Glimpses of Israel - Capernaum

by Joseph Hunting

Israel abounds with magnificent remains of ancient architecture, some of Jewish origin and some bearing the stamp of Gentile conquerors.

One of the most beautiful relics of Jewish architecture is a partly-restored synagogue at Capernaum. This synagogue is believed to be one that was rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed the original in the 2nd century A.D.

As was the Chorazin synagogue, the one at Capernaum was also adorned with exquisitely carved stone friezes, one portion of which is rich in Biblical emblems of Israel including the Star of David. Almost hidden amongst a host of artifacts we discovered a stone relief on the Ark of the Covenant, the original of which was never seen again after Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Does this depict the Ark being taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar? We recall that the children of Israel were forbidden by God to carry the Ark on a vehicle of any kind.

Judging by the size and beauty of the Synagogue, Capernaum must have been a sizeable town in the centre of a prosperous community. The New Testament confirms this view, yet there is a strange feeling of emptiness among the ruins. It is as though "Ichabod" (the glory has departed) has been written over the ruins. This feeling of desolation is in marked contrast with other New Testament towns in the area that are now thriving. Indeed, the ghost towns of Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum fulfil the judgement passed on them because they refused to recognize the One Who did such mighty works in their midst.

"Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgement than for you. And thou Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell." (Luke 10:13-15)

Whilst Chorazin and Capernaum have ruins to mark their location, the exact site of Bethsaida has not yet been determined although its approximation by the Sea of Galilee is known.