"Leaving Nazareth He went and lived in Capernaum." (Matt 4:13)
"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." (Mathew 11:23)
Capernaum, nestled on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, was a small, prosperous town due to fishing, trade and agriculture. Capernaum is called Kfar Nahum in Hebrew, meaning Nahumís village. It is best known as the birthplace of Peter. John, Andrew and James also lived here, as well as the tax collector Matthew.
Jesus came to Capernaum after he had a confrontation in his synagogue in Nazareth, his boyhood home. Since he was rejected in Nazareth, Jesus Christ decided to relocate his ministry to Capernaum. It was an ideal spot for Jesus to deliver his messianic message; it was a larger town than Nazareth and was on the main Damascus Highway. As a result, Jesus was able to reach out to more people. It was also a safe distance from Tiberias and the dangers of Herod. Soon after Jesus settled there, he began to preach in the synagogue. The town was soon referred to as "his own city." (Mt 9:1)
"They went as far as Capharnaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority. "In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and he shouted, `What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God'. But Jesus said sharply, `Be quiet! Come out of him!' and the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsion and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. `Here is a teaching that is new' they said `and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him'. And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside." (Mk 1:21-28)
The bible also mentioned Jesus as staying in the house of Peter, who lived in Capernaum. Here, Jesus is known to have healed the fever of Simonís mother-in-law as well as a Roman Centurionís servant.
There are detailed descriptions of the area from the first century thanks to the writings of the historian Josephus. Josephus was taken to Capernaum after he was wounded in a battle near Bethsaida. His writings on Capernaum speak about an area with fertile springs. Yet today, springs are only to be found in Tabgha, 3 miles west of Capernaum. To this day, there is a dispute about whether Tabgha is the original site of Capernaum.
There is also evidence that Judeo-Christians lived in the Jewish community of Capernaum in the late Roman period. Since Capernaum decided not to participate in the Jewish revolts against the Romans in the first and second centuries, it was spared and remained unscathed for centuries. According to archaeologists, the city thrived throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods but was abandoned in the seventh century CE after the Islamic invasion.
Christian pilgrims today will see archaeological excavations that have uncovered an original city of about 1500 inhabitants. Several sanctuaries have been excavated, testifying that the location was at one time venerated. We are told by Epiphanius that Constantine instructed Joseph of Tiberias to build a church in Capernaum. And evidence at the site indicates that an earlier house was transformed into a church. This church, we believe, was built on the house of the apostle Peter.
Perched in the middle of town, adorned with Corinthian columns and friezes, are remains of a synagogue which dates back to the fourth of fifth century. Later excavations revealed that, in fact, two synagogues were built here, with the first one dating back to the first century. Scholars propose that Christ taught here, just as mentioned in the Gospels. Here, Jesus taught about the bread of life: (John 6:35-59)
I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst... I am the living bread that comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world...