Sunday, March 20, 2011

Capernaum

Early on in Chapter 8 of Matthew, we are told that Jesus entered Capernaum.  This village is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels; a number of miracles take place there. But in Matthew, Capernaum also serves as Jesus' base camp. It's the town he goes to to begin his ministry after the temptation in the desert (4:13), and the place he repeatedly comes back to throughout his ministry. It's home, if you will.

So, what do we know about Jesus' home away from home?

First of all, I don't know about you, but I always pronounce Capernaum as "cuh-purr-numb".  Wrong! It's actually four syllables, pronounced "cuh-purr-knee-um".  And the name means "village of Nahum".  So Nahum, if you're reading and you've been wondering where you left your town, here it is.

Capernaum was a fishing village, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about 2 1/2 miles from the River Jordan.

Here's Capernaum on a map. 

Here it is in the distance, with the Sea of Galilee beyond it.

Capernaum was a busy, bustling place in one of the most prosperous and densely populated area of Palestine, with 1500 inhabitants living alongside an ancient roadway, the Via Maris (road of the Sea) that connected Damascus (Syria) and the Mediterranean, and also lay on the road between Tyre (Lebanon) and Egypt. As such it was a place for travelers to restock on fish and produce, and a place where tolls were collected -- when we read of tax collectors in the Bible, this is often what we're talking about.

At the same time the village was never occupied by Roman soldiers, even during the worst Jewish revolts, which suggests it was never considered of much significance, strategic or otherwise. The Roman general Josephus once stayed there after spraining an ankle; he called it "a fertile spring."

Here you can see it from the Sea, with more of Galilee behind it.

The Capernaum of Jesus' time had a main street from which spread residential districts on either side. Most homes were one story dwellings consisting of small, cobble-stone floored cells around a central courtyard where a circular furnace provided heat.  The roofs were made of light wooden beams and thatch mixed with mud, and could be gotten to by a stairwell from the central courtyard.  (When we read about the paralytic being lowered in to Jesus from the roof, this is what we're talking about.)

On the left is the 4th century AD synagogue, built on top of the remnants of the synagogue Jesus preached in. On the right are ruins of the town.  

According to Luke Capernaum was the home of Peter and Andrew, James and John. The evangelist Matthew includes also Matthew the tax collector.  Among the excavations on the site are a large home that early Christians graffitied and later covered with a Church.  This was considered to be the original house of St. Peter.

The town existed from the second century BC until somewhere around the 11th or 12th century AD.

Here's another view, with "the Mount" from the Sermon on the Mount identified as "Mt. of Beatitudes."

More on Matthew on Wednesday. And if you're looking for a little spiritual nugget, here's something I heard at the LA Religious Ed Congress this weekend: "Stop focusing on loving God, and give God a chance to love you."

See you Wednesday!

3 comments:

Michelle said...

Thanks for the tour (and for fixing my pronunciation of Capernaum!)

and for the amuse-bouche from the LA Congress, I last went in 1978 and it was amazing even then.

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

You are most welcome, Michelle! The Congress was definitely an amazing experience.

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