The Hebrew toponym Kĕfar Naḥum (Village of Naḥum) was transliterated in the Greek of the New Testament (Matt 4:13, 8:5, 11:23, 17:24; Mark 1:21, 2:1, 9:33; Luke 4:23, 4:31, 7:1, 10:15; John 2:12, 4:46, 6:17, 6:24, 6:59) as Κεφαρναούμ or the variant Καπερναούμ. Flavius Josephus calls the same place Κεφαρνώμην or Κεφαρνακών (Life 72).
Geography and Environmental Paleontology.
The village is situated on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, at a distance of ca. 3 miles (ca. 5 km) from the mouth of the Upper Jordan and 9.3 miles (15 km) from Tiberias. Located as it is within the great Syro–African Depression (Rift Valley), the inhabited area is located at an altitude ranging between 675.9 and 682.4 ft (206–208 m) below sea level. The geomorphology of the region is also, in part, responsible for the climate. The available paleoenvironmental data for the late Hellenistic to ancient Roman era indicate a period of medium to high rainfall and a cold, humid climate. Apart from a period of rising temperature between the third and fourth centuries C.E., such conditions continued throughout the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh centuries C.E.), whereas between the seventh and eighth centuries C.E. a phase of dry heat is recorded, lasting until the end of the era of the Crusades (eleventh–twelfth centuries C.E.), at which point a largely cold and humid climate again prevailed. Additionally, the demographic fluctuations at Capernaum, with a high population peaking during the late Hellenistic to middle Roman (first century B.C.E.–third century C.E.) and ancient and middle Byzantine periods (fifth–sixth centuries C.E.), may have been influenced by climatic changes. Indeed, the most significant archeological remains belong to these periods. In its phase of maximal growth, during the Byzantine period, it is estimated that the locality reached an area of 1.2 miles2 (3 km2, with a built-up area extending ca. 0.9 miles [ca. 1.5 km] along the lake and ca. 656.2 ft [ca. 200 m] inland), with a total of 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants. In the first century C.E. the population probably did not exceed 1,000.
History of the Settlement.
The area appears to have been sporadically frequented during the Stone Age and Bronze Age, but the oldest remains of walls date at most from the twelfth century B.C.E. However, the real history of Capernaum begins after the Exile, as several findings from the fifth century B.C.E. indicate; and the settlement stabilized itself substantially only during the Hellenistic period, starting from the second century B.C.E. This explains why Capernaum is not mentioned in the Old Testament but only in the writings of the New Testament, when it found itself in the territory of Herod Antipas’s (r. 4 B.C.E.–39 C.E.) Galilee, on the border of Herod Philip’s (r. 4 B.C.E.–34 C.E.) Gaulanitis.
In the late Antique and especially Byzantine periods, the settlement enlarged itself in conjunction with the phenomenon of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Several church fathers (Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius) mention Capernaum. The pilgrims recall it in their reports: Egeria (end of the fourth–beginning of the fifth century C.E.), who saw the synagogue and visited the house of Peter transformed into a church; Theodosius (530 C.E.), who reports distances of 2 miles (3.2 km) between Septem Fontes (Heptapegon, et-Tabgha) and Capernaum and of 7 miles (11.3 km) between Capernaum and Bethsaida; and the Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza (570 C.E.), who refers to the “basilica” built over the house of Peter (see Baldi, 1982, pp. 435–443). The description left by Arculfus (670 C.E.) is more precise: lacking walls, Capernaum was situated on the narrow coastal strip contained between hills to the north and to the west and the lake to the south and extended from east to west as far as et-Tabgha. Here rose Capernaum’s other “mountain,” referenced in the New Testament (Matt 5:1, 28:16; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; John 6:15) and visited by Egeria at the end of the fourth or beginning of the fifth century. Her description, which survives in mutilated form, is preserved in the text of Pietro of Montecassino (1137 C.E.) and must have contained the name of this hill (“Mount Eremus”), as is apparent from the missive of Valerius of Bierzo (ca. 630–ca. 695 C.E.). Willebald (723 C.E.) briefly mentions the memorial place of a house and a large wall. Beginning with the Arab invasion of the seventh century C.E., the references of pilgrims to the house of Peter become rarer, while other memories emerge, such as those of the house of John the Evangelist (Epiphanius, ninth century C.E.; St. Helenae et Constantini Vita, tenth–eleventh centuries C.E.; see Baldi, 1982, pp. 439–440).
The orientation and distribution of the settlement’s housing complexes, which in the Roman to Byzantine era had preserved a stable structural layout, were altered, most likely because of the earthquake of 749 C.E. Remains of houses from the tenth century C.E. and scant occupational remains from the periods of the Crusades (eleventh–twelfth centuries C.E.) and Mamelukes (thirteenth–fourteenth centuries C.E.) have been found at much higher levels but scattered piecemeal. Daniel the Abbott (1106) also recalls the house of John the Evangelist, while Johann von Würzburg (1165), Theodoric (1172), and Ernoul (1231) mention the centurion (Baldi, 1982, pp. 441–448) and Ricoldo di Monte Croce (1294), Matthew’s customs dues. In the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries C.E., the accounts of Burcardo da Monte Sion (1283) and Giacomo da Verona (1335) tell of a tiny settlement and of the travelers’ difficulties in entering it, given the hostility of the few fishermen residing there (Baldi, 1982, pp. 449, 452). Starting from the fifteenth century C.E., the area was abandoned (Johannes Cotovicus, 1589) and completely in ruins (Francesco Quaresmi, 1626) (Baldi, 1982, pp. 456–457). In 1668, M. Nau (Baldi, 1982, p. 458) was the last to identify the site of Capernaum and to document the new toponym of Tel Hum. Bedouins from the tribe of Samakiye had established a camp in the ruins and were encountered by the first Western explorers.
Jesus at Capernaum.
Explicit mentions of Capernaum in the narrative of the New Testament are second in number (16) only to those of Jerusalem (Matt 4:13, 8:5, 11:23, 17:24; Mark 1:21, 2:1, 9:33; Luke 4:23, 4:31, 7:1, 10:15; John 2:12, 4:46, 6:17, 6:24, 6:59). After the fate of John the Baptist (Matt 4:12, Mark 1:14) at the hands of Antipas, Jesus “withdrew” (Matt 4:12; literally the Greek can be translated as “departed” or “retired”) to Capernaum. Compared to Nazareth—too close to the centers of power of Sepphoris—Capernaum, sufficiently distant from Tiberias, probably offered greater security. Forty years after, the political neutrality of the village, which also remained uninvolved in the various anti-Roman revolts, allowed Flavius Josephus to find refuge there before moving on to his headquarters at Taricheae (Life 72). With this change of domicile (Matt 4:12–17; Mark 1:14–15; Luke 4:14–15, 31) and the initial preaching of the kingdom, the documented life of Jesus at Capernaum begins.
As a permanent guest in the house of Simon Peter and Andrew, Jesus is considered—officially as well—a resident of Capernaum, where, in fact, he is reached by the tax collectors of the temple (Matt 17:24–27). In the New Testament, Capernaum figures as Jesus’s stable domicile and the center from which his “Galilean activity” radiates. In spite of its marginal position, Capernaum functioned for his preaching as the center of effective and “providential” propaganda (Luke 4:14), directed also toward the neighboring territories of the Decapolis and Phoenicia. Topographical hints such as “beside the sea” and “by the sea” (where the multitude gathers, Mark 3:7–11, 5:21; Jesus teaches, Mark 2:13; teaches while standing on a boat, Mark 3:9, 4:1, and Matt 13:1–34; heals while pausing on the mountain, Matt 15:29–30; withdraws with his disciples, Mark 3:7–9) correspond to the slope of Capernaum, which extends from the wadi of Keraze for about 5 miles (8 km) along the lakefront to et-Tabgha. Here too was the place where Jesus called the first disciples, professional fishermen, to follow him: the brothers Andrew and Simon, later called Peter, and James and John (Matt 4:18–22, Mark 1:16–20, Luke 5:1–11, John 21:1–11). With their father, Zebedee, these last were the proprietors of a boat (perhaps like Peter, Luke 5:3) and were self-employed (Mark 1:20). The calling of Levi/Matthew also took place “by the sea side” (Mark 2:13–14), perhaps by the harbor facilities or along the caravan route (Matt 9:9, Luke 5:27). Egeria reports the tradition of Matthew collecting taxes on the “public road” near Tabgha (Baldi, 1982, p. 412).
The invitation to dine in the house of Levi (Matt 9:10–13, Mark 2:15–17, Luke 5:29–32), a tax collector by social class, provokes the indignation of the Pharisees, who represent the majority of the local population and oversee their religious and social lives (Matt 12:2–9, Mark 6:21); they attentively follow the movements of their new fellow citizen and his group, at times reporting on them to the political leaders (Mark 3:6). One of the important Pharisees, one of the leaders of the local synagogue, Jairus (Mark 5:21–24, 35–43; Matt 9:18–19, 23–26; Luke 8:40–42, 49–56), turns to Jesus to “heal” his 12-year-old daughter. Jesus revives her, speaking in Aramaic (Mark 5:41), which must have been the language used locally, though not the only one. Greek, the language predominantly spoken on the east coast of the lake, was likewise understood, especially given that the area harbored pagans as well. One of them was that centurion who begged the intervention of Jesus on behalf of his servant (Matt 8:6–13, Luke 7:2–10; cf. John 4:46–54). This man, who had mercenary soldiers and slaves in his employ, enjoyed the best of relations with the local Jewish community—indeed, the Jewish elders were to mediate between him and Jesus since the town’s synagogue had been constructed thanks to this official’s sponsorship (Luke 7:3–5).
The variegated picture of society represented in the New Testament—Flavius Josephus records the presence of a doctor as well—does not correspond to a diversity in housing solutions and material culture. The urban fabric brought to light by excavations shows a not particularly level plane, with major roadways—also navigable by carts—and smaller streets circumscribing 12 populated districts. A number of shops and houses, very similar in their distribution of space and building techniques, overlook the main thoroughfare, which flanks the synagogue and the house of Peter.
From the middle to late Roman period, in the heart of the Jewish community, there developed a social minority group described by the contemporary rabbinical sources as minim, that is, “heretics” (Midr. Qoh Rab. 1:8, before 135 C.E.; Qoh 7:26, attributed to Rabbi Issi of Caesarea, end of the third to beginning of the fourth century C.E.; cf. Baldi, 1982, p. 451, n. 1). From an examination of their texts, which concern the profanation of the Sabbath, it is highly probable that this enterprising group, which in its expansion penetrated into the old spheres of Orthodox Judaism, was composed of Judeo-Christians. Their numbers, though always a minority (Epiphanius, Pan.; Baldi, 1982, p. 433), grew notably in the fourth century C.E., enough to merit a general reproach on the part of Rabbi Issi of Caesarea. The demolition of the sanctuary of the Judeo-Christians in order to construct the new Byzantine basilica indicates a demographic change as well. Here, the minim assembled to celebrate the Eucharist and remember the healing and teaching of Jesus in the village; though continuing to abide by the Torah and to attend the local synagogue on the Sabbath, where—given the nature and function of the ancient synagogal institution—public affairs were also administered, the local Christians of Jewish origin were gradually supplanted by Gentile Christians.
Between the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., the population of Christians converted from among the Gentiles became the majority in the village—as indicated, among other things, by the hundreds of dishes in terra sigillata stamped on the bottom with crosses, discovered practically everywhere—provoking an inevitable clash with the Jewish community, now in the minority. It was probably just this demographic event that provoked the construction/restoration of the third synagogue, to be understood as an act of defense and group cohesion, a revindication of social identity on the part of the Jewish population, accomplished not without external economic support. Between the seventh and eighth centuries C.E., in addition to the synagogue and church, various habitations were abandoned, coinciding with a progressive change in the material culture, attributable perhaps to the Islamic conquest.
According to the material or documentary evidence collected in or around the site, the local economy was based mainly on agricultural activities, fishing, and crafts.
According to Flavius Josephus, at that period the springs of et-Tabgha, known to him as “the spring of Capernaum,” furnished a large quantity of water which, with the favorable climatic conditions of the region, guaranteed exceptional fertility for the alluvial and volcanic soil—basalt-based (basaltic brown grumusols and pale rendzina)—by the shore and the fields of red earth (brown rendzina) in the hills. Walnuts, olives, figs, dates, and grapes are expressly mentioned (J.W. 3.10, 8), but grains (Mark 2:23, Matt 12:1, Luke 6:1) were certainly extensively cultivated as well. Indeed, of around 900 fragments of basaltic tools (ca. first century B.C.E.–seventh century C.E.) discovered by archaeologists, some three-fifths are mills for the grinding of wheat—whether of the domestic type (simplex millstone, rotary hand mill, Olynthus mill) or “industrial,” like the large biconical Pompeian donkey mill (Mark 9:42)—and one-fifth belong to installations for the pressing of olives in bulk, hand lever presses, or screw presses, with the remainder being footless or tripod mortars used for various grinding operations. The very few fragments of tools associated with the production of wine belong to the domestic type, yet sculpted grapes appear several times among architectural elements that date from the synagogue’s late Roman and Byzantine phases (third–sixth centuries C.E.). In the convex friezes, it is possible to recognize dates, figs, grapes, olives, and pomegranates.
Between the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., when the level of the lake dropped, large marshy areas were created near the shore. In the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, the motifs of the lateral transept’s mosaics are inspired by the classical Nilotic repertoire but reveal a strong participation on the part of those commissioning the work. In addition to the indigenous fauna—particularly birds (cormorants, doves, ducks, gray storks, geese, herons, swans, cranes, flamingos) but also snakes and rock-rabbits (hyraxes, cf. Ps 104:18; Lev 11:4–8; Deut 14:7; Prov 30:26)—the florae, plants from the local marshy environment, are realistically represented: lotus, oleander, papyrus, and reeds. The water tower depicted in the north transept is one of et-Tabgha’s two round castella aquae, linked in antiquity with aqueducts used for agricultural purposes by the monastic community. Egeria records “foenum satis et arbores palmarum multas” (Baldi, 1982, p. 412), and the Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza was struck by the sight of “wide country, with palms and olive trees” (Baldi, 1982, p. 403). A few olive presses undoubtedly remained in use until the ninth to tenth centuries C.E.
The stretch of coastline between Capernaum and the springs of Tabgha is particularly rich in fish even in the twenty-first century, thanks to the organoleptic characteristics of the spring water: warm, salty, and rich in minerals. The fish are drawn there especially at night (cf. Luke 5:5), when the ambient temperature drops to 10ºC. Here, a number of harbor and dock structures have been identified. The most important consist of two natural inlets (Hale Mataris) protected by a breakwater made of boulders. The larger inlet, in the shape of an amphitheater, also known as the Port of Saint Peter, possesses good acoustic characteristics and could be the scene of Jesus’s preaching from the boat (Mark 3:9).
Farther to the northeast, Y. Stepansky has documented remains of an unusual dry stone structure, with a length of about 1,968.5 ft (600 m), from which extend, perpendicular to the coast, 44 irregular arms, 9.8 ft (3 m) distant from one another. These are interpretable as anchorages or, more likely, as the vivaria (fishponds or fish-traps) mentioned in the rabbinical literature under the name bibarim (m. Beṣah 3:1). In the Byzantine and Islamic periods (fifth–seventh centuries C.E.) the village’s port structures were strengthened by the creation of a seawall around 656.2 ft (200 m) long and equipped with two orthogonal jetties, which plunged into the lake for about 65.6 ft (20 m). Apparently in continuation of these, an analogous wall structure of 984.3 ft (300 m) has been identified farther to the east of the Greek Orthodox property, during work on the construction of the new pier of the national park. Several jetties of triangular or elongated form set against it have been noted, along with various fishing techniques utilized in antiquity: (1) large “seine nets” (820 by 10–26 ft [250 by 3–8 m]), which were cast by two dozen men (Hab 1:14–15; Ezek 26:5–14, 47:10; Matt 13:47–48; B. Qam. 81a–b); (2) wide “trammel nets,” which consisted of five nets combined in order to form a barrier with which to encircle schools of fish (Job 19:6–8, Eccl 9:12, Matt 4:21–22, Mark 1:19–20); (3) round “cast nets” (20–26 ft [6–8 m] in diameter), fastened to a rope and weighted with sinkers (Mark 1:16–18). Such techniques presupposed cooperative labor by a group of fishermen, as is also explicitly suggested by Luke 5:1–11. The activity of fishing was in direct relation with the market of Magdala/Taricheae, with their industrial centers for the processing (e.g., salting; Strabo, Geogr. 16.2.45) and exportation of fish and its derivatives, such as garum (fish sauce).
Excavations have furnished evidence of the existence of diverse artisanal activities. From the early Roman period (first–second centuries C.E.) there are completed products of manufacturing and discards, tied to the production of glass and tools in basalt (first–seventh centuries C.E.). Molds for lamps and two Umayyad kilns (area 8) indicate the production of ceramics (seventh–ninth centuries C.E.). In the Islamic period (ninth–tenth centuries C.E.) limekilns were also constructed. Activity tied to fishing must be supposed as well: the weaving of nets (Mark 1:19, Matt 4:21) and carpentry for the construction and maintenance of boats and piers as well as for the roofs and trellises of houses.
Luke 4:31 describes Capernaum as “a city in Galilee,” and Matthew 9:1 attributes to it the title of Jesus’s “own town.” The settlement, however, for all its considerable importance, never had an urban character. Flavius Josephus (Life 72) confirms the status of village (κώμη) and its Semitic toponym.
The Roman milestone (second century C.E.) with Latin inscription—Imp(erator)/Caesar Divi/[Traia]ni Par(thici)/F(ilius) [Divi Nervae N]ep(os) Trai[anus/Ha]drianus Aug(ustus)—discovered around 1,600 ft (ca. 500 m) northeast of the town center, near the burial area, indicates that in the imperial era the preexisting branch of the Via Maris (Isa 9:1, Matt 4:15), the ancient caravan highway between Egypt and Damascus that hugged the west side of the lake, was improved.
This road’s passage by Capernaum necessitated, inasmuch as it was a border area, the placement of a tax-collection post (Matt 9:9, Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27), contracted out to special officials. The publican Levi/Matthew was probably one of these (Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27). The collection of customs duties had to be overseen by a small garrison of soldiers, under the jurisdiction of a “centurion” or royal official (Matt 8:5–13, Luke 7:1–10, John 4:46–54), probably one of the mercenaries of the tetrarch Antipas (Matt 14:1, Luke 9:7), often referred to as “king” (Matt 14:9, Mark 6:14, Acts 12:1).
It is not always easy to interpret the architectural system of the village because of the superimposition of different phases of buildings. Generally speaking, it is possible to trace a continuity of architectonic systems from the Hasmonean period to the sixth century C.E., whereas a new building phase, independent of the preceding, was realized between the eighth and thirteenth centuries C.E.
The construction techniques of Roman and Byzantine domestic structures show no discrepancy. These were built with basaltic fieldstone, generally unworked or only rough-dressed, except at the corners or doorposts, and fitted in place with light mortar composed of marl or limestone and clay. The walls were superficially smoothed by a layer of pebbles covered with a clayey, lime-poor plaster. The organization of their space was dictated by semi-open courtyards that communicated directly or by means of a vestibule, generally with a double door, to the street. Between the pilasters and coarse columns were set a bell-shaped tannur (bread oven), tools for grinding wheat, basaltic mortars, and sometimes small domestic olive presses. Against one of the load-bearing walls there was always a flight of masonry stairs permitting access to the roof terrace used for various purposes. Some houses had a second story. The upper floors were made of wooden beams covered with woven plants and finished with a mixture of straw and compacted earth, periodically maintained with circular stone presses. A varying number of rooms—up to 12, in some cases intercommunicating—were radially disposed. These were rooms intended to accommodate various families belonging to the same clan. In certain cases small courtyards farther within served to carry air and light into the house through a series of windows, with monolithic jambs and architraves, atop a low stylobate. There do not seem to have been glass windows. The pavements were generally formed from cobbled boulders on top of which stretched several layers of packed earth composed of marl or limestone. There were no cisterns or water reservoirs; water was apparently taken directly from the lake. The only canals discovered were connected to the limekilns.
The high-grade architecture of the mausoleum (first–second centuries C.E.), with five sarcophagi of limestone, eight kokhim (long, narrow shaft graves carved in the rock) situated 600 ft (ca. 200 m) to the north of the inhabited area, and several rich contemporaneous hoards (especially of glass dishes), could be considered the only indications of a high standard of living. The same applies to the private spa buildings (second century C.E.) partially surveyed to the southeast of the settlement. It is not necessary to associate them with a Roman military presence. In the latter half of the third century C.E., however, it is likely that Capernaum was affected by the presence of Roman soldiers stationed along the limes Arabicus or Palestinensis.
To consider the methodological approach of the scholars of the architecture of Galilee properly, one should accept material culture (chalk vessels, Herodian lamps, Kĕfar Hanania and Kĕfar Shikîm pottery, kokhim tombs) as ethnic indicators—as proof, together with the rabbinical literary sources of the Roman period (first–fourth centuries C.E.), of the prevalence of ioudaioi (Jews or Judeans) in the settlement. Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. 315–403) seems to confirm it in telling the story of Joseph of Tiberias (Pan. 30:11, 9–10, 12, 1–2.9). A Judaic presence at Capernaum is attested up to the sixth century C.E. by the mosaic inscription in Aramaic of the synagogue of Hammât Gader. As Arculfus (670 C.E.) is silent regarding the presence of the church and the synagogue, the lack of explicit mention of the two buildings on the part of Willebald may indicate their abandonment. Certainly, following the earthquake of 749 C.E., the buildings were taken apart and their materials used for the production of lime in the nearby kiln of area 8.
As the most studied monumental complex in Capernaum, the synagogue is also the most discussed, especially regarding its chronology. It is possible to identify a succession of three synagogal structures that arose above each other on the same spot, which in the Hellenistic epoch was occupied by a residential quarter of the village. In brief, according to the research, these phases are defined as shown in the table.
Phases of the Synagogue
|I||Second B.C.E.–first C.E.||Dwelling area||Wall and pebblework remains||Archaeology|
|II||First C.E.||Basalt synagogue||Pebblework pavement and atrium||Mark, Luke, John|
|III||Fourth C.E.||Intermediate basalt and limestone synagogue||Basalt perimeter wall and limestone archaeological elements||Egeria
|IV||End fifth–beginning sixth C.E.||Limestone synagogue||Monumental building with spolia architectonic elements||Existence|
The gospel narrative tells of a synagogue in Capernaum during Jesus’s time, which had been completed thanks to the benevolence of a pagan official and was large enough to contain a good number of people arranged along its walls (cf. Mark 3:3; Luke 4:35, 6:8). The administration of the community that attended the synagogue was led by a council of elders, which included scribes from the Pharisee movement, among them Jairus. On the Sabbath (cf. Mark 1:39; Luke 4:16), discussions regularly occurred, in some of which Jesus, accompanied by his followers, also took part—teaching (Mark 1:21–22, Matt 7:28, Luke 4:31–32, John 6:59) and healing (Mark 1:23–28, 3:1–6; Luke 4:33–37; Matt 12:9–14; Luke 6:6–11). With the inclusion of 6:24–59, the fourth gospel also sets the celebrated discourse on the bread of life here: 1. What is principally known of the most ancient synagogue (Corbo’s stratum A) is an extensive basalt floor, 66 by 26 ft (20 by 8 m), discovered at a depth of 5.9 to 6.6 ft (1.80–2.00 m) beneath the pavement of the central nave of the white synagogue’s prayer sanctuary (stratum C). The building, which stratigraphic evidence assigns to the first Roman period (beginning of first century C.E.), must have been flanked to the east and south by an atrium or courtyard, from which traces remain of a large wall and pavement, still partly visibVle in the twenty-first century beneath the raised Byzantine terrace and largely hidden under the white synagogue’s eastern courtyard. The remains of the preceding habitations (second century B.C.E.–first century C.E.) that occupied the space beneath the white synagogue’s west nave (Corbo’s stratum A) have been interpreted as the probable substructures of the masonry wall of the building from the first century C.E. 2. To the intermediate building belongs the double-faced basalt wall (exterior 80.4 by 61.7 ft [24.5 by 18.8 m], interior 72.2 by 54.1 ft [22 by 16.5 m]) that runs beneath the entire perimeter of the white synagogue. This wall (Corbo’s MB, for “basalt wall”) is visible beneath the west and south sides and has been documented under the east and north sides. The foundations of the eastern courtyard, conversely, visible on the east side near the road, are formed from large square blocks of basalt worked with chisel point and are set on the MB, which is therefore anterior. The MB is all that remains of the foundations of the fourth-century C.E. synagogue, which persisted in the same location as the preceding but covered a much larger area. The elevations, analogous to what is observed in the more recent structure, were constructed with blocks of white limestone. At a certain moment, probably following the earthquake of 363 C.E. or during the phase of reconstruction, a dwelling—of which the south entrance, the floor, and two tannur remain—was temporarily established within the perimeter of the building. 3. Between the last years of the fifth and the first of the sixth century C.E., as indicated by stratigraphic surveys, the MB, raised by one to two courses, became the retaining wall for the artificial filling of stones, earth, and scraps from the stonework, which forms the elevated podium (Corbo’s stratum B), upon which the Byzantine white synagogue was built. This structure, partially restored, was developed upward over two floors and included four main sections: the prayer hall, the eastern courtyard, the southern raised terrace, and a genizah (depository), set against the northwest corner of the prayer hall.The prayer hall is oriented with its facade toward Jerusalem. It has a rectangular, basilical floor (the interior measuring 75.5 by 56.7 ft [23 by 17.28 m]), divided up by continuous stylobates, forming two lateral aisles to the east and the west, and another, perpendicular aisle to the north. These stylobates (3.2 ft [0.98 m] wide) held 16 Attic pedestals, upon which rose the columns that, without their Corinthian capitals, reached 12.3 ft (3.75 m). The two corner columns to the north are bilobate, and consequently, the Attic pedestals and capitals are also respectively doubled. Their capitals, with large entablatures surmounted by cornices embellished by curved friezes showing scrolls of acanthus, supported a balcony. Two rows of masonry blocks, dressed with white stone like two benches with recessed profile, are arranged along the east and west inner walls, though not the north. As in other Galilean synagogues, the focal point of the room was obviously the southern wall, both inner and outer, for which the more ornamental architectural solutions were intended. Inside, for a width corresponding to the first intercolumniation, stood the aron ha-kodesh (cabinet or niches where Torah scrolls are kept), integrated into an elevated and highly ornate architectural structure with gabled cornices with double-arch foundations, two stylophore lions, twisted small columns and semicolumns, conchiform basins, and curved entablatures decorated with lively and populated acanthus, between which one finds the famous frieze representing the ark on wheels, in the shape of a tetrastyle temple with gable pediment. The external facade, provided with three entrances, was divided into two levels by a projecting cornice, in which there was a large arched window atop two central pilasters intended to bring light into the interior.The prayer hall communicated directly with the eastern courtyard by means of a door that interrupts the stone blocks to the east. Its layout developed a somewhat trapezoidal shape (75.5 by 2.6 by 41.3 ft [23 by 0.8 by 12.6 m]) with the central space sub divo (open to the sky), surrounded on three sides by a straight portico of columns on plinths. Three doors opened in the north wall and two in the south, allowing passage from the courtyard to the exterior, while three large windows opened on the east side. Along the southern facade of the prayer hall extended the raised terrace, which was ascended by two flights of stairs at its east and west ends. A third staircase has been identified near the northeast corner of the courtyard and is related to the three entrances existing therein.For this construction heterogeneous architectural materials from a monumental building of the second to third centuries C.E. were reused (e.g., the Attic pedestals of the courtyard, the lintels of the entrances to the prayer hall): architectural elements originating from the intermediate synagogue of the third to fourth centuries C.E. (e.g., Attic pedestals, capitals, architrave of the door between the sanctuary and the courtyard) together with elements made ad hoc for the last large reconstruction (e.g., capital with Jewish symbols, architraves of courtyard windows). To this last epoch also dates the large deposit of around 24,000 scattered coins within the filling of the podium (stratum B) and above all embedded in a uniform layer of mortar about 11.8 inches (30 cm) thick (stratum C), on which both the stylobate and the slabs of limestone flooring were placed. The deposit—sealed by the mortar and the slabs—thus constitutes, together with the other findings, an important terminus post quem for the last phase of construction. According to statistical sampling, the more recent coinages date to the reign of Zeno (r. 474–491 C.E.), though research has pushed the terminus up to the time of the emperor Anastasius I (r. 491–518 C.E.). The more recent coinages, from the sixth and seventh centuries C.E., discovered in the stone-block repository, provide a chronological horizon for the last period of the structure’s use.
The House of Peter.
Having received the hospitality of Simon and Andrew, the itinerant rabbi Jesus takes up residence in their house as well, transforming it from the abode of fishermen to a “public” place where the crowd assembles and he meets with, heals, teaches, and debates them and privately instructs his disciples (Mark 1:29–39, 2:1–12, 3:20–35, 4:10–11, 7:17–23 [cf. Matt 15:1–20], 9:33–37; Matt 8:14–17, 9:1–18, 12:46–50, 13:36–43, 18:1–5; Luke 4:38–43, 5:17–26, 8:9–10, 8:19–21, 9:46–48). Even if one recognizes an underdeveloped ecclesiological dimension in Mark, Mark 3:20–35 documents elements typical of a new core of believers, a new family of Jesus in the house of Simon and Andrew—set in opposition to those outside—who gather around the teacher standing in their midst and encouraging them.
In the complex traditionally identified as the house of Peter, four phases have been archaeologically identified (see table).
Phases of the Traditional House of Peter
|I||First B.C.E.–first C.E.||House with courtyard||Enlargement of room 1: conversion into meeting place||Mark, Matthew, Luke|
|IIa||Second–fourth C.E.||Domus-ecclesia (house-church)||Room 1: lime-plastered floor and first wall painting, perimeter enclosure wall||Qoh Rab|
|IIb||Late fourth– beginning fifth C.E.||Domus-ecclesia enlargement||Atrium and vestibulum, new roof held by arch and second (and third?) wall painting||Egeria|
|III||Fifth–eighth C.E.||Byzantine basilica (martyrium)||Octagonal church paved with mosaics, baptisterium, and agricultural installation||Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza|
|IV||Ninth–eleventh C.E.||Islamic-era large building||Covered the remains of the church and part of area 2||Archaeology|
I. Area 1 from the late Hellenistic era (second–first centuries B.C.E.) was covered by a group of dwellings bounded to the east by the main street of the village and to the north by a lane that separated it from area 2. Perhaps a road passed to the west as well, while to the south stood a second inner courtyard, surrounded by various residential rooms. This quarter is the southernmost identified by the excavations and practically abutted the lake. The typology of the residential complex is in keeping with that seen in the other 11 quarters: entrance from the east, through an open space giving onto the main street, a central courtyard to the north (with remains of fireplaces and stairs) with residential rooms arranged around it, and an inner courtyard to the south (with remains of stairs). The best-preserved structures pertain to the living quarters to the north that formed part of an originally quadrangular courtyard, of which the entry threshold also survives. In connection with the continuous cultic transformations and attestations related to this domus (house), area 1 has been defined as insula sacra (sacred area). IIa. Starting from the second half of the first century C.E., a particular room in the eastern sector (room 1, called the “venerated room”) began to receive special attention, with an iterated series of beaten limestone floors, a completely unique instance among all the masonry techniques in the village. This same room, originally rectangular, was enlarged (around 26.2 ft [8 m] per side), occupying the southeast corner of the courtyard. Toward the third century C.E. the walls were plastered with colored plaster, as was the floor, which was elevated with a filling by around 15.7 inches (40 cm). During the fourth century C.E., on a polychrome floor, there was added a central north–south arch, which, dividing the room in two, supported a new concrete roof. The final iconographic program, including vegetable motifs (branches, trees, flowers, pomegranates) and architectural backgrounds (veils and false marble), seems to reproduce a scene of a heavenly garden behind a trellis. IIb. Around 360 pieces of graffiti—crosses, symbols (a boat, Christological cipher), and inscriptions chiefly in Greek but also in Syriac and Aramaic—were traced on the plaster by local Christians and by pilgrims who frequented the sanctuary since late antiquity. Among these was Egeria: “The house of the prince of the Apostles [i.e., St. Peter] in Capernaum was changed into a church, where the Lord healed the paralytic. The walls [of that house] however, are still standing as they were [in the past].” This testimony is precious because it identifies the typology of the structure as a domus-ecclesia (house-church) and reports the belief that it was the house of Peter repeatedly mentioned in the gospel—the one in which Jesus healed the paralytic—that it had even in antiquity been transformed for community use, and that in her time it still had its original walls.From the fourth century, the area was enclosed by a heavy perimeter wall with only two entries at the western ends of the north and south sides. By means of the small plastered courtyard or the two staircases to the south, one ascended to a rectangular atrium—having likewise a plastered floor—and from there to the two small quadrangular spaces that functioned as vestibules for entry to the area east of the venerated room. III. Toward the last quarter of the fifth century C.E., the local shrine—in all probability under the direction of the local Christian community of Judeo-Christians (the minim mentioned by rabbinical sources)—was partly torn down, and on the space left by its destruction was erected a martyrium on a central plan, formed by three concentric octagons on three levels rising toward the center. The semioctagonal exterior was connected to two eastern pastophoria that flanked a projecting apse, in whose interior was placed a quadrangular plaster baptismal font. The middle octagon served as an ambulatory, guaranteeing access on each side to the central octagon, the focal point of the complex, constructed precisely over the venerated room. The anterior enclosure continued to bond the shrine. The mosaic flooring, simpler and rougher outside but more refined toward the interior, showed geometrical lozenge motifs, vegetable motifs with Nilotic plants, and, in the middle of the central emblem, a peacock. The presence of the baptistery is linked to neophyte pilgrims more than to the local Christian community. Service rooms and facilities for the pressing of olives, situated at the southern perimeter, suggest the presence of an organized ecclesiastical community. One cannot exclude that this complex had a monastic character. IV. Probably after the earthquake of 749 C.E., the ruined Christian edifice was disassembled as far down as the mosaic floors, which were covered by a large building difficult to interpret that followed only part of the load-bearing walls. This building stretched to the north, covering part of area 2.
It is likely that the most ancient image of the octagonal basilica at Capernaum mentioned by the Anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza is to be identified with the columned building depicted in the mosaic in the north transept of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha. While in the Roman era the area of the springs had been almost uninhabited—being little adapted for cultivation because of its rocky substratum, that is, those outcroppings of limestone conglomerates that served since antiquity as a quarry—in the Byzantine period, starting from the second half of the fourth century C.E., three religious buildings of a Christian character were erected: a semirock chapel on the southern slopes of the Mount of Beatitudes (Matt 5:1–12) and, on the lakefront, the early shrine of the Apparition of the Resurrection (John 21:1–14). Not far away in space and time, but after the reign of the emperor Honorius (r. 395–423 C.E.), currency from which was discovered in the foundation of the apse, the primitive chapel in memory of the multiplication (Mark 6:30–46) was constructed as well.
Egeria’s text tells of the evangelical memories preserved by these buildings, as well as of the devotions performed in the principal shrine, that of the multiplication, where the pilgrims would “carry away” pieces from the stone “on which Jesus placed the bread” and which “has been transformed into an altar, which they want for their own well being, and which bring benefit to all” (Baldi, 1982, p. 412).
It is likely that the block of limestone, which emerges in the area of the Byzantine basilica and later obliterated the original chapel, was initially at the center of the apsidal basin. Apart from its layout, which was single-naved with a projecting apse and an enclosed atrium before the facade, nothing has been preserved.
Similarly, scant remains survive of the architectural structure of the contemporary early chapel of the Apparition of the Resurrection, where likewise a natural block of limestone, showing signs of excavation activity, projects in the eastern sector. During the excavation it was noted that the walls of the structure retained traces of the original lime-based plaster. Later memoirs refer to the block and by extension the inner sanctuary as Mensa Domini (table of the Lord) or Mensa Christi (table of Christ). Soon, between the end of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth centuries C.E., construction of a new chapel proceeded on the same site, likewise single-naved but with an arch in the area of the apse. The focal point remained the stone table. Apart from the main entrance opening to the west, a small door connected the church to the southern portion of the rocky outcrop that extends toward the lakefront. Here, one finds the five carved steps that Egeria, citing John 21:1–4, defines as those “on which the Lord stood” (Baldi, 1982, p. 412).
In the Chapel of the Beatitudes as well, where Egeria mentions the spelunca (or specula) “climbing which the Lord pronounced [the discourse of] the Beatitudes” (Baldi, 1982, p. 412), rock constitutes the element around which evangelical memory has crystallized. It has rightly been noted that the construction of the sanctuary, which took place between the fourth and fifth centuries C.E., on the steep slopes of the “mountain,” must have involved no little technical difficulty in excavating an entire cliff face where the chapel was raised, as well as that single nave, and an exterior narthex before the facade. Also, according to the palimpsest of graffiti discovered on the plaster of the northern wall, which recalls that of the domus-ecclesia at Capernaum, it is plausible that the rocky quadrangular room communicating directly with the center of the nave by means of the door and where the graffiti inscriptions and crosses are concentrated is identifiable with the venerated “grotto.” A small monastery is spread on several levels surrounding the chapel.
Between the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., a spacious and highly elegant Byzantine basilica, triple-naved with ample transept and two pastophoria (prothesis and diaconicon), replaced the more modest earlier Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. An articulated series of liturgical and artisanal annexes surround the sacred building to the west and east. An oil press with two storerooms was accessible from the exterior narthex. In front of this was an enclosed atrium provided with an underground cistern, along whose west and south sides were situated around 10 small rooms, most likely interpretable as monastic cells. Some larger rooms on the south side could have functioned as communal spaces.
The iconography of the mosaic floor adorning the intercolumniations and transepts is inspired by the classical repertoires but also includes depictions of the main local flora and fauna. On the panel of the north transept there appear depictions of three masonry buildings that, alongside the octagonal church, almost certainly represent the same monastic settlement and one of the area’s Byzantine water installations: the round towers of Tannûr Ayyūb, or Hammām Ayyub, perhaps the large octagonal castellum aquae of Birket ʾAli Daher. The monastic works of hydraulic engineering are also indicated by the motif of the Nilometer, surrounded by lacustine vegetation and birdlife, depicted in the south transept. The memory preserved by the sanctuary is represented in the celebrated motif of the two facing fish placed heraldically on either side of a basket of loaves bearing the sign of the cross, originally situated behind the table supported by four columns on the venerated rock, at the feet of the synthronon. The position of the “stone transformed into an altar” described by Egeria in the chapel beneath must have been similar. Some repairs of the mosaic were carried out in the sixth century C.E., as indicated by the mention of the patriarch Martyrius of Jerusalem in the dedicatory inscription in the apse. The dedication to Sauros in the other Greek inscription emphasizes the sacred character of the place.
Analyzing the overlap of the two buildings on a map, one can see that the new church covers a larger area than that of its predecessor, from which it also deviates because of a differing general axiality, apart from that of the north side of the perimeter wall, which maintains an oblique course, probably to accommodate a preexisting structure. In fact, it is not otherwise possible to understand the resulting triangular space that was created in the lower part between the north perimeter wall of the northern transept and the innermost of the two storerooms connected to the olive press. Such a structure could have been a preexisting road. Already Egeria, referring to the underlying chapel, remembers that “near the wall of the church runs the public road, where the apostle Matthew had his customs post” (Baldi, 1982, p. 412).
The literary and archeological evidence indicates that the Christian presence at Tabgha lasted longer than in the village. In the eighth century C.E., the original mosaic pavement and the wall plastering of the Chapel of the Beatitudes were in good part restored. And the census conducted for the Commemoratorium de casis Dei of 808 C.E. found, near the monastery of Heptapegon “where the Lord fed his people,” 10 monks and, near the “church named for the twelve thrones by the sea,” where “the Lord was with his disciples and where the table at which He sat with them is found,” one presbyter and two clerics (Baldi, 1982, p. 405). Successively, up to the era of the Crusades, it seems that the only sanctuary remaining in operation was that of the Apparition of the Resurrection near the lakefront, mentioned by the name of Mensa-Tabula, Mensa Domini, or Church of the Twelve Thrones. It is probable that this last appellation, in connection with the promise of the Resurrection (Luke 22:29–30), is to be linked to the six segments of unadorned bilobate columns aligned by the shore. Magister Thetmarus (1217 C.E.), while recognizing the memory of the multiplication on the nearby mountain, notes that the church on the site was destroyed by the Saracens (Baldi, 1982, p. 417). The information is also confirmed by a letter of Louis IX, king of France, to Pope Urban VI, from which it appears that the “Ecclesia de Tabula” was destroyed by Baibars in 1263. Ricoldo di Monte Croce (1294 C.E.) celebrates the memory of the multiplication by singing the gospel, eating bread and fish on the nearby mount, and then descending to locum Tabulae (the place of the table; Baldi, 1982, p. 420). The toponym Tabula also appears in the cartography of the time (e.g., Carta Fiorentina, thirteenth century C.E.). The two-story fortified tower (51.2 by 39 ft [15.6 by 11.9 m]) some 32.8 ft (10 m) to the north of the stone table, with imposing walls 9.8 ft (3 m) thick, dates to the era of the Crusades.
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Stefano De Luca