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Ancient Capernaum Synagogue
Painting of the Synagogue at Capernaum
Painted Sketch of the Synagogue at Capernaum

This painting reveals how the synagogue looked according to the ruins that were discovered at the site of ancient Capernaum. This two-story synagogue was the most significant landmark in the ancient city of Capernaum.
 

The Synagogue at Capernaum

This magnificent synagogue was made of white limestone and wonderfully ornamented. Archeologists have determined that the 2-story synagogue was built around the beginning of the third century A.D., because of its architectural style, decorations, and inscriptions. Therefore it was not the synagogue in which Jesus taught, although it was most likely built upon the same site as the first century synagogue.

The gospel of John reveals that it was here in which Jesus taught  that he was the true bread of life coming down out of heaven, after feeding the 5000 (John 6:59). Shortly after he was rejected in Capernaum because he had healed on the Sabbath day, which the Jewish authorities considered blasphemy. He often taught on their hillsides and near the sea of Galilee. But it was at Capernaum where Jesus and his disciples loved to come. It was probably here at Capernaum were Jesus raised Jairus's daughter from the dead (Mark 5:21-43), and it was also here that Jesus taught his disciples about being childlike and he brought a child into the midst of them (Mark 9: 33-37). Also at Capernaum Jesus spoke with Peter about paying the Temple tax sending him to catch a fish to pay for it (Matthew 17:24-27).


Ruins of the Capernaum Synagogue


Decorations found at the Capernaum Synagogue

"The remains of Capernaum of the New Testament are located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The town was a center of Jesus' activities in the Jewish Galilee (Matthew 4:13, 8:5) and became known as "His own city" (Matthew 9:1), where he performed several miracles (Luke 4:31-35; Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 5:21-42), and visited the synagogue (Mark 1:21-28). Capernaum is also mentioned by Josephus Flavius (Life 72), who was brought there after being wounded in battle. Christian sources of the Byzantine period describe Capernaum as a village inhabited by Jews and Christians. In the Early Muslim period (7th-8th centuries), Capernaum continued to prosper, then declined and was abandoned in the 11th century. Its ruins were known in Arabic as Tel Hum, preserving the ancient Hebrew name Kfar Nahum (the village of Nahum). The remains of the buildings and of the synagogue were identified in 1838 by Eduard Robinson as Capernaum of the New Testament period and have since then attracted many researchers, primarily Christians..." Read more at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

"The ruins of this building, among the Oldest synagogues in the world were identified by Charles William Wilson. The large, ornately carved, white building stones of the synagogue stood out prominently among the smaller, plain blocks of local black basalt used for the towns other buildings, almost all residential. The synagogue was built almost entirely of white blocks of calcareous stone brought from distant quarries. The building consists of four parts: the praying hall, the western patio, a southern balustrade and a small room at the northwest of the building. The praying hall measured 24.40 ms by 18.65 m, with the southern face looking toward Jerusalem. The internal walls were covered with painted plaster and fine stucco work found during the excavations. Watzinger, like Orfali, believed that there had been an upper floor reserved for women, with access by means of an external staircase located in the small room. But this opinion was not substantiated by the later excavations of the site. The synagogue appears to have been built around the fourth or 5th century. Beneath the foundation of this synagogue lies another foundation made of basalt, and Loffreda suggests that this is the foundation of a synagogue from the 1st century, perhaps the one mentioned in the Gospels (Loffreda, 1974). Later excavation work was attempted underneath the synagogue floor, but while Loffreda claimed to have found a paved surface, others are of the opinion that this was an open, paved market area. [1] The ancient synagogue has two inscriptions, one in Greek and the other in Aramaic, that remember the benefactors that helped in the construction of the building. There are also carvings of five- and six-pointed stars and of palm trees. In 1926, the Franciscan Orfali began the restoration of the synagogue. After his death, this work was continued by Virgilio Corbo beginning in 1976. A mosaic uncovered in 1991 shows an image of the Woman and Dragon motif mentioned in the Christian biblical book Revelation of St.John. It shows a woman about to give birth to a child as a dragon waits to devour it. The mosaic is not mentioned in any articles to date. Two possibilities seem possible: the mosaic is a Christian addition at some point when the synagogue became a Christian church, or that this was a Jewish motif indicating the dangers facing any Messiah who might come in those dangerous times of Christian predominance in Roman-ruled Palestine. The Egged tour guide who led a tour of the area dismissed it as a "pagan" theme." [Wikipedia]

Synagogues in the Bible

It is doubtful, whether the Old Testament contains any references to synagogues, though it is possible that Ps. 74:8 refers to them. They owed their origin to the desire of the Jews to familiarize themselves with the law, and probably arose immediately after the exile. In a comparatively short time they were erected in all the cities of the Jews in Palestine and throughout the diaspora. The synagogue was commonly a rectangular building, so constructed that on entering it the worshiper faced Jerusalem, and that the interior corresponded somewhat to the temple with its divisions. The part nearest the door represented the court and was a large space where the people stood or (in later times) sat during the services, men and women being separated by a partition. A little beyond the center of the synagogue rose the platform or bima on which the pulpit or lectern stood, from where the law and the prophets were read and the people were addressed, the reader standing and the preacher sitting down, cf . Luke 4:20. This bima represented the Holy Place, while the ark or chest that contained the sacred rolls, built near the rear wall and covered by a veil, corresponded to the Holy of Holies. A board of elders managed the affairs of the synagogue; yet there were also special officers, such as (1) the ruler (or rulers) of the synagogue, who directed the worship by appointing or requesting some of those present to pray, read, speak, etc.; (2) one or more attendants (chazan), who brought the rolls to the reader and again replaced them in the sacred depository, inflicted the corporal punishment on persons sentenced by the authorities, taught the youth of the congregation, opened and closed the synagogue, etc.; (3) dispensers of alms; and (4) ten or more wealthy men of leisure, who represented the congregation at every service.

The order of the services in the synagogue was as follows :
(1) Reciting the Shema, Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21 ; Num. 15:37-41
(2) Prayer
(3) Reading the law
(4) Reading the prophets
(5) Discourse by anyone who desired to speak, Acts 13:15
(6) the Benediction.

The synagogues in the dispersion had great significance for the spread of Christianity, since Paul on his missionary journeys always resorted to them first, where he could reach both Jews and gentiles. [Archaeology]

The City of Capernaum

Map of Ancient Capernaum

Capernaum in Easton's Bible Dictionary Nahum's town, a Galilean city frequently mentioned in the history of our Lord. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament. After our Lord's expulsion from Nazareth (Matt. 4:13-16; Luke 4:16-31), Capernaum became his "own city." It was the scene of many acts and incidents of his life (Matt. 8:5, 14, 15; 9:2-6, 10-17; 15:1-20; Mark 1:32-34, etc.). The impenitence and unbelief of its inhabitants after the many evidences our Lord gave among them of the truth of his mission, brought down upon them a heavy denunciation of judgement (Matt. 11:23). It stood on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The "land of Gennesaret," near, if not in, which it was situated, was one of the most prosperous and crowded districts of Israel. This city lay on the great highway from Damascus to Acco and Tyre. It has been identified with Tell Hum, about two miles south-west of where the Jordan flows into the lake. Here are extensive ruins of walls and foundations, and also the remains of what must have been a beautiful synagogue, which it is conjectured may have been the one built by the centurion (Luke 7:5), in which our Lord frequently taught (John 6:59; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:33). Others have conjectured that the ruins of the city are to be found at Khan Minyeh, some three miles further to the south on the shore of the lake. "If Tell Hum be Capernaum, the remains spoken of are without doubt the ruins of the synagogue built by the Roman centurion, and one of the most sacred places on earth. It was in this building that our Lord gave the well-known discourse in John 6; and it was not without a certain strange feeling that on turning over a large block we found the pot of manna engraved on its face, and remembered the words, 'I am that bread of life: your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.'", (The Recovery of Jerusalem.)

Capernaum in Fausset's Bible Dictionary ("the village of Nachum".) N.W. of sea of Tiberius, in the land of Gennesaret (now El Ghuweir. compare Matthew 14:34 with John 6:17; John 6:21-24), a most populous and prosperous region. By some identified now with the mound at Khan Minyeh; by others with Tell Hum. Visited by Jesus for a few days (John 2:12); afterward "His own city" and home, to which He retired from Nazareth (where He was reared, as in Bethlehem He was born), when He heard that Herod Antipas, who often resided at Sepphoris, or Diocaesarea, near Nazareth, had imprisoned John the Baptist. Capernaum was less conspicuous, and more suited to be the center of the unobtrusive but energetic ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Remains of ancient potteries, tanneries, etc., still are seen at Tabiga, the manufacturing suburb of Capernaum The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2) had foretold that this region, namely, Zabulon and Nephthalim, the one most bordering on Gentile darkness, was to be the first to see the great light (Matthew 4:12-16). Designated "His own city" (Matthew 9:1; Mark 2:1, "at home," KJV "in the house".) The scene of most of His mighty words, and therefore the most guilty in its impenitence. Matthew 11:20-24; "exalted unto heaven" in privileges, it was doomed for neglect of them to be "brought down to hell." Josephus mentions a fountain in Gennesaret, "Capharnaum," identified by some with Ain et Tin (the spring of the fig tree) near Khan Minyeh. The "round fountain" is three miles southward. Tell Hum is three or four miles more to the N. than Khan Minyeh, and so more convenient for the people to run round the N. end of the lake afoot to the E. side while Jesus crossed there by water (Mark 6:32-33). Hum is the last. syllable of Kefr na hum, and was used as an abbreviation. Tell Hum is the site, according to Arab and Jewish tradition. It is on a point...

Capernaum in Hitchcock's Bible Names the field of repentance; city of comfort

Capernaum in Naves Topical Bible (A city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee) -Jesus chose, as the place of his abode Mt 4:13; Lu 4:31 -Miracles of Jesus performed at Mt 9:1-26; 17:24; 27; Mr 1:21-45; 2; 3:1-6; Lu 7:1-10; Joh 4:46-53; 6:17-25,59 -His prophecy against Mt 11:23; Lu 10:15

Capernaum in Smiths Bible Dictionary (village of Nahum) was on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mt 4:13 comp. John 6:24 It was in the "land of Gennesaret," [ Mt 14:34 comp. John 6:17,21,24 ] It was of sufficient size to be always called a "city," Mt 9:1; Mr 1:33 had its own synagogue, in which our Lord frequently taught, Mr 1:21; Lu 4:33,38; Joh 6:59 and there was also a customs station, where the dues were gathered both by stationary and by itinerant officers. Mt 9:9; 17:24; Mr 2:14; Lu 5:27 The only interest attaching to Capernaum is as the residence of our Lord and his apostles, the scene of so many miracles and "gracious words." It was when he returned thither that he is said to have been "in the house." Mr 2:1 The spots which lay claim to its site are, 1. Kahn Minyeh, a mound of ruins which takes its name from an old khan hard by. This mound is situated close upon the seashore at the northwestern extremity of the plain (now El Ghuweir). 2. Three miles north of Khan Minyeh is the other claimant, Tell Hum, --ruins of walls and foundations covering a space of half a mile long by a quarter wide, on a point of the shore projecting into the lake and backed by a very gently-rising ground. It is impossible to locate it with certainty, but the probability is in favor of Tell Hum.

Capernaum in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE ka-per'-na-um (Kapernaoum (Textus Receptus), Kapharnaoum (Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Bezae; etc.)): The woe spoken by the Master against this great city has been fulfilled to the uttermost (Mt 11:23; Lk 10:15). So completely has it perished that the very site is a matter of dispute today. In Scripture Capernaum is not mentioned outside the Gospels. When Jesus finally departed from Nazareth, He dwelt in Capernaum (Mt 4:13) and made it the main center of His activity during a large part of His public ministry. Near by He called the fishermen to follow Him (Mk 1:16), and the publican from the receipt of custom (Mt 9:9, etc.). It was the scene of many "mighty works" (Mt 11:23; Mk 1:34). Here Jesus healed the centurion's son (Mt 8:5, etc.), the nobleman's son (Jn 4:46), Simon Peter's mother-in-law (Mk 1:31, etc.), and the paralytic (Mt 9:1, etc.); cast out the unclean spirit (Mk 1:23, etc.); and here also, probably, He raised Jairus' daughter to life (Mk 5:22, etc.). In Capernaum the little child was used to teach the disciples humility, while in the synagogue Jesus delivered His ever-memorable discourse on the bread of life (Jn 6). From the notices in the Gospels we gather that Capernaum was a city of considerable importance. Some think that the words "shalt thou be exalted," etc. (Mt 11:23; Lk 10:15), mean that it stood on an elevated site. Perhaps more naturally they refer to the excessive pride of the inhabitants in their city. It was a customs station, and the residence of a high officer of the king (Mt 9:9; Jn 4:46, etc.). It was occupied by a detachment of Roman soldiers, whose commander thought the good will of the people worth securing at the expense of building for them a synagogue (Mt 8:5; Lk 7:5). It stood by the sea (Mt 4:13) and from Jn 6:17 ff (compare Mt 14:34; Mk 6:53), we see that it was either in or near the plain of Gennesaret. Josephus twice mentions Capernaum. It played no great part in the history of his time, and seems to have declined in importance, as he refers to it as a "village." In battle in el-BaTeichah his horse fell into a quagmire, and he suffered injury which disabled him for further fighting. His soldiers carried him to the village of Capernaum (this reference is however doubtful; the name as it stands is Kepharnomon which Niese corrects to Kepharnokon), whence he was removed to Tarichea (Vita, 72). Again he eulogizes the plain of Gennesaret for its wonderful fruits, and says it is watered by a most fertile fountain which the people of the country call Capharnaum. In the water of this fountain the Coracinus is found (BJ, III, x, 8). Josephus therefore corroborates the Biblical data, and adds the information as to the fountain and the Coracinus fish. The fish however is found in other fountains near the lake, and is therefore no help toward identification. The two chief rivals for the honor of representing Capernaum are Tell Chum, a ruined site on the lake shore, nearly 2 1/2 miles West of the mouth of the Jordan; and Khan Minyeh fully 2 1/2 miles farther west, at the Northeast corner of the plain of Gennesaret. Dr. Tristram suggested `Ain El- Madowwerah, a large spring enclosed by a circular wall, on the western edge of the plain. But it stands about a mile from the sea; there are no ruins to indicate that any considerable village ever stood here; and the water is available for only a small part of the plain....

The Bible mentions much about the Synagogue:

Revelation 3:9 - Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.

Luke 13:14 - And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.

Luke 4:38 - And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon's house. And Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her.

Acts 18:7 - And he departed thence, and entered into a certain [man's] house, named Justus, [one] that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue.

Acts 18:8 - And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.

John 9:22 - These [words] spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.

Acts 14:1 - And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.

Mark 6:2 - And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing [him] were astonished, saying, From whence hath this [man] these things? and what wisdom [is] this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?

John 18:20 - Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing.

Acts 18:17 - Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat [him] before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.

Luke 8:41 - And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus' feet, and besought him that he would come into his house:

Acts 17:10 - And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews.

Matthew 13:54 - And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this [man] this wisdom, and [these] mighty works?

Mark 5:38 - And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly.

Acts 18:26 - And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto [them], and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

Acts 19:8 - And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.

Revelation 2:9 - I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and [I know] the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but [are] the synagogue of Satan.

Mark 1:29 - And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

Mark 5:36 - As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.

Acts 13:15 - And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, [Ye] men [and] brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.

Acts 26:11 - And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled [them] to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted [them] even unto strange cities.

Mark 5:22 - And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,

Luke 4:16 - And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

Luke 4:20 - And he closed the book, and he gave [it] again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.

Luke 4:33 - And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,

Luke 6:6 - And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered.

Acts 13:42 - And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.

Acts 17:17 - Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Mark 1:21 - And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.

John 12:42 - Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess [him], lest they should be put out of the synagogue:
 

The Bible also mentions Capernaum:

John 6:24 - When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.

Matthew 17:24 - And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute [money] came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?

Matthew 11:23 - And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

Luke 4:23 - And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.

John 4:46 - So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.

Matthew 4:13 - And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:

Luke 10:15 - And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.

Mark 1:21 - And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.

Luke 4:31 - And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days.

Luke 7:1 - Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.

John 2:12 - After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.

Matthew 8:5 - And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,

Mark 2:1 - And again he entered into Capernaum after [some] days; and it was noised that he was in the house.

John 6:17 - And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them.

Mark 9:33 - And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?

John 6:59 - These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.

 

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