Glimpses of Israel - Capernaum

Capernaum is located on the north western shore of the Sea of Galilee, just a little south of where the River Jordan enters the lake. In the past it lay along an important trade route from Egypt along the Mediterranean coast to Damascus, and it was a town where the Romans in their day had a centurion stationed.

Today Israel abounds with magnificent remains of ancient architecture, some of Jewish origin and some bearing the stamp of the manyGentile conquerors over the centuries.

One of the most beautiful relics of Jewish architecture is a partly-restored synagogue at Capernaum (Hebrew Kfar Nahum, City of Nahum), believed to be one that was rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed the original in the second century AD.

As was the Chorazin synagogue, so the one at Capernaum was also adorned with exquisitely carved friezes rich in Biblical emblems – pomegranates, vines, fig trees – and even the Star of David. Among a host of artifacts is a stone relief of the Ark of the Covenant, the original of which has never been seen since Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC.

Judging by the size and spendour of the synagogue Capernaum must have been a large town and in the centre of a prosperous community. The New Testament confirms this, yet there is a feeling of emptiness among the ruins today, as though 'Ichabod' (the glory has departed) has been written over it.

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 Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida fulfil the judgement passed on them because they refused to recognize the One who did such mighty works among them.

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

It reminds us too of the warning the Lord gave to the people in His day: "The men of Ninevah will rise in the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here" (Matthew 12:41).