Recent Work At Capernaum -- By: Herold Weiss
BSP 10:1 (Winter 1981) p. 19
Recent Work At Capernaum
[Herold Weiss, Ph.D., is chairman of the department of religious studies, St. Mary’s College, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.]
The results of renewed archeological excavations at Capernaum are of interest to Bible students because the synoptic Gospels quite clearly center Jesus’ ministry in that small town on the northwest shore of the Lake of Galilee.
Located just north of the fertile Gennesareth valley, Capernaum was strategically located for natural resources. The lake provided abundant fish, and the valley produced agricultural products of high quality. Capernaum also enjoyed the benefits of being located at the frontier between the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, and that of Herod Philip (4 B.C. to A.D. 34), whose capital was to the north at Caesarea Philippi. Both Herods were sons of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C., shortly after the birth of Jesus.
Capernaum’s location at the border may explain the New Testament’s reference to custom officials in the town, as well as the mention of a centurion with his men living there (Matthew 9:9;
BSP 10:1 (Winter 1981) p. 20
17:24–27; 8:5–13; Luke 7:1–10). Capernaum also lay on the major route linking the Mediterranean ports of Caesarea Maritima and Acco-Ptolomais with the interior capital of Damascus. This meant that caravans could supply themselves with vegetables and dried fish in abundance here before venturing into the rather arid countryside between Gaulanitis (the modern Golan Heights) and Damascus. Quite probably the customs officials at Capernaum also regulated the consignments of grain sent from Gaulanitis for shipment to Rome.
Jesus and Capernaum
Matthew’s Gospel begins the account of Jesus’ ministry with the short report “and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali” (4:13, R.S.V.). This identification of Jesus with Capernaum is completed later in that Gospel when Jesus’ coming to this city after a short stay on the other side of the lake is reported as a return to “his own city” (9:1). Mark identifies Capernaum as the setting for the exorcism Jesus performed while teaching at the synagogue on a Sabbath day (Mark 1:21–28), and for His healing of Peter’s mother...
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