Essay: The Study of Four Biblical Cities

The city of Capernaum (village of Nahum) a city on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee. The city is important because it is the home of the Apostle Peter and becomes the center of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. “Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum” (Matt 4:13).
Location; the NW edge of the plain of Gennrsaret, in existence from the 2nd BCE to the 7th CE, Capernaum was built along the edge of the Sea of Galilee and had up to 1500 residents. ‘Capernaum is Tel Hum, 2.5 miles farther NE than Khirbet Minyeh.’
Antiquities: ‘among the ruins of Tel Hum an octagonal-shaped building is shown as Peter’s house, but it is more likely the remains of a church, perhaps the one mentioned by Etheria (385) as one site of the home of the apostle Peter.’ According to the web site ‘biblewalks.com’, ‘ The village first started to be inhabited during the 3rd Millennium BC in the early Bronze period. It was a small village of several houses, which was in the area controlled by the Biblical city in Tell Kinneret, located 3 KM to the west.’ It continued through the 2nd Millennium, as surfaced in the excavations, in the area around the center of the Roman village. During the Israelite/Iron period (1200-587BC) there was a break in the population, which was restored in the 5th C BC (the period of the returns of the exiles to Zion).

The village expanded in the Hellenistic period (4th-3rd C BC), gradually replacing the focus from Tell Kinneret – as most of the Tel’s in Israel at that time. It was designed according to that period’s urban design of straight lines, which was built in parallel to the main Roman imperial highway, which crossed the village on the northern side. It grew larger at the time of Jesus (early Roman period, 1st C AD), and a synagogue was built in the center of the village. It reached its peak in the Byzantine period when the grand white-stone Synagogue was built (4th C AD) over the earlier synagogue. An octagon church was built in the 5th C AD at the location of St Peter’s house, and serviced the Christian citizens. At that time the village covered about 60 Dunams (6 Hectares), with a population of about 1,500. Note that the excavated area that is seen today is only 1/3 of the entire size of the village. The village prospered in the Roman and Byzantine periods, and its citizens were mainly fishermen (as most of Jesus apostles), farmers, and people that provided services to the Roman road and caravans, including tax collection (as was Matthew). Capernaum was partially destroyed in the Persian conquest in the 6th C AD. The synagogue and church were destroyed in the Arab period (7th- 12 CE), but the village continued to function at that time. It then was totally ruined. The synagogue in Capernaum is among the best preserved in Palestine, rests possibly on a site that was in Jesus day. The description of the synagogue is sixty-five feet long and two stories high which makes it an imposing building. The dating of this synagogue is debated, but it is clearly later than the first century. Excavations have revealed a synagogue from the time of Jesus with walls made of worked stone and 4 feet thick. These earlier walls were preserved up to 3 feet high and the entire western wall still exists and was used as the foundation for the later synagogue.
Miracles: Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed servant of the centurion was healed, a paralytic, carried to Jesus by the four friends and let down through the roof, picked up his bed and walked. ‘There is a larger significance is indicated by the presence of a Roman centurion & detachment of troops, a customs station, and a high officer of the king. Capernaum is not mentioned in the OT is no argument against its prominence at a later period.’
The Arabs destroyed the city in the seventh century & when the Franciscans acquired the site in 1891 it was nothing but a wasteland strewn with engraved stones. Among the carvings are typical Jewish motifs such as a shofar, menorah, Star of David and mobile ark of the covenant. ‘The Ruins of an extant third and fourth century white marble synagogue are built over what is judged to be an earlier black basalt synagogue (where Jesus probably spoke).’ This was a place of community and more than religious practice went on there.
Move from Nazareth to Capernaum, Matthew 4:12-17 Jesus moved to a place to do his public ministry in Galilee over the next three years. ‘There are practical reasons for this move such as poor hospitality in Nazareth, number of disciples following him were from the Capernaum area, and the highway runs closer to that city.’ The fulfillment of Biblical prophesies for Jesus to be on the highway in the Galilean area. Also there were activity in the vicinity of Capernaum such as what is written in Luke chapter 4:31-37. An exorcism in the synagogue, ‘after describing the ministry in Nazareth, Luke presents Jesus as going down to Capernaum. Luke informs the non-Palestinian readers that Capernaum is a city of Galilee and about the synagogue located there inside the city.’
Luke also describes in 4:38-44 the Healing at Simon’s House, mother-in-law sick with a fever Jesus heals her and gets up to serve everyone. Luke 4:40-41 Jesus heals everyone who came to be healed before the on the Holy day ended. The theme to Jesus teaching often reverted to preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven.

Megiddo

The Tel-Megiddo had discoveries of humans through the flint tools and a few shards of pottery that dates back to as early as Neolithic period and the seventh and sixth century, Chalcolithic period the 5th & 4th millennia. Megiddon is also a name for the hill top city. The description in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, ‘A royal Canaanite city in the north-central Israel overlooking the valley of Jezreel, it passed into the hands of the Israelites and become a Major administrative center.’ It was called Legio in the Roman times but it carried a Jewish name of Cephar Otnai.
The Canaanite period flourished as an urban center beginning in the early (Bronze Age). The city gains a reputation among its enemies as a strong city and it is mentioned in Egyptian documents. The city became involve in a rebellion against the Pharaoh Thutmose III and it took a great deal of time 7 months to capture the fortification. There is a Quote about the battle, ‘it is better to try to take 1,000 cities than Megiddo.’
The Israelite Period from the books Joshua and Judges mention Megiddo as one of the Canaanite cities that Manasseh was unable to conquer. Bible says, ‘and this is account of the levy which king Solomon raised; to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Milo, and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer’.
The final days Megiddo exited the stage of history after the Israelite period. During the time of the Persians most of the structures damaged, it was abandoned. A near by city Legio (as mentioned above) was established by the Roman Legion, most inhabitants of the city moved to the south west to the Kfar Othnai. Megiddo is also indentified with ‘Armageddon’ of the New Testament book Revelation, the future battle of the end times.
The ruins include several sights such as a Reservoir; the impressive staircase descends from the Israelite period city gate to a plastered pool. Four chambers the gate was built during the late Canaanite period but at the time the city was not fortified flank the Canaanite city gate. The Canaanite palace is a massive stonewall the remains of the once great place is just passed the gates. The Israelite gate is a part of the rebuilt city had more chambers than its predecessor and was a part of the walls of the palace. Two stable complexes (said to have housed 2000 horses) where found the northern stables show the importance of a Calvary guard and the important commerce of trade. The northern palace beneath the stable complex lay the remains of a square building featuring thick walls dating to Israelite period. Several ideas as to whose palace it was but nonetheless it is a central area was possible courtyard surrounded by walls. The northern observation point amounts to a tower over looking the Jezreel valley. The temple area dates from the early Canaanite period with at least 20 city levels down. There is a burial chamber of the Aegean Tomb’ was an arched roof structure was preserved fro all eternity. The administrative structure from Israelite period unearthed seven proto-ionic capitals. The most impressive sight was the water system which could sustain the city if attacked for prolong period of time was a large man made tunnel leading out to an underground spring of pooling water.
The city was talked about in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. Solomon often held his chariots there to protect and empress his enemies. The book of Revelation talks about it and the valley in apocalyptic terms. Revelation 16:14-16 reads, ‘The spirits of devils working miracles which go forth into the kings of the earth and of the whole world to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty and he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.’
The city was a place of relative importance for both periods mentioned and there is no doubt it was a key place along the Jezreel valley and possibly a place of importance in the future.

Bethlehem

The little town of Bethlehem which of course mean ‘House of Bread’ in Hebrew, a city known in the Old Testament as ‘Ephrat’ which means fruitful, and in the New Testament the place where Jesus is born ‘Bethlehem of Judea.’ It is surrounded by hills and a place where many things took place such as the burring of Rachel the young wife of Jacob, home of Naomi and where Ruth gleaned in the fields and met Boaz that becomes the kinsmen redeemer. Samuel anointed David to be king in the midst of his brothers. David was born there and so Jesus would be born there while Sheppard’s and Angels celebrated near by in the fields.
The city is located on the edge of the dessert of Jordan, south of Jerusalem about 5 miles. It is situated on a rocky spur of a mountain of Judah just off the main road to Hebron and Egypt. ‘It has a typical Mediterranean climate, which is made milder through its altitude and the nearness of the sea.’ Fertile fields, figs and olive orchards, and vineyards surround Bethlehem. The Old Testament history in I Ch. 2:51 ‘Salma the son of Caleb is described as the father of Bethlehem.’ The Levites mentioned in Judges 17 and 19 were Bethlehemites. David is named as a favored son and becomes the main focus soon. According to the Bible encyclopedia, ‘The New Testament history includes several spots in the gospel like the Birth narrative and where Jesus grew up. Justin Martyr, Origen, and Jerome mention the cave-stable. After the Romans conquered Bethlehem anew the site of the Nativity was desecrated, probably under Hadrian.’ Jerome, who lived in Bethlehem for 33 years, was famous for his Latin NT revision and for the inspiration Greek and Hebrew comparisons that led to the formation of the Vulgate.
History of the city, the Persians spared it in CE 614, the Arabs in 636. ‘The inhabitants invited the crusaders to occupy the city in 1099. In the 12th century a Latin bishopric was erected in Bethlehem, an Episcopal see was constituted there by the Greek Church, the same was done by the Armenian Church in the 17th century.’
‘In the early Arab period Bethlehem suffered no damage. The city fell to Tancred’s forces during the First Crusade without fighting. Baldwin I and II, the crusader kings of Jerusalem, were crowned in the church of Bethlehem. The crusaders built a fort in the city that was demolished in 1489 during clashes between the Christians of Bethlehem and the Muslims of Hebron. Benjamin of Tudela visited the city (c. 1160) and found 12 Jewish dyers there. The church of Bethlehem remained in Christian hands during the rule of the Mamluks and the Turks, even though the Muslim rulers oppressed the Christian minority. The Christians continually reduced the size of the entrance to the church for security reasons, so that by now it is just a low and narrow opening. From time to time, the Christian rulers in Europe concerned themselves with the maintenance and repair of the church. The conflicts between the various Christian communities in Bethlehem caused damage to the church and served to motivate international friction; the theft of the Silver Star from the church in 1847 was one of the factors behind the outbreak of the Crimean War. In the middle of the 19th century, the Turkish authorities determined the division of the church among the various Christian communities and the order of their ceremonies, according to previous tradition; this decision has been observed, almost without amendment, to the present.’ [Michael Avi-Yonah]
The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem, Palestinian territories. Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is still traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth originally commissioned the church in 327 AD. The holy site, known as the Grotto that the Church of the Nativity sits atop, is today associated with the cave in which the birth of Jesus of Nazareth occurred. In 135 AD, Hadrian is said to have had the Christian site above the Grotto converted into a worship place for Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire. The first basilica on this site was begun by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine I. Under the supervision of Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem, the construction started in 327 AD and was completed in 333. ‘Emperor Justinian I rebuilt the current basilica in its present form in 565 AD. When the Persians under Chosroes II invaded in 614, they did not destroy the structure. According to legend, their commander Shahrbaraz was moved by the depiction inside the church of the Three Magi wearing Persian clothing, and commanded that the building is spared. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic authorities administer the church jointly.’

Ancient Synagogues

The synagogues are community places that after the Temple is destroyed become essential to the functional life of the people of Israel. In the book, The Ancient Synagogue from Its Origins to 200 C.E.: A Source Book edited by Anders Runesson, Donald D. Binder, Birger Olsson, they describe the Synagogue as a ‘place where the two religious institutions of Judaism & Christianity are born’. One existed outside the realm of a synagogue when the temple was the focus of worship yet the community form would find a home in synagogue life. The eventual Diaspora of Israelites will cause a need and purpose for the synagogue. The editors of the book describe the 1st century synagogue leadership became the Rabbi’s who were able to reach the people in communities would a shift in the ordinary Jewish life. The example of Jesus life as a Rabbi and Messiah points out the influence each group has on the other.
What constitutes a synagogue is ‘an assembly or congregation of Jews for the purpose of worship and study or a building where such an assembly met.’ It goes by different meanings as well such as Temple, Kneset, and Place of prayer, holy place, house of instruction. The Rabbis assume the time periods are important such as pre-exilic, origin, who nevertheless recognize some important innovations in the postexilic period as a result of Ezra’s work and the ‘men of the Great Synagogue.’ They make Dueteronomic changes, which destroy sanctuaries and cause a need for new pattern of worship that’s outside Jerusalem. Exilic the time of the origin of the synagogue while in Babylonia when the people return it is the spontaneous gatherings of Jews for Sabbaths and festivals. Postexilic viewed more recently for the Pharisaic parallel to temple worship. ‘in the time of second temple, when the Jews returned from exile, they proceeded to rebuild the temple, but here is no evidence the synagogue was to replace the temple. Lee I Levin in his book, THE NATURE AND ORIGIN OF THE PALESTINIAN SYNAGOGUE RECONSIDERED, ‘Having determined that the first-century synagogue served as a center for a variety of communal functions and activities, including religious ones, we now are ready to look for the framework or institution that served the same purposes in earlier centuries.’ He goes on to say, ‘When seen in this light, the answer is not difficult to determine. The setting for most, if not all, of these activities in previous eras was the city gate, the main communal setting in the of every community in the First Temple and Persian periods.’ Levin concludes, ‘Thus, in the post-70 era the synagogue’s communal dimension remained basic and central while significant changes took place in its religious dimension.’ That is the key to the events of Christianity being considered a branch of Judaism.
There are some very important synagogues discoveries such as the one in Capernaum, ‘the ruins well- preserved Galilean synagogue dated around 4th century CE. Charles William Wilson identified the ruins of this building, among the oldest synagogues in the world. The large, ornately carved, white building stones of the synagogue stood out prominently among the smaller, plain blocks of local black basalt used for the town’s other buildings, almost all residential. The synagogue was built almost entirely of white blocks of calcareous stone brought from distant quarries. The Synagogue at Masada, The synagogue, storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored. Guy Stiebel writes about the discoveries found at the Masada synagogue, ‘Inside the synagogue, an octagon bearing the inscription me’aser cohen (tithe for the priest) was found, as were fragments of two scrolls; parts of Deuteronomy 33’34 and parts of Ezekiel 35-38 (including the vision of the ‘dry bones’), found hidden in pits dug under the floor of a small room built inside the synagogue.’
The Bet Alfa Synagogue is different in it design and formation, according to the Israel national park web sight, ‘located in the Bet She’an Valley, was founded at the end of the fifth century CE. The synagogue consists of a courtyard, corridor, and rectangular main hall with the spectacular mosaic floor, second-storey balcony and another room.’ The sight talks about the mosaics ‘The colorful mosaic in the main hall is divided into three panels. They depict the Ark of the Covenant, the zodiac and the offering of Isaac. The 12 signs of the zodiac appear in Hebrew, surrounding the sun god, Helios, driving his four-horse chariot across the sky. Four female figures in the corners represent the four seasons. The third panel depicts the offering of Isaac, showing a bearded Abraham holding a knife over his son Isaac.’
The idea of church meeting on a once a week time frame maybe the way Christian’s tradition proclaims but the synagogue meetings were an everyday event. It is a place to teach children the Laws and academic learning, community center and social gathering place, served for the purpose of collecting and gathering of money in charity or building funds. The website also includes information about Palestinian synagogues, ‘Most of the synagogues unearthed in Israel date from the Roman and Byzantine periods, from the third to seventh centuries. Synagogues from before the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE include Gamla, Masada, and Herodium.’
Synagogue architecture does not have a consistant pattern but follows a picture of the Temple. In a Jewish encyclopedia website describes the architecture design this way, ‘The ark may be more or less elaborate, even a cabinet not structurally integral to the building or a portable arrangement whereby a Torah is brought into a space temporarily used for worship.’ The author continues, ‘There must also be a table from which the Torah is read. The inside the Synagogue there is an elaborate freestanding raised platforms, and two simple tables. A constantly lit light as a reminder of the constantly lit menorah, of the Temple in Jerusalem.’
The synagogue is a place of worship and community, it also becomes the birth place of Christianity the sect grows even thought it is condemned in the later times of 1st century. The cities are important not only because of Christianity but the traditions and vision they collectively protect and support.

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