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Capernaum

CAPERNAUM

A town in Galilee, at the site of modern Tell Hûm, on the north-northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The transliteration Capharnaum, rather than Capernaum, appears in the Douai-Rheims translation of the Bible and became the traditional Catholic spelling. Capernaum, the standard English transliteration of the name, was adopted by the New American Bible (1970), following the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the King James Version (KJV). The name comes from the Aramaic or late Hebrew k epar-nāûm, "village of Nahum." Capernaum was "by the sea, in the territory of Zabulon and Nephthalim" (Mt 4.13), about three miles southwest of the Jordan's entrance into the Sea of Galilee. Although unmentioned in the Old Testament, it is referred to 16 times in the Gospels. Using it as the center for much of His ministry, Jesus worked many miracles there. It was there, too, that St. Matthew, the publican, was called to follow Jesus. Because of its unbelief (Mt 11.23; Lk 10.15), Jesus threatened severe judgment on Capernaum. It is mentioned also by Flavius Josephus, who was brought there when he was wounded in a battle near the Jordan.

Excavating the Ancient City. Nineteen seasons of archaeological excavations, in Capernaum, were conducted by the Franciscans between 1968 and 1986. Capernaum is one of a number of biblical sites that fell within the Franciscan Holy Land Custody. Chief among the finds is a limestone synagogue, dating somewhere between the 2nd and the 5th centuries a.d. Beneath this synagogue are the ruins of an older structure, the remains, perhaps, of the synagogue where Jesus taught (Mk 1:2128; Jn 6:71).

These excavations continued an earlier archaeological expedition undertaken in 1921 by Gaudenzio Orfali. In addition to unearthing the synagogue, Orfali found the remains of an octagonal church, which had been built probably on the traditional site of the house of St. Peter. There is evidence that in very early times the Judeo-Christians converted the house of Peter into a place of worship. Later excavations appear to have identified the remains of Simon Peter's house (Mk 1:2934).

Bibliography: g. orfali, Capharnaüm et ses ruines d'après les fouilles accomplies à TellHoum par la Custodie franciscaine de Terre Sainte (19051921) (Paris 1922). Biblical Archaeologist, 46 (1983) 198204. Biblical Archaeology Review, 8 (6, 1982) 2637; 9 (4, 1983) 5053.

[s. musholt/eds.]

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