Biblical Archaeology Review 19:5, September/October 1993

Capernaum: From Jesus’ Time and After

By John C. H. Laughlin

The Gospels record an incident in the life of Jesus that took place at Capernaum involving a Roman centurion and his sick slave (Luke 7:1–10; for slightly different versions, see Matthew 8:5–13 and John 4:46–53). In the Lukan account, the Roman centurion sends elders of the Jews to ask Jesus to come and heal his servant. The Jews speak very favorably of the Roman, even reporting that he had built a synagogue for them. Jesus immediately responds but is met by the centurion while en route to his house. The man asks Jesus, in apparent humility and faith, to just “say the word” (Luke 7:7) and his servant will be healed. Jesus praises him for his faith, and the story ends with the report that the slave has been made well.

New evidence indicates that Romans indeed lived in Capernaum in the first century A.D. Moreover, far from being a poor, isolated village, Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, was quite prosperous and was apparently home to gentiles as well as Jews. In the centuries that followed, Capernaum expanded and continued to prosper, in part as a Christian pilgrim center, in part as an important fishing and commercial center, and in part as a haven for displaced Jews. It continued to include a mixed population of Christians and Jews, as well as others.

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