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THE NAME

The original Semitic name of the settlement is Kefar Nahum i.e. the village (kafar) of Nahum (personal name). It is not possible to identify this Nahum after whom the village was named. Some ancient writers bypassed the problem of identification since they took Nahum as a common noun. For instance, Origen interpreted Kefar Nahum as "the village of consolation" from the etymological meaning of the Hebrew root nhm (consolation); whereas St. Jerome in some cases translated the same name as "the beautiful city", from the Hebrew root n'm (beauty).

The Lake of Galilee on whose shores lies Capharnaum

The Lake of Galilee

The composite name Kefar Nahum is always rendered in non-Semitic languages as a single name, and the guttural h has been dropped altogether. In the Greek manuscripts of the Gospels two spellings occur, i.e. Capharnaum (Kafarnaouvm) and Capernaum (Kapernaouvm). The first transcription "Capharnaum", closely following the Hebrew pronunciation and adopted also by Josephus Flavius, is the right one, while the spelling "Capernaum" is rather an idiom of the district of Antioch.

Apparently the old Semitic name Kefar Nahum was still in use even after the village had been deserted. In fact the Jewish traveller Ishak Chelo (1333) writes: "from Arbel we reached Kefar Nahum, which is the Kefar Nahum of our sages".

Two centuries later, however, the ruins are called Tanhum. Uri of Biel (1537) writes: "Tanhum. Here rabbi Tanhum is buried". Most probably the presumed tomb of R.Tanhum gave the new name to the ruins. In a parallel way, the biblical town of Bethany near Jerusalem was renamed el-Arariyeh in Arabic, from the Lazarium, i.e. the tomb of Lazarus. The local Bedouins pronounced the new name Tanhum as Talhum, changing n in l. The spelling, recorded for the first time by Fr. Michel Nau (1668) is still in use.

Finally several travellers and archaeologists misinterpreted Talhum as Tell Hum, i.e. "the ruin" (tell) of Nahum - the initial n being dropped.

remains




© 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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Created / Updated Monday, December 17, 2001 at 18:38:51 by John Abela ofm
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