Saturday 9 March 2013

The importance of Capharnaum

Capharnaum is the place Jesus chose as the centre of his mission in Galilea. (Lk 4:31). This is a choice of great importance. The town was smack on the Via Maris that comes up from Egypt along the Mediterranean coast and then crosses the country towards Damascus, constituting thus a great link between Africa and Asian, from Egypt to Syria, Mesopotamia and up to India, open therefore to international, religious, social, economic and cultural contacts and relations of every type. In fact, on the southern shore of the Lake of Tiberias, there were at the time rich cities, populous and importante, such as Magdala, Genesaret, Capharnaum itself and Bethsaida.

Further, Capharnaum was situated on the borders of the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great and Maltace) and that of his step-brother Philip (son of Herod the Great and Mariamne II), a border that was marked by the entry of the river Jordan into the Sea of Galilee. This has a certain importance in the life of Jesus, who was never completely at peace with that Herod, the one who killed the Baptist (see Lk 9:7-9; 13:31-33; 23:6-12). The capital of Herod, from about 17 AD, was Tiberias, a Jewish-pagan city that perhaps Jesus never visited, erected by Antipas in honour of the emperor Tiberias, and about 13 kms away from Capharnaum. The tetrarchy of Philip was instead more safe, because it was only partly Jewish, with a mixed population. Its territory, in the north-east of the Lake of Tiberias, consisted of Batanea, Traconitidis, Iturea, Gaulanitidis, Auranitidis. We see Jesus often crossing the Jordan to the safety of the other shore, in these areas which for him were more peaceful, or climbing the Golan heights, towards Caesarea Philippi, the capital of the tetrarchy.

Capharnaum, therefore, was an ideal place for that universal openness announced at Nazareth, and, besides being an important place for international contacts, offered Jesus greater security, because it was easy to get away from in case of danger. Jesus, therefore, fixes there the centre of his activity, and from what we know, in the house of Simon Peter. (Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 2.2:98-99)

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