Today I visited the home town of Jesus – Capurneum or spelt Capharnaum – and the River Jordan. Both key sites in the New Testament biblical story. And the sort of holy places that the crusaders believed they were defending in the medieval era.
Capurneum or Capharnaum – whichever you prefer!
Capurneum is confusingly spelt Capharnaum – as I discovered on arrival. As with many historic sites in Israel and the region, the main buildings you see are actually from the late Roman era. There’s very little left from the time of Jesus – the beginning of the Roman Empire.
And then there’s the effect of earthquakes. A devastating quake in the eighth century flattened many towns and villages severely affecting Capurneum. Between 746 and 749, there were a series of earthquakes with one very significant incident called the Galilee Earthquake. Jewish accounts of the time referred to it as the Seventh Noise.
I visited several Roman era sites and you could see that firstly they declined under Muslim rule. But the killer blow was the seismic activity. That resulted in even famous towns of antiquity being abandoned forever. On my visit to Jordan, I found many cities of the biblical Decapolis suffered terribly from these quakes.
The synagogue at Capurneum – or Capharnaum
The most popular part of Capurneum is the synagogue where it’s thought Jesus would have worshipped. The pillared remains I saw actually date from the late Roman Empire so about three to four hundred years after Jesus. It was identified as a synagogue by the British archaeologist Charles William Wilson in the 19th century.
Wilson is famous – or notorious – for mapping out the whole of Palestine for the British authorities. This was as much about extending British influence in the region as finding historical secrets. However, Wilson is well known in Templar circles for having excavated the Knights Templar tunnels under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Franciscan activity in the Holy Land – including Capurneum – or Capharnaum
One thing I couldn’t help noticing in Israel was the presence of the Franciscans. They bought the site of Capurneum and have painstakingly restored it alongside the archaeologists. But why are they so ubiquitous in Israel? Well, it goes back a long way. For 800 years, the Franciscans have been involved in protecting the “holy places” of Christianity. This is referred to as The Custody of the Holy Land and dates back to 1217.
The much reduced river Jordan
After I left Capharnaum – I went to the River Jordan where some people were being baptised, much like Jesus! But what really strikes you is how small the river appears. Given its role in the bible, you expect to see something much more significant. And I’m afraid man-mad activity – such as the diverting of water to other projects – has reduced its flow massively in the post-war era.