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Capernaum was a fishers town with about 1,500 people living there, and it was the home of the first disciples Jesus called — the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the tax collector Matthew (who as Levi collected taxes in the customs office).
In this town, Jesus worshiped and taught in the synagogue — where his teaching made a deep impression on the local people because, unlike the scribes, he taught with authority. (Mark 1:21-22), and healed many people of illness or possession by the devil, including Peter’s mother-in-law and the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, and pronounced a curse on the town, along with Bethsaida and Chorazin, because so many of its inhabitants refused to believe in him. He said “You shall be brought down to Hell,” (Matthew 11:23) because of their lack of response to his mighty works.
Because of that curse, the town did not survive and fell into ruin. A 3rd-century report called the town “despicable; it numbers only seven houses of poor fishermen”. It was later resettled but again fell into disrepair. The ruins lay undiscovered until 1838, when a visiting scholar gave this description: “The whole place is desolate and mournful . . . .”
Today an ultra-modern Catholic church, perched on eight sturdy pillars, hovers protectively over an excavation site. It is believed to have been the site of Peter’s house, where Jesus would have lodged.
Near the church, a partly reconstructed synagogue is believed to have been built on the foundations of the synagogue in which Jesus taught.
Erected in the 4th or 5th centuries, this impressive structure with ornately carved decorations is the largest synagogue discovered in Israel. One Sabbath, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum and healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean devil. Afterwards, he healed a fever in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. According to Luke 7:1–10, it is also the place where a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant.
The original name for Capenaum was Kfar Nahum, which means Nahum’s village in Hebrew, but no connection with the prophet Nahum.
In 1986 the water of the lake reached an unusually low point. At that time, an ancient fishing boat was discovered. Radio-carbon dating of the wood points to 120BC-AD40, while the pottery found in or near the boat can be dated from 100BC-AD200.
As it seems likely that the boat was built of re-used timbers, the preferred date is first century AD. The vessel was 8 meters long and was preserved in the mud of the lake. After a difficult unearthing process that had to be completed before the water rose again, the excavated boat was put on display in its modern-day position near the kibbutz Ginosar as The Sea of Galilee Boat.