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THE VILLAGE - inhabitants

St. Epiphanius informs us that until the fourth century A.D. the population of Capharnaum was entirely Jewish: "This praxis, forbidding any one of a different race to live among them (i. e. among the Jews) is particularly followed in Tiberias, in Diocaesarea (i. e. Sepphoris), in Nazareth and in Capharnaum". On the other hand, some passages of the Mishna stress that the Jewish population of Capharnaum during the first three centuries of the Christian era formed two distinct and antagonistic blocks: Orthodox Jews, and Minim or heretics. From the context it is clear that those Minim of Capharnaum were Jews converted to Christianity, i. e. Jewish-Christians.

The boat

The Boat - a contemporary fishing boat recovered from the lake

Already before the second Jewish Revolt of 135 A.D. this Jewish-Christian community of Capharnaum had reached even the high sphere of Orthodox Judaism by converting to the sect rabbi Hanina, the nephew of the famous rabbi Jehoshua. "Hanina, son of the brother of Jehoshua, came to Kephar Nahum, and the Minim worked a spell on him, and set him riding on a ass on the Sabbath. He came to Jehoshua his friend, and he put ointment on him and he was healed. He (R. Jehoshua) said to him: Since the ass of that wicked one (i. e. Jesus) has roused itself against thee, thou canst no longer remain in the land of Israel. He departed thence to Babel, and he died there in peace" (Midrash Qoh Rabba I:8).

Two centuries later between the end of the third and the first decades of the fourth century, the Jewish Christians of Capharnaum had substantially increased to the point that Rabbi Issi of Caesarea cursed the inhabitants of the village. "Rabbi Issi of Caesarea explained this verse in reference to Minuth...Good is Hananijah, nephew of R. Jehoshua; bad is the population (ad litteram: the sons) of Kefar Nahum" (Midrash Qoh Rabba VII: 26).

We cannot jump to the conclusion that all the inhabitants of Capharnaum were Minim at that time. On the other hand R. Issi could not pass this heavy sentence against "the sons of Capharnaum" if the Minim constituted just an insignificant segment of that village.

It is difficult to tell when exactly and to what extend the Gentile-Christians (i.e. Christians converted from the gentiles) supplanted the Jewish-Christian community of Capharnaum. There is however no reasonable doubt that the mid-fifth century octagonal church was built by Gentile-Christians.

In the Byzantine period Orthodox Jews kept living in Capharnaum alongside Christians who in the meantime increased considerably. The sharp increase of Christians among the inhabitants of Capharnaum is clearly documented by archaeological findings; in fact, in any sector of the village so far excavated, most of the houses were provided with imported bowls having stamped crosses.

Bowl

A bowl with a stamped cross unearthed at Capharnaum

In the early seventh century many houses were abandoned and left to ruin, suggesting that the old population of Capharnaum, i.e. Jews and Christians alike, left the site. The fact that in the early Arab period both the synagogue and the octagonal church were abandoned seems to suggest that the newcomers were predominantly Moslems.



© copyright 2001. Text written by Fr. Stanislao Loffreda ofm. Reproduction, retrieval or redistribution of this material is not permitted without prior permission of the author reachable at the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (sbfnet@netvision.net)



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