THE SYNAGOGUE OF CAPERNAUM
After leaving his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus Christ settled in Capernaum. According to the Gospel, the Savior performed many miracles and spoke many parables and teachings here. A revelation was made in the Capernaum synagogue, foreshadowing the celebration of the Church's main Sacrament - the Communion of Believers in the Body and Blood of Christ. Evangelist John quotes Jesus as saying, "I am the Bread of Life that came down from Heaven, and whoever eats it will live forever."
The people of Capernaum, on the other hand, were unconcerned about the Good News. Their contentment with earthly life kept them from focusing their hearts' desires on eternity. Then Christ delivered a stern verdict to the city: "And you, Capernaum, who ascended to heaven, will descend to hell." When these words were spoken, the people to whom they were addressed most likely did not take them seriously. However, seven centuries passed, and the prosperous settlement, through which trade routes ran from the Mediterranean coast to Asia Minor, was destroyed, and its exact location became the subject of debate among researchers.
This was the case until the first wave of archaeological research in the Holy Land - that is, until the 19th century. In 1838, the American explorer Edward Robinson was the first to suggest that the ancient ruins on the shores of the Sea of Galilee are nothing more than the remains of Capernaum. 28 years later, an archaeological expedition led by the Englishman Charles Wilson not only confirmed this assumption but also identified a Jewish synagogue in the ruins of a public building located in the center of the settlement.
THE CASE OF CAPERNAUM SYNAGOGUE
The land, which demanded a careful scientific investigation, was purchased and fenced off to protect ancient artifacts from plunder by Catholic Franciscan monks. They continued their investigation at the turn of the twentieth century. Monk Gaudenzio Orfali, a doctor of archeology, devoted his entire life to researching the ancient Capernaum synagogue. He was certain that this was the very structure where Christ himself delivered the sermon.
ARCHEOLOGISTS ABOUT CAPERNAUM SYNAGOGUE
Archaeologists led by Gaudenzio Orfali were successful in restoring a portion of the ancient facade from the ruins. During the restoration process, it was discovered that the synagogue's walls were made of white limestone and that it was surrounded on three sides by rows of high columns. Sculptures of palm trees, vines, lions, and centaurs adorned the interior. The view from the large window was to the south, to the vast expanse of the lake and the distant outlines of the bluish hills beyond which lay Jerusalem.
Stone seats, on which the scribes and Pharisees sat, were preserved on the synagogue's western wall. The department was located in the building's northern wing. According to Dr. Orfali, it was from here that Christ uttered the words, "I am the bread of life that came down from Heaven."
Gaudenzio Orfali worked tirelessly to restore the ancient Capernaum synagogue. A car accident in 1926 abruptly ended the monk-life archaeologists and work. However, he was responsible for the majority of the restoration activities at this historic site, and after his death, the work stalled for many years. And, for a long time, Dr. Orfali's dating of the building was uncontested.
It wasn't until 1968 that scholars from the Franciscan School of Biblical Research in Jerusalem returned to Capernaum to conduct archaeological research. And they discovered coins from the second half of the fifth century under one of the stones that cover the floor of the ancient synagogue! It turns out that Gaudenzio Orfali was mistaken, and the building was constructed four centuries later, not in the first century.
Further research revealed that the synagogue building has two distinct levels. The upper section is made of limestone blocks that can weigh up to four tons each. The stone was most likely extracted from a quarry not far from here. The ruins were known as the "White Synagogue." According to researchers, it was built by the Jewish community of Capernaum in the fifth century after Christ's birth.
The foundation of the building, however, which was discovered thanks to trenches dug next to the ruins, differed significantly from the superstructure. Because it is made of black volcanic stone, archaeologists dubbed their discovery the Black Synagogue. This foundation was discovered in the first century, according to researchers. The building Christ visited appears to have been destroyed during the Jewish War at the end of the first or beginning of the second century. After a while, a new one was built on its foundation, made of white limestone.
LATE VERSION OF CAPERNAUM SYNAGOGUE
The fact that the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II issued a ban on the construction of new synagogues in 439 lends credence to the version that the later building of the "white synagogue" was built on an ancient foundation. Because the coins discovered at the base of the floor of the "white synagogue" date from the fifties and seventies of the fifth century, implying that they were issued after the passage of this law, the conclusion is that the construction was carried out by Jews under the guise of resurrecting an old, lost structure.
Dr. Orfali's hopes were realized, and his efforts were rewarded: the synagogue where Christ preached did stand in the exact location indicated by this enthusiastic archaeologist. However, there were stones on which the Savior's feet stood a little deeper - and this fact became a scientific discovery.
VISIT CAPERNAUM SYNAGOGUE TODAY
A visit to the Capernaum Synagogue is one of the most fascinating experiences for Jews in the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, as well as Christians who follow in Jesus' footsteps. The synagogue in Capernaum has been beautifully preserved thanks to the site's maintenance and preservation work.