In 2015 we posted here about some changes that we noticed when we visited Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. These changes were more like refurbishing the site to make it easier and more pleasant to visit.
Today we will show you a significant change brought about by a new building. Having visited Capernaum many times since 1967 I have been able to see many changes. This church that some have described as looking like a space craft is built over the excavation of a Byzantine church that covered some of the first century houses. One of these house is said to have been designated as a place for Christians to meet. The Franciscans who own the property have designated this as the house of Peter. We know from Scripture that Peter lived here with his wife and mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14).
Capernaum was located on the frontier between the territory of Herod Antipas and that of Herod Philip. The city became important in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Notice just a few events that make it so significant.
- Jesus settled here, making Capernaum His “own city” (Mark 1:232-34).
- Many of the miracles of Jesus were performed here (Mark 1:21-28).
- Matthew worked as a tax collector at Capernaum (Matthew 9:9).
- Peter lived here (Matthew 8:14).
Capernaum was one of three cities of the area denounced by Jesus on account of their failure to believe (Matthew 11:20-22 ESV).
If you visit Capernaum you will see the building pictured below that some have described as looking like a space craft. It was built about 1990. The entrance with steps leading up to the glass floor is on the west side of the building (to our left). Our photo shows the south side; we have our back to the Sea of Galilee. The building is located 84 feet south of the synagogue (*Strange).
This modern building was erected in 1990. It covers the excavated ruins of the octagonal Byzantine church and what some have said is the house of the apostle Peter. This view is to the north, with the Sea of Galilee to my back.The entrance steps are on the left, and the synagogue is on the other side of this building. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
James F. Strange says,
Friar Orfali had done some work on the octagonal building in the 1920s. His plan showed the building as consisting of three concentric octagons.
When the excavations were renewed by Corbo and Loffreda in 1968 they discovered a baptistry and an apse providing evidence that this was indeed an ancient church (Strange).
It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that this octagonal church at Capernaum was a memorial church. Some scholars believed that the octagonal church was built to memorialize Jesus’s temporary residence in Capernaum and may well have been connected with ancient memories or traditions regarding the location of St. Peter’s house, also called “the house of Simon and Andrew” in Mark 1:29.
Below is today’s Favorite Foto that I made in 1978. The floor of the new “memorial church” has a glass floor so that one can look below at the ancient structure. It is now difficult to make photos with ordinary photographic equipment because of the glare from the glass. Visitors to the site may also walk under the new church, but it is difficult to make sense of what is there.
This is the way the excavated area of Capernaum looked in 1978. We see ruins of the octagonal Byzantine church which is said to have been built over the house of the apostle Peter. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.
Strange says, “According to the excavators, the central hall of this church was originally built as part of a house about the beginning of the Early Roman period, around 63 B.C.”
I will leave it to you to investigate more about this structure and the possibility that Jesus visited this home during His personal ministry in Capernaum.
* Source: When you see the name *Strange in one of my comments it indicates that the information was quoted directly or gleaned from the following source:
Strange, James F., and Hershel Shanks. “Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 8, no. 6, Oct. 1982. Biblical Archaeology Review. BAR.
If you are interested in a recent scholarly essay on the excavations at Capernaum see he following:
Mattila, Sharon L. Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods. Vol. 2, edited by David A. Fiensy and James R. Strange, First ed., Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2015, 2 vols, pp. 217-57.
Special Note about the Fiensy-Strange Volumes: The two volumes by David A. Fiensy and James R. Strange, Galilee in the Late Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods…, are currently available in Kindle Format as follows: Vol. 1, 352 pages, for $4.99 (pb is $50.33). Vol. 2, 502 pages, for $6.99 (pb is $26.00). James R. Strange is the son of the late James F. Strange quoted in my post. I am pleased with the quality of the diagram and photos display.