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The White Synagogue of Capernaum


The White Synagogue

Jewish Capernaum

Today, while visiting the Sacra Insula, one can visit the remains of a Byzantine-era 4th Century Jewish Synagogue (The White Synagogue) of Capernaum and also see the foundations of a First Century Synagogue. I have written 4th Century although archaeologists do not agree upon the date of the construction of the synagogue or how many synagogues lay below the White Synagogue.

The synagogue which stands on an elevated position oriented north-south – facing Jerusalem, was richly decorated and was built of imported white limestone, which would have contrasted dramatically with the local black basalt of the rest of the village. The “white synagogue” has a basilica-type plan, with a small terrace on the front (south) and a court on the east side. All three entrances are in the south wall. There is a layer of black basalt foundations beneath the white synagogue. Archaelogists disagree whether their was a second story, and if so, if it was a women’s section The ancient synagogue has two inscriptions, one in Greek and the other in Aramaic, that remember the benefactors (Halfu, son of Zebida,Herod son of Mo[ni]mos and Justus his son) that helped in the construction of the building. There are also carvings of five- and six-pointed stars and of palm trees.

According to Christian tradition a Gentile centurion built the community’s synagogue (Luke 7:5).

The synagogue as it appeared in 381 was described by the Spanish pilgrim, the Lady Egeria, who reported that the way into the structure was up many steps, and that the building was made of dressed stone.

Both the church and synagogue were destroyed prior to the Islamic conquest in 638. Historians disagree regarding who destroyed the church and who destroyed the synagogue. The remains of the synagogue were first identified in 1866 during a survey by the British cartographer Captain Charles W. Wilson.

White Synagogue
White Synagogue

Christian Capernaum

Capernaum was Jesus’ main base during his Galilean ministry, called Jesus’ “own city” (Mt 9:1; Mk 2:1) and a place where he lived (Mt 1:13).

Here in Capernaum Jesus healed a paralytic (Mk 2:1-12) and St. Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14-15; Mk 1:29-30).

According to Christian tradition Jesus taught at the Capernaum synagogue. (Jn 6:54)


3D Virtual Tour Synagogue at Capernaum 1

3D Virtual Tour Synagogue at Capernaum 2


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