(Ca·perʹna·um) [from Heb., meaning “Village of Nahum”; or, “Village of Comforting”].
A city of major importance in Jesus’ earthly ministry, located on the NW shores of the Sea of Galilee. It had a tax office, where Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple (Mt 9:9), and perhaps a military post, for a centurion resided there. (Mt 8:5) These indications, plus the fact that an attendant of the king, wealthy enough to have slaves, lived there (Joh 4:46-53), all seem to make it likely that Capernaum was of some size and importance and hence worthy of being called “a city of Galilee.”
Two principal sites have been suggested as the original location of Capernaum. The ruins of Khan Minyeh (Horvat Minnim), situated on the Sea of Galilee at the NE corner of the Plain of Gennesaret, were viewed by many as the probable location of Capernaum, but excavations there indicate that the ruins are of Arab origin. This leaves Tell Hum (Kefar Nahum), an extensive ruin about 4 km (2.5 mi) farther along the shore to the NE from Khan Minyeh, and almost that same distance SW of the point where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee. The coastal plain here is quite narrow, but in ancient times a road led from the Jordan down past Capernaum and through the Plain of Gennesaret to connect with the great trade route leading from Mesopotamia and Damascus, through Palestine and on to Egypt. A number of springs flow across the Plain of Gennesaret, emptying into the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee, and the large amount of vegetable matter these springs carry draws large numbers of fish, making the area an excellent location for fishermen.
Early in his ministry, following the marriage at Cana, where his first miracle was performed, Jesus, together with his mother, brothers, and disciples, traveled from Cana down to Capernaum, spending a few days there before going up to Jerusalem for the Passover of the year 30 C.E.
Later, after beginning his great Galilean ministry and while again in Cana, Jesus performed a long-distance miraculous cure of the son of a member of the royal court of Herod Antipas, the sick child being healed in Capernaum though about 26 km (16 mi) away from Cana. (Joh 4:46-54) The news of this miracle evidently spread quickly to the neighboring towns so that, when Jesus moved on from Cana to his hometown of Nazareth, he could say to his listeners in that city that they would likely ask him to do in Nazareth “the things we heard as having happened in Capernaum.” (Lu 4:16, 23) Leaving Nazareth, where the people had attempted to kill him, Jesus “took up residence in Capernaum beside the sea in the districts of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Mt 4:13-16; Lu 4:28-31), thereby fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (9:1, 2) that a great light would be seen in that region by those walking in darkness.
It was possibly along the nearby Plain of Gennesaret, SW of Capernaum, that Jesus again met Peter and Andrew (already his disciples; Joh 1:35-42) and gave them the express invitation to become his active followers in the ministry, doing the same thereafter for James and John. (Mr 1:16-21) Following this, Jesus preached in the synagogue of Capernaum, healing a demonized man in attendance, and from this strategically located city the report of his preaching and miracles “kept going out into every corner of the surrounding country.” (Lu 4:31-37; Mr 1:21-28; see SYNAGOGUE.) The home of the fishermen Peter and Andrew was in Capernaum, and here Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law; after this, the house was besieged by people bringing ill and demon-possessed persons to him for healing.
Following a preaching tour of Galilee, accompanied by the four disciples called from the Capernaum vicinity, Jesus returned to Capernaum, which by now could be called “his own city,” the place where he could be said to be “at home.” (Mt 9:1; Mr 2:1) Again the crowds flocked around the house, and on this occasion Jesus healed a paralytic who was lowered through an opening in the roof. (Mr 2:2-12) Later, coming upon Matthew in the tax office, Jesus issued the call to him, and Matthew became the fifth disciple to join in the active ministry with Jesus. At Matthew’s house in Capernaum Jesus attended a big reception feast at which there were many tax collectors, a group despised by the Pharisees.
After going into Judea and Jerusalem and attending the Passover of 31 C.E., Jesus returned to Galilee, and it seems likely that it was on a mountain in the neighborhood of Capernaum that he chose the 12 to be his apostles and delivered the renowned Sermon on the Mount. (Lu 6:12-49) Entering Capernaum, he was met by Jewish elders acting as intermediaries on behalf of an army officer who had demonstrated love for the Jewish nation, even building a synagogue in the city for them. This Gentile officer’s unquestioning faith in Jesus’ power to heal a sick slave even from a distance (as he had earlier healed the child of the king’s attendant) caused Jesus to marvel and resulted in Jesus’ prophecy that persons “from eastern parts and western parts” would recline at the table along with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of the heavens.
Toward the close of his second preaching tour in Galilee and after activity in the country of the Gerasenes (or Gadarenes) SE of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus “crossed back again . . . to the opposite shore,” likely to the vicinity of Capernaum. (Mt 8:28; Mr 5:1, 21; Lu 8:26, 40) Among the expectant crowd gathered on the shore, a woman was healed simply by touching Jesus’ garment, after which Jesus performed a far greater miracle by bringing to life the deceased daughter of Jairus, a presiding officer of the synagogue. Again, though Jesus gave orders against telling others of this resurrection, “the talk about this spread out into all that region.” (Mt 9:18-26; Mr 5:22-43; Lu 8:40-56) Possibly in Capernaum or its vicinity Jesus also healed two blind men as well as a speechless man possessed of a demon.
At the close of his third Galilean preaching tour and shortly before the Passover of 32 C.E. (Joh 6:4), Jesus walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee during a crossing to the shores of Gennesaret near Capernaum. After entering Capernaum, he was located by crowds who had followed him from across the sea. When Jesus gave a discourse designed to correct the basically materialistic interest in him that had been shown by the majority, many of his disciples defected from the ranks of his followers. This left a smaller number of faithful ones. (Mt 14:23-34; Mr 6:53; Joh 6:17-71) It was likely in Capernaum, after having attended the Passover of 32 C.E. in Jerusalem, that Jesus rebuked the Pharisaic traditionalists for criticizing Jesus’ disciples while at the same time making God’s Word void by their traditions.
Finally, it was in Capernaum, sometime prior to the Festival of Booths in the year 32 C.E., when his major activity in Galilee and the northern part of the country was nearing its conclusion, that Jesus miraculously provided money for the temple tax and presented illustrations concerning greatness in the Kingdom of the heavens, strayed sheep, and the settling of difficulties.
Capernaum was included by Jesus with the nearby cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida as one of the places in which most of his powerful works had been performed. (Mt 11:20-24; Lu 10:13-15) Capernaum had been exalted heaven high in a spiritual way by the presence, preaching, and miracles of Jesus, but it would now be abased, as it were, to Hades, here representing the depth of its abasement. Using hyperbole, Jesus said that even Sodom would not have perished if it had been as highly favored as was Capernaum. Today Capernaum, like Sodom, no longer exists as a city, its ruins at Tell Hum (Kefar Nahum) stretching out for about 1.5 km (1 mi) along the seacoast.