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Capernaum

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(Καπερναούμ ; Lachm.: [with Codex B Καφαρναούμ , as if כְּפִר נִחוּם, village of Nahum" [from some unknown person of that name]; Syriac, Curetonian Kaaphar Nachum, Peshito Kaphar Nachum; Vulg. Capharnaum),, the name of a Galilasan city familiar as that of the scene of many acts and incidents in the life of Christ (see Stuart, Capernaum as the Scene of Christ's Miracles, 2d ed. London, 1864). There is no mention of Capernaum in the O.T. or Apocrypha, but the passage Isaiah 9:1 [Isaiah 8:23] is applied to it by Matthew. The word Caphar in the name perhaps indicates that the place was of late foundation. (See CAPHAR-.) There is named, however, by the rabbins (Midrash, Koheleth, fol. 89, Colossians 4) a place called Kephar-Nachuln (כפר נחום ), which Reland (PaleSst. p. 689) presumes to be the Capernaum of the Gospels (see Otho, Lex. Rabb.' p. 118). Josephus also mentions a remarkable fountain, called by the natives Canpharnaum (Καφαρναούμ ), watering the fertile "plain of Gennesareth" (War, 3:10, 8); as also a village by the name of Cepharnome (Κεφαρνώμη ) in the same region (Life, 72). Ptolemy also (5:16, 4) calls it Caparnaum (Καπαρναούμ ). Another Capernaum is mentioned by William of Tyre (De Bello Sacr. 10:26) on the Kishon, six leagues from Caesarea.

After the expulsion of Jesus from Nazareth (Luke 4:16-31; Matthew 4:13-16), where he was "brought up," Capernaum became emphatically his "own city;" it was when he returned thither that he is said to have been "at home" (Mark 2:1; such is the force of οἰκῷ A.V. "in the house"). Here he chose: the evangelist Matthew or Levi (Matthew 9:9). The brothers Simon-Peter and Andrew belonged to Capernaum (Mark 1:29), and it is perhaps allowable to imagine that it was on the sea-beach near the town (for, doubtless, like true Orientals, these two fishermen kept close to home), while Jesus was "walking" there, before "great multitudes" had learned to "gather together unto him," that they heard the quiet call which was to make them forsake all and follow him (Mark 1:16-17; comp. Mark 1:28). It was here that Christ worked the miracle on the centurion's servant (Matthew 7:5; Luke 7:1), on Simon's wife's mother (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38), the paralytic (Matthew 9:1; Mark 2:1; Luke 5:18), and the man afflicted with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:33; Luke 4:33). The son of the nobleman (John 4:46) was, though resident at Capernaum, healed by words which appear to have been spoken in; Cana of Galilee. At Capernaum occurred the emblematical incident of the child (Mark 9:33; Matthew 18:1; comp. Matthew 17:24); and in the synagogue there was spoken the remarkable discourse of John 6 (John 6:59). The infidelity and impenitence of the inhabitants of this place, after the evidence given to them by our Savior himself of the truth of his mission, brought upon them this heavy denunciation: "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 unto this day," etc. (Matthew 11:23). (See GALILEE, SEA OF).

According to the notices of its situation in the N.T. Capernaum was on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (τὴν παραθαλασσίαν, Matthew 4:13; comp. John 6:24), and, if recent discoveries are to be trusted (Cureton's Nitrian Rec. John 6:17), was of sufficient importance to give to that sea, in whole or in part, the name of the "Lake of Capernaum." (This was the case also with Tiberias, at the other extremity of the lake. Comp. John 6:1, " the Sea of Galilee of Tiberias.") It was in or near the "land of Gennesaret" (Matthew 14:34, compared with John 6:17; John 6:21; John 6:24), that is, the rich, busy plain on the west shore of the lake, which we know from the descriptions of Josephus and from other sources to have been at that time one of the most prosperous and crowded districts in all Palestine. (See GENNESARETH). Yet it was not far from the entrance of the Upper Jordan into the lake (Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr. p. 139). Being on the shore, Capernaum was lower than Nazareth and Cana of Galilee, from which the road to it was one of descent (John 2:12; Luke 4:31), a mode of speech which would apply to the general level of the spot, even if our Lord's expression, "exalted unto heaven" (ὑψωθεῖσα, Matthew 11:23), had any reference to height of position in the town itself. It was of sufficient size to be always called a "city" (πόλις, Matthew 9:1; Mark 1:33); had its own synagogue, in which our Lord frequently taught (John 6:59; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:33; Luke 4:38) a synagogue built by the centurion of the detachment of Roman soldiers which appears to have been quartered in the place (Luke 7:1; comp. 8; Matthew 8:8). But besides the garrison there was also a customs station, where the dues were gathered both by stationary (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27) and by itinerant (Matthew 17:24) officers (though the latter passage probably refers rather to the ecclesiastical or temple tax than to the Roman or secular one). If the "way of the sea" was the great road from Damascus to the south (Ritter, Erdk. 15:339), the duties may have been levied not only on the fish and other commerce of the lake, but on the caravans of merchandise passing to Galilee and Judaea. It was also near the border between the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali (Matthew 4:13). The doom which our Lord pronounced against Capernaum and the other unbelieving cities of the plain of Gennesareth has been remarkably fulfilled. In the present day no ecclesiastical tradition even ventures to fix its site; and the contest between the rival claims of the two most probable spots is one of the warmest, and at the same time the most difficult to decide, in sacred topography.

1. Dr. Robinson (Bibl. Researches, 3:288-294) exposes the errors of all previous travelers in their various attempts to identify the site of Capernaum; and from a hint in Quaresmius, he is rather inclined to look for it in a place marked only by a mound of ruins, called by the Arabs Khan Minyeh. This is situated at the north-eastern extremity of the fertile plain (now called El Ghuweir) on the western border of the Lake of Gennesareth, to which the name of "the land of Gennesareth" is given by Josephus (War, 3:10, 8). This plain is a sort of triangular hollow, formed by the retreat of the mountains about the middle of the western shore.' The base of this angle is along the shore, and is about one hour's journey in length, whereas it takes an hour and a half to trace the inner sides of the, plain. In this plain Josephus places a fountain called Capharnaum: he says nothing of the town; but if it can be collected from the scriptural intimations that the town of Capernaum was in this same plain (from a comparison of Mark 6:47, with John 6:19, it appears that it was at least six miles from the N.E. shore), it may be safely concluded that the fountain was not far from the town, and took its name therefrom. In this plain there are now two fountains, one called 'Ain et-Tin, the "Spring of the Fig," near the northern extremity of the plain, and not far from .the lake. It is surrounded by vegetation and overhung by a fig-tree, from which it derives its name. Near this are several other springs, the water of which is said to be brackish; but Burckhardt, who rested for some time under the great fig-tree, describes the water of the main source as sweet.

This is the fountain which Dr. Robinson inclines to regard as that which Josephus mentions under the name of Capharnaum. M. De Saulcy, however, contends, in his usual confident manner, against the conclusion of Dr. Robinson (Narrative, 2:357-365). In the new edition of his Researches (3:348), Dr. Robinson reviews the arguments and reaffirms his position. Three miles south, toward the other extremity of the plain, is the other large spring, called 'Ain el Mudauwarah, the " Round Fountain" a large and beautiful fountain rising immediately at the foot of the western line of hills. This Pococke took to be the Fountain of Capernaum, and Dr. Robinson was at one time disposed to adopt this conclusion. The "Round Fountain" is a mile and a half from the lake, to which it sends a considerable stream with fish. Whichever of these fountains be that of Capharnaum, we should look for some traces of an ancient town in the vicinity, and, finding them, should be justified in supposing that they formed the remains of Capernaum. The only ancient remains of any kind near the Round Fountain are some large volcanic blocks strewed over the plain, or piled together with little architectural order. But near the 'Ain et- Tin is the low mound of ruins, occupying a considerable circumference, which, if Capernaum were situated in this plain, offer the best probability of being the re. mains of the doomed city; and if these be all its remains, it has, according to that doom, been brought low indeed. Near the fountain is also a khan, which gives the name of Khan linyeh to the spot. This khan is now in ruins, but was once a large and well built structure. Close on the north of this khan, and of the fountain, rocky hills of considerable elevation come down quite to the lake, and form the northern termination of the plain. It is important to add that Quaresmius expressly states that in his day the place called by the Arabs Menich (i.e. Minyeh) was regarded as marking the site of Capernaum (Elucid. Terr. Sanct. 2:864). The mention by Josephus (Life, 72) of a village called Kepharnome, situated between the mouth of the Jordan and Tarichaea, will agree with either location of Capernaum. Willibald, however (Vita, 16, 17), passed successively, on his way from Tiberias to the Upper Jordan, through Magdala, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin, which would locate Capernaum at the southern end of the plain, if (as appears true) this also contained Chorazin. The latter may have been immediately on the shore, and Capernaum at a little distance from it (Luke 9:57; comp. Matthew 8:18-19), as is the case at the southern spring, but not the northern.

The arguments in favor of Khan Minyeh may be found in Robinson's Researches (new ed. 2:403 sq.; 3:344-358). They are chiefly founded on Josephus's account of the fountain and of his visit to Cepharnome, which Dr. R. would identify with the mounds near the khan, and on the testimonies of successive travelers from Arculfus to Quares, mius, whose notices Dr. R. interprets often, it must be confessed, not without difficulty in reference to Khan Minyeh. The fountain Capharnaum, which Josephus mentions (War, 3:10, 8) in a very emphatic manner as a chief source of the water of the plain of Gennesareth and as abounding with fish, would, however, certainly answer better to the "Round Fountain" than to a spring so close to the shore and so near one end of the district as is 'Ain et-Tin. The claim of Khan ;Minyeh is also strongly opposed by a later traveler (Bonar, p. 437-41), as also by Van de Velde (Memoir, p. 301, 302) and Thomson (Land and Book, 1:542 sq.). Another objection to the site of Khan Minyeh is that the ancient town of Cinnereth appears to have lain north of Capernaum, and in this same plain of Gennesareth, (See CINNERETH); from which it is most natural to infer that Capernaum lay at the southern end of the plain (at 'Ain el Mudauwarah), and Cinnereth at the northern ('Ain et-Tin). In that case, the approach of Christ and his disciples to Capernaum through the plain of Gennesareth (Matthew 14:34) was from the north, the direction most likely in coming from their last point on the north-eastern shore of the lake; for then the disciples would have fallen short of their destination, owing to the head wind, and, after landing, first traversed the plain. The site of Abu Shusheh, however, is in some respects more likely to have given name to the plain, if that of the ancient Cinnereth, which will thus be distinguished from the localities of Capernaum and Chorazin. (See BETHSAIDA).

2. Three miles north of Khan Minyeh: is the other claimant, Tell Hû m, containing ruins (very extensive, according to Bonar, p. 415 sq.) 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 very gently rising ground. The shapeless remains are piled up in confusion all along the shore, and are much more striking than those of any other city on this part of the lake. With two exceptions, the houses were all built of basalt, quite black and very compact, but rudely cut. The stones of the temple, synagogue, or church, whatever it may have been, are of beautiful marble, cut from the mountains to the north-west (Thomson, 1:540). The ruins are described by Robinson (Researches, in, 297 sq.). Rather more than three miles farther north is the point at which the Jordan enters the north of the lake. The arguments in favor of Tell Hû m date from about 1675. The principal one is the name, which is maintained to be a relic of the Hebrew original "Caphar" having given place to "Tell." Dr. Wilson also ranges Josephus on this side (Lands of the Bible, 2:139-149). See also Ritter (Erdk. 15:335-343), who supports the same locality, as do also Van de Velde, Bonar, and Thomson. Against Tell Hum, on the other hand, the following arguments seem almost conclusive:

(1) It is not near the boundary-line between Zebulon and Naphtali, as appears to be required by Matthew 4:13.

(2) It is not likely to have been on the highway to Damascus (see above), for the mountains are so near the shore as to preclude this, while a thoroughfare still exists through the plain at the south.

(3) It is rather too near the head of the lake for the scriptural notices, and apparently in the wrong direction from the plain of Gennesareth.

(4) It does not by any means so well suit the indications in Josephus of the position of the spring of Capharnaum and village of Cepharnome: for

[1] the latter was near a swampy ground (evidently, from the numerous springs, in the loamy plain), and at no great distance from Tiberias (or, at farthest, Tarichaea);

[2] the fountain was a prominent feature in the plain of Gennesareth, which extended along the lake for three miles, apparently midway. To these arguments it may again be replied:

(a) The language of the Evangelist respecting the proximity of the boundary-line is not to be taken so strictly, since none of the places in question were really situated on the border.

(b) There is room enough for a road along the shore by Tell Hû m, for the shortest route to the head of the lake actually lies through it.

(c) The Scripture notices most in question relate to the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, the scene of which may have been on the shore south-east of Bethsaida, beyond Jordan, and in that case Christ's return to Capernaum may have been from the south through the plain of Gennesareth.

(d) The misadventure of Josephus may have happened at the mouth of the Upper Jordan, and the place into, which he was borne was a "village" merely, not a large city like Capernaum, although the name of the latter may naturally have included adjacent localities, as we know it was extended to the entire plain.

On the whole, however, later archaeologists incline to the site of Khan Minyeh, where extensive ruins have recently been discovered, Bethsaida (q.v.) being, perhaps, to be located at Tell Hum; and this conclusion is greatly confirmed by the almost certain position of Chorazin at Bir- Kerazeh, a little to the N.W. (See Journal Sac. Lit. Oct. 1854, p. 162 sq.; July, 1855, p. 354 sq.; Bibl. Sacra, April, 1855, p. 263 sq.; Lond. Athenaeum, Feb. 24, March 31, 1866; Stud. u. Krit. 1867, 4). (See CHORAZIN)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Capernaum'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/c/capernaum.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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