The site of Capernaum is perhaps the most visited site in the Galilee on any tour of the Holy Land. This is where Jesus taught and where he cast out an unclean spirit (Mark 1.21-28, Luke 4.31,32). So many pictures are taken of groups visiting the impressive synagogue structure built from dazzling white limestone.
But do you know that this structure is a reconstruction, not the actual synagogue Jesus taught in? The synagogue that Jesus taught in was built using the dark basalt stones available near the Sea of Galilee. To read about the series of ongoing archaeological excavations that led to this revelation in 1981, visit this blog: The Synagogue of Capernaum in Which Jesus Taught by Leen Ritmeyer.
1981’s excavation revealed walls made of basalt stones and a basalt floor 4 feet below the surface of the current floor. These walls were located underneath the walls of the white synagogue and also under the low walls that support the rows of columns. When 1st century material was found on and below the basalt floor, it became evident that these basalt walls belonged to a synagogue of the 1st century—the synagogue that Jesus taught in. Some of the trenches have been left open and the remains of this early synagogue can be seen today.
Picturing this synagogue built out of dark stones (rather than while limestone) gives me a deeper understanding of Matthew 14:12–16 and the prophecy it refers to from Isaiah 9:1–2:
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea and returned to Galilee. He went first to Nazareth, then left there and moved to Capernaum, beside the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what God said through the prophet Isaiah:
“In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River, in Galilee where so many Gentiles live, the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”
Jesus brought hope and light into an area of the country where the buildings were built of dark stones, a metaphor for an area under constant threat of invasion.