This is the most beautiful sea in the entire world.
Jesus loved this place. We are going from the west to the east, and we are near the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus spent about 18 months of His greater Galilean ministry in this area. In the first century this was one of the most popular spots of the Bible Lands, a center of activity. One writer called this portion of Jesus' life the "Galilean Springtime". This was the time when so many people believed in Him and coming to Him. It was the time of the feeding of the 5,000 and of Jesus’ teaching and preaching in the towns and villages around the Sea of Galilee.
We are looking a little to the right to the modern city of Tiberius. It was built on the site of ancient ruins of Tiberius. Little excavation has been done here because of the city over the site. It is said that the city was built by Herod Antipas in about 18 AD. He was courting the favor of the Tiberius Caesar, so he named the city after him. Josephus later recorded that it was built over a cemetery, and for that reason, the Jews avoided the town. They believed that by walking on a place that touched a cemetery, they would be declared unclean and could not participate in temple worship. There is no mention that Jesus ever went to Tiberius. In fact, the only mention of it at all is in John 6:23, “However, boats from Tiberius came near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks.”
Here are the most famous of all the ruins of Capernaum. These are the ruins of the ancient synagogue. Luke 7:5 tells us that a centurion had built the synagogue for the Jews. He came to Jesus and asked him to heal his servant. Those Jews with Jesus told him that he should do so, because of what the centurion had done for them. Jesus converted the tax collector from this town. His name was Matthew. Two of the most important people in the city of Capernaum, the centurion and the tax collector, came in contact with Jesus.
This synagogue is the best preserved of all the ancient synagogues. In fact, this one and the one that has been found at Masada are the two oldest synagogues. This one was excavated by Charles Wilson in 1866. He thought this was the synagogue Jesus had taught in. The excavation continued, and in 1905 two German archaeologists by the names of H. Kohl and C. Watzonger decided that the synagogue was built on the foundations of the first century synagogue. Evidently, it was built around the close of the 200’s or the beginning of the 300’s. You will remember that in 70 AD Titus the Roman general, destroyed synagogues, the Jewish temple and as many of the Jewish towns as he could. Josephus recorded this destruction. So the synagogue that Jesus worshipped in was probably on this very spot, and what we are seeing are the remains of a second century synagogue.
This is the west side of that synagogue. We are on the outside and the entrance is on our right. We read of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum in Matthew 8:5, with the account of his meeting with the centurion. Matthew 9:1 tells us that “Jesus came into his own city.” Jesus had been rejected in Nazareth, so He moved the center of His teaching to Capernaum. That is why this place was so important to the work of Jesus.
The interior measures 70 feet by 50 feet. Mark 1 and Luke 4 make reference to Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. Luke also tells us that it was his custom to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. The word “synagogue” is a combination of two Greek words, “syn” meaning "with", and “agogue,” meaning "to go or to go together" or "with". The word, at least in idea, corresponds to our word "congregation". A place where people have come together, they have gone with each other.
The columns that we see in the center probably formed the colonnade at the rear of the building. There were seats around three sides. There was probably a balcony or a gallery for the women, and these columns would have supported it.
These columns have been stacked with some of the pieces missing. They were originally taller. The stone on the left marks the place where the men would have been seated. The front of the synagogue has not been reconstructed. That is probably where the Torah would have been kept. The Torah was the Pentateuch, or the first books of the Old Testament. Passages from the Torah were always read in synagogue worship. After the ruler of the synagogue had read from the Law, he could call on anyone else in the assembly to read from the Psalms and the prophets and comment on them. In Luke 4 we read about Jesus in the Synagogue in Nazareth, and he read from the prophet Isaiah, a passage that he fulfilled, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
This is the north wall of the synagogue. When did the synagogues come into existence? There are no passages in the Old Testament to indicate that God ordained synagogues. They probably came into existence during the time of the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews wanted to keep a remembrance of the city of Jerusalem and their covenant with God.
This is the northwest corner where there was probably a stairway to the gallery for the women. Behind us is the south end, where the entrance to the synagogue was. One writer has said that the Temple was for sacrifices, feast days and worship, and the synagogue was for teaching. It would have been the hub for Jewish life. The town would have been built around the synagogue. Tradition says that where there were 10 Jewish families, or 10 men who were heads of families, a synagogue should be built. Their tithes would support it.
You can see that these columns have Corinthian capitals. The influence of the Greeks was ever present with the Jews in their building of the synagogues.
There were 2 rows of seats, such as you see around the wall. Only the men were seated here, probably, with the women in the balcony. Some accounts tell us that a screen separated the men from the women. There were probably 3 doors at the front of the synagogue, with another door in the side and a few small windows. Kahl and Watzinger, two German archaeologists, have constructed a model of this synagogue, and J.C. Heinrichs has made a reconstruction of it, showing an ante-room in the area where we are standing.
This is the backside of the synagogue. In the far corner would have been the stairway to the balcony.
This ante-room was right of the entrance to the synagogue. The ante-room would have been a storage room for scriptures. Some of the most valuable finds of ancient manuscripts came from a geniza, a storage room for scrolls of the Old Testament. They were never destroyed when they got too old to be used, so they were retired to the geniza. One of the most important of the Old Testament manuscripts was found in the synagogue in Cairo, Egypt.
There was probably an entrance here on our left from the ante-room into the synagogue itself.
The excavations in front of the synagogue indicate that the village came right up to the synagogue. The black stone is basalt, a native stone. All of these ruins were first century. Peter and Andrew, brothers in the fishing business, lived here. Their partners were James and John the sons of Zebedee, and Matthew was a resident of this town. Matthew made a farewell feast for Jesus and invited his friends to see Jesus, according to Luke 5.
Additional excavations were made in 1953 and 1954. From these excavations we see two different kinds of stone, the white limestone and to the immediate left, dark basalt. These steps are on the southeast corner. Jack Finegan, a noted archaeologist, says that the black stones are from the first synagogue that Jesus taught in. When Titus destroyed the synagogue in 70 AD, the ruins lay there for some time, and then the new building was constructed upon the lines of the first century building.
Just beyond the steps you can see the black basalt that would clearly indicate that these are ruins from the first century.
These steps were probably reconstructed on the same spot as the original ones. There would have been an entrance at the front of eastern end and another one at the opposite end.
We are looking toward the south, toward the city of Jerusalem. Capernaum comes from 2 words: "Cafer", or "Kafer", meaning "village", and "Nahum", who could have been the Nahum the prophet of the Old Testament. Some think that this was the village of Nahum. For many years the Arabs referred to this as the Tell Hum. A "tell" is an artificial mound or man-made mound which contains ruins.
A Byzantine church was built in the midst of these ruins in the 5th century. All of this property is owned and controlled by the Franciscans, a group of Catholic monks. They have done much of the excavation work. One of them was an archaeologist named Arfalee. In 1921 he began clearing in this area. He cleared most of these ruins and the site of the Byzantine church. References in the Patristic writings indicate that tradition says that Peter’s house was in this area. A woman by the name of Atheorya made her first visit to these ruins in 835 AD, and she wrote that the Byzantine church was built over the house of Peter. Of course, we have no way of knowing whether this is correct, but Peter did live in Capernaum, and these ruins form part of that great city. It has been estimated that the population was about 10,000.
Here at the northeast corner of the ruins are excavations that are still being made. Funds are limited for this work. Much of the Bible Land has not been excavated, because each site would take thousands of dollars to be completed.
These ruins are on the east side of the synagogue. Jesus performed more miracles in Capernaum than at any other place. The Judean Jews looked down at the Galilean Jews. They felt they were not as spiritually minded as they were. "Galilee" is our translation of the Greek word "Galilaia", which was a transliteration of the Hebrew word "Galil". It literally meant "circle". They were encircled by the Gentiles. Matthew referred to it as "Galilee of the Gentiles". The Phoenicians were to the northwest. Jezebel came from Phoenicia. The Syrians were to the northeast. Samaria and Scythopolis (Bethshad of the Old Testament) were on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. The province of Galilee was completely surrounded by the Gentiles. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The critics of Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Search and look, for out of Galilee rises no prophet?” (John 7:52)
The Franciscans have collected a number of objects from the synagogue and from the walls that surrounded it to display in this open air museum. Here you can see a cluster of grapes. There are no pieces cared with human forms. The Jews felt that they would be breaking the second commandment, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” and even today in Israel, there are no representations of presidents, generals, or heroes on the coins.
These stone scales are all that is left of the carving of a fish. The only Jewish king whose image was carved in stone and still exists was Jehu. Shalamanezer, the Assyrian general who took this country, made an obelisk showing Jehu bowing down before the general. This obelisk (and obelisk means “finger”) is in the British Museum.
No one knows what this carving represents. Some archaeologists, including Jack Finnegan, think it is the Ark of the Covenant on a cart. Others disagree. The ark was carried by the priests, but there were rings at the corner and poles which fit through the rings. This allowed the ark to be carried without being touched. The ark was transported on a cart during the reign of David. Uzzah put forth his hand to steady the ark when the oxen stumbled, and he died. However, this representation is from the 2nd and 3rd century and could be what those people thought the ark looked like.
This gate lintel was probably not a part of the synagogue but a part of the gate at the entrance to the courtyard.
This is part of an architrave, perhaps from the front of the synagogue. The Star of David is on the left, then some dates, pomegranates or some olives.
These are more of the walls decorations, which added to the beauty of the synagogue.
The guides call this an "olive press", though it could have been used to press any number of things. The larger stone below was the container for whatever was being pressed, and the smaller stone on the top was rotated. Sticks were used to push the olives or other materials under the grinding stone, and the oil was collected from the side. In our study of Jerusalem we pointed out that Gethsemane was the word for olive press.
This container could have been for grain or oil.
The Byzantines, coming from Byzantium, later called Constantinople, between the 4th and 8th centuries, Christianized the people and built churches throughout the Bible Lands. This was another Byzantine church. It was evidently in an octagonal shape, and this was part of the mosaic floor. It was supposedly built over the house of Peter.
From these ruins we can see the Sea of Galilee, a little more than a hundred yards away. Much of Jesus’ ministry was spent here, but toward the last, He condemned Capernaum, along with several other cities, for not repenting. In Luke 10:13 it says, “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon , they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.”
Capernaum is at the north end of the Sea of Galilee about 2 or 2 ½ miles from the entrance of the Jordan River to the Sea. We are looking toward the east at the shoreline of Gadara. In Gadara lived a man named Legion, because he had so many evil spirits. Jesus cast them out, and the evil spirits went into 2,000 swine. The swine ran down a steep hill into the sea and drowned.
To the west is Tiberius, about 6 to 7 miles from Capernaum. We will take a boat trip from Capernaum, so we can see the shoreline from various directions. This sea is 13 miles long and a little over 7 miles wide. The Jordan comes in at the north end and exits at the south end. The Sea of Galilee is the largest body of fresh water in Palestine.
The sea is a little rough; there are white caps. A storm arose on the Sea of Galilee while the apostles were in a boat at night, and Jesus came walking on the water. On another occasion, Jesus was asleep in the bow of the boat when a storm arose. The disciples awoke Jesus, and he calmed the storm by saying, “Peace, be still.” This beautiful sea is about 165 feet deep at the deepest point, though some say it is 200 feet deep.
We are told that there are 40 different species of fish in the Sea of Galilee. When you visit the Sea today, you will be served what is called "St. Peter’s fish". This is where Peter caught a fish by Jesus' instructions and found a coin in its mouth, a shekel, for the temple tax for himself and Jesus.
Here the sea is calm. In the Old Testament it is called the "Sea of Chinneroth", in Numbers 34:11. Luke uses this same word in the Greek of the New Testament in Luke 5:1. He calls it the "Lake of Gennesaret". The Hebrew word "Chinneroth" was the word for" harp", because the sea is shaped like a harp. Actually, it is not a sea, and Luke was more accurate in calling it a lake.
We have moved a number of miles away from the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea, Philippi. 3 small streams blend to make the Jordan River. The Jordan and some streams that are in the Sea itself supply the Sea of Galilee and then it flows from the south end toward the Dead Sea. Here is the lifeline of Palestine. Caesarea Philippi was ancient Paneas. It was named after the Roman god "Pan". The Arabs corrupted the word, calling it "Baneas". Idols were set up in these caves. The stream before us is Leddan, and it joins Dan and the Hasbany to form the Jordan.
Here in the northernmost point in the Bible lands is the Dan River. This is the land the tribe of Dan received as an inheritance. The phrase “Dan to Beersheba” describes the Promised land from the northern to the southern extremes.
The lush green is not typical of the Bible lands. Snows from Mount Hermon melt and flow to help form the Dan River. The Golan Heights are in this area.
Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, threatened the people with higher taxes, and there was a rebellion. Jeroboam took ten tribes to the north and formed Israel. Rehoboam was left with the two tribes in Judah. Jeroboam set up a golden calf here at Dan to keep the people of his territory from going to Jerusalem to worship.
Much of the Bible land is hot and dry and has very little vegetation. This is especially true in Judea. But this section is like a rain forest. It is truly the land flowing with milk and honey. Israel has made this into a national park.
This is the Jordan River. Jordan means “descender.” It descends from here into the depths of the Dead Sea, which is 1300 feet below sea level.
We see the River here as it leaves the Sea of Galilee. John the Baptizer baptized Jesus in the Jordan. However, it was not near this spot; it was closer to Jerusalem.
These are Eucalyptus trees which have been planted in modern times. They come from Australia, and the Israelis have planted them to recreate the vegetation in the Jordan valley.
The Jordan Valley is a land of plenty today. It reminds us of the time Jesus was here, when this was probably the breadbasket of all Israel.
We are at the south end of the Sea of Galilee. It is 696 feet below sea level. I have noticed that many men, in leading prayers, thank God that Jesus was willing to come to This “low ground of sin and sorrow.” The sea Jesus loved was almost 700 feet below sea level. This area is the lowest point on earth. From here down to the Dead Sea, which is 1300 feet below sea level, the Jordan River carves out this low place on the face of the earth. It is called “ghor”; our word “gorge” is similar. So Jesus truly came to a low ground when He came here.
This is one of the crossroads of the Bible lands. The Via Mares or Way of the Sea skirted the north end of the Sea of Galilee. It came within 6 miles of the city of Nazareth where Jesus spent his childhood. It went down the Plain of Megiddo and crossed through the pass there. From there it went to the Mediterranean and on down to Egypt. This land was not isolated in the time of Jesus. People coming from the land of the Hittites would pass by the way of the sea. All of those that would come from Assyria, Babylon and Persia passed through this area of the world when they were traveling to Egypt.
We are taking a last look at the Sea of Galilee at the point where the Jordan River begins its journey to the Dead Sea, 65 miles away. Jesus was rejected by the Jews who said that no prophet ever came out of Galilee. How could they reject Jesus when he did so many mighty works? This is the land Jesus loved; this is the place where He performed most of his miracles. Galilee of the Gentiles. We are reminded of the words of Isaiah, “They that sat in darkness saw a great light.”
Original text and slides from "Bible Cities and Geography", ©1974 Star Bible Publications. Unlawful to duplicate or reproduce in any form or manner. Used by permission. Various edits and new audio recordings by the Bible Study Center 2006-2014.
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