have been the location of Peter’s house has also been excavated. The remains are located 26 m south of the synagogue, at the bottom of three layers of construction. The topmost layer has been identified as the ruins of a fifth century octagonal church; the second layer, a fourth century house-church; and the lowest layer, a simple, first century home. The hose had narrow walls, which would have been too weak to support a second story or a roof of masonry; it probably had a roof of branches covered with earth. Thus, this house or one like it could have been the scene of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic man who was lowered through the roof (2:4).

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