Ancient Capernaum Synagogue
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.
Painted Sketch of the
Synagogue at 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
"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.  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
(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
Capernaum in Easton's Bible Dictionary
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- And he departed thence, and entered into a certain [man's] house,
named Justus, [one] that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night
unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue
of the Jews.
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?
- And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue,
and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly.
- 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.
- 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
- And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue,
they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and
- As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the
ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.
- 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.
- 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.
- And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue,
Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,
- 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.
- 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.
- And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a
spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice,
- 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.
- And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue,
the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the
- 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.
- And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day
he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
- 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
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.
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?
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.
- 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.
- 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
4:13 - And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in
Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of
Zabulon and Nephthalim:
- And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven,
shalt be thrust down to hell.
- And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the
sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.
- And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and
taught them on the sabbath days.
- Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the
people, he entered into Capernaum.
- After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his
mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued
there not many days.
- And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there
came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,
- And again he entered into Capernaum after [some]
days; and it was noised that he was in the house.
- And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward
Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to
- And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he
asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the
- These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in