The town of Jesus. Home of the apostle Peter.
One of the cities cursed by Jesus

Aerial photo of excavation of Capernaum.
Spaceship shaped Franciscan church, built in 1990, covers site of Peter's house.

Gate at Capernaum (alt. Capharnaum)

Located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum became a primary base for the ministry of Jesus following a brief time in Nazareth (where He grew up).

Matthew 4:13-16 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali- 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles- 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (NIV)

Located in the tribal territory of Naphtali, close to the area of Zebulun (where Nazareth was located), it certainly was a fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1-2 as quoted by Matthew. This city is not mentioned in Old Testament times and was founded in inter-testament times. Based on coins dating from the second century B.C. it was likely founded at the beginning of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Large enough to be classed a city in New Testament times, its' name means "village of Nahum". It had become a city of both Jews and Gentiles, again making the term "Galilee of the Gentiles" quite fitting.

Jesus frequently taught in Capernaum and it is the site of a number of His miracles. Located on a major highway through the region (on a branch of the Via Maris), it easily assisted in the spreading of news concerning Jesus to the country north and south.

Mark 1:21-28 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are - the Holy One of God!" 25 "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. 27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching - and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (NIV) [See also Luke 4:31-38]

It was at Capernaum that Jesus taught one of his "hard" teachings, that He was the bread of life, which resulted in a number of followers abandoning Him.

John 6:43-69 "Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. 44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (NIV)

The Romans not only had a garrison of soldiers at Capernaum but also used it as a base for regional taxation. It appears from Scriptures that the synagogue in Capernaum was built by Roman soldiers, either directly through physical labor or indirectly through contributions.

Luke 7:1-10 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well. (NIV) [See also Matthew 8:5-13]

Posted Sign

A room in the synagogue on a cold and rainy day. People for perspective.

Room in the synagogue on a bright and sunny day

The presence of Roman soldiers would have safeguarded one of the most hated activities in the land, namely the aforementioned tax collectors. Yet, it was from among this despised profession that Jesus chose one of His disciples.

Matthew 9:9-13 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (NIV) [See also Mark 2:14, Luke 5:27-32]

It was also at Capernaum that a group of itinerant tax collectors, from Jerusalem, sought payment of the temple tax. The temple tax was an annual "head tax" on all Jewish males, twenty years and older, for the purpose of supporting the temple (... not the tithe, as many erroneously presume). The didrachmas was equivalent to one half shekel of sanctuary currency, the amount necessary for one individual (based on Exodus 30:13-14). This tax was due before the 25th of Adar (equivalent to our February or March). The coin Jesus assured Peter he would find in the fish's mouth was a double didrachmas, which would have been enough for two persons.

Matthew 17:24-27 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" 25 "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes - from their own sons or from others?" 26 "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. 27 "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." (NIV)

Beyond Matthew, the tax collector, it was at the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum that Jesus called the fishermen James, John, Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:16-21, 29). As the primary base of Jesus' ministry Capernaum is actually referred to as Jesus' own town...

Matthew 9:1 Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. (NIV) [Compare with Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:13-14 to establish location]

Note also that Capernaum was now the location of Peter's house. Originally from Bethsaida, and though Peter now followed Jesus wherever He went, his wife and mother-in-law still kept house here.

Matthew 8:5a, 14-15 When Jesus had entered Capernaum... 14 When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. (NIV)

Peter's house, turned into an ancient church. Now under the "spaceship" church.

Chart showing how the original first century home was turned into a church.

Even though much of Jesus' ministry was centered around Capernaum, overall the people of that town did not follow Him. Due to their unbelief, Jesus pronounced a curse on this city along with nearby Korazin and Bethsaida.

Matthew 11:23-24 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (NIV)

Luke 10:15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. (NIV)

As always, this prophecy was fulfilled completely with Capernaum being subsequently destroyed and never re-inhabited.

View of ancient house walls of Capernaum. Wet and cold day.

Synagogue in background. Note stairs in foreground for another building.

View of ancient house walls of Capernaum. Sunny day.

More ancient building ruins. Galilee in background.


Ornate design on bulding block

Ancient geometric symbol later used as "Star of David"

Grapes and pomegranates in building decorations

Image of ark (on a cart). Maybe ark as returned to Israel by Philistines in 1 Samuel.

Grinding Stones

Grinding Stones

More on Peter's house: An octagonal mid-fifth century ecclesiastical structure built around an earlier one-room dwelling dated to the first century A.D. The central octagonal shrine, enclosing a dry-wall basalt structure, was surrounded by an octagonal ambulatory similar to the ambulatory in the Rotunda of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This room contained within the central octagonal shrine appears to have been part of an insula (a complex of small single-storey residential rooms and courtyards). Towards the end of the first century it was put to public use, likely as a private home used as a church. The plastered walls of the enshrined room were found covered with scratched graffiti in Aramaic, Greek, Syriac and Latin, containing the words "Jesus", "Lord", "Christ" and "Peter".

The enshrined room is presumed to be the "House of Simon, called Peter" reported by the Spanish pilgrim, the Lady Egeria, who visited the town sometime between 381-384 during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She described in some detail how the house of Peter had been made into a church, with its original walls still standing. In the mid-fifth century, this room was enshrined within an octagonal-shaped building. This was the church later described by the 6th-century Piacenza Pilgrim who wrote, "The house of St. Peter is now a basilica."

More on the site: Like the nearby synagogue, the octagonal-shaped church was destroyed early in the 7th century. The village, badly damaged by an earthquake in 746, was rebuilt a short distance to the northeast (area of the present Greek Orthodox Church), but little is known of its subsequent history, decline and eventual abandonment sometime in the 11th century.

The site was "re-discovered" in 1838. In 1866, the ruins of the synagogue were identified, and in 1894, a portion of the ancient site was purchased by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. The principal Franciscan excavations took place in 1968-84. Excavations at the adjoining Greek Orthodox site were carried out in 1978-82.