Aerial Photo of Capernaum Aerial Photo of Capernaum

Transliterated Name Source Name
Capernaum New Testament and Josephus καπερναούμ
Kefr Nahum* Talmudic Literature כפר נחום
Kefar Tanhum* Medieval Jewish Sources כפר תנחום
Tanhum* Medieval Jewish Sources תנום
Talhum* Arabic تالهوم
Tell Hum* Arabic تيلل هوم
*from Stanislao Loffreda in Stern et al (1993).


Capernaum lies on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The town was founded by the Hasmoneans and is featured prominently in all four canonical gospels of the New Testament. It may have served as a base for Jesus' ministry as it is the reputed hometown of the disciple Matthew and close to Betsaida which was the hometown of Simon Peter, Andrew, John, and James. To the northeast of the remains of a synagogue and surrounding Roman-Byzantine village lie the remains of an early Islamic village (Magness, 1997).

Maps and Plans Chronology
Debated Stratigraphy

Maps and Plans

  • General plan of the excavations in the area of the Greek Orthodox church from Tzaferis in Stern et al (1993)
Tzaferis (1989) excavated Capernaum from 1978-1982 and divided up the strata via pottery, coins, and oil lamps (Magness, 1997) as follows:
Stratum Age (CE)
I mid-10th century to 1033
II mid-9th to mid-10th century
III 750 to mid-9th century
IV 650 - 750
V early 7th century to 650
The table above comes from Magness (1997). In Stern et al (1993), Tzaferis dates Stratum V differently - the first half of 7th century to first half of the 8th century - and goes on to state that Stratum IV was apparently destroyed in the earthquake that struck the region in 746 CE [as] evidenced by the great quantity of huge stones in the piles of debris and by the ash covering the stratum throughout the area. Stratum IV, according to Magness (1997) was apparently primarily dated based on a coin hoard found buried beneath a paving stone in a room in Area A (Tzaferis 1989: 17; Wilson 1989: 145). The hoard consists of 282 gold dinars of of the Umayyad "post-reform" type, dating from 696-97 to 743-44 (Magness, 1997). The latest coin dated to A.H. 126 (25 October 743 - 12 October 744 CE). Wilson (1989:163-64) made the following comments about the hoard:
The latest dinar in the Capernaum hoard is dated A.H. 126, which means that the hoard could not have been buried before A.D. 744. It may be possible, in this case, to pinpoint the date even more precisely. According to ancient historians, a disastrous earthquake shook the Jordan Valley in A.D. 746, severely damaging the Temple Mount, destroying Khirbet Mefjer, damaging Jerash, and, significantly, smashing Tiberias, some 19 km. from Capernaum. Evidently both history and nature conspired against Capernaum during the years A.D. 744-746. First, the civil chaos following the death of Hisham reached out into Palestine, particularly involving such aristocratic estates as Khirbet Minyeh, whose master could not have avoided being on the wrong side of the conflict at some point. Under the dangerous circumstances, the owner of the hoard deposited his treasure. In the very midst of this conflict, the earthquake played havoc up and down the entire Jordan Valley. If the hoard's owner was not killed in the succession conflict, or destroyed along with his town in the earthquake, he may have fallen, or at least been prevented from returning to his fortune. . . . (Wilson 1989: 163-64)
Magness (1997) observed that while the hoard could not have been buried before 744, when the latest coins it contained were minted, it could have been deposited at any time after that date. Magness (1997) further noted that ceramic evidence (particularly when compared to ceramic evidence at Pella) was in conflict with the dating of Stratum IV and suggested that the coins were deposited during the Abassid period - a time when there was a noted shortage of Abassid coinage as the Abassids had moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad and apparently fewer coins were minted in Syria. This could then explain why no coins were found in the hoard minted after A.H. 126 (25 October 743 - 12 October 744 CE). Magness (1997) went on to question whether there was an earthquake destruction level at the top of stratum IV:
Elsewhere in the publication the destruction of stratum IV is attributed to the earthquake of 746-47.5 However, The evidence from stratum IV at Capernaum is inconsistent with earthquake destruction. No human or animal victims have been discovered, there is no evidence for the extensive collapse of buildings, and no assemblages of whole or restorable vessels were found lying smashed on the floors. In fact, almost no whole or restored vessels are published from Capernaum. The coins at Pella were found scattered on the floors of the buildings, buried beneath the earthquake collapse. In contrast, at Capernaum the hoard was carefully buried beneath the pavement of a room. It could have been deposited due to an impending (and presumably, human) threat. However, since it does not fit the profile of an emergency hoard, I believe that it represents the carefully hidden personal savings of an individual or individuals. Finally, the fact that the ceramic assemblage from stratum IV at Capernaum differs significantly from that associated with the 746-47 earthquake at Pella indicates that they are not contemporary.


5 The structures of Stratum IV were probably all destroyed by an earthquake, as is suggested by a huge rock resting upon and blocking Street 1, and by the fallen debris, especially in Building D (Tzaferis 1989: 16, 20).
Magness (1997) redated Stratum IV as well as the oldest layer, Stratum V, based on ceramic evidence. While she noted that the few whole or restorable vessels illustrated from stratified stratum V contexts at Capernaum have parallels from the 746-47 earthquake destruction level at Pella, the absence of clearly later types, such as Mefjer ware, suggests a terminus ante quem of ca. 750 for stratum V. Magness (1997) noted that Stratum V was a thin occupational level which means there is limited ceramic evidence. She suggested that there appeared to be no break in the occupational sequence from V to IV. Magness (1997) proposed redating Stratum IV and V as follows:
Stratum Age (CE)
IV ca. 750 to the second half of the ninth century
V ca. 700-750

363 CE earthquake - debated chronology

Numismatic evidence from various strata revealed that a synagogue in Capernaum was built in the late 4th or early 5th centuries CE (Loffreda, 1972, Loffreda, 1973, and Chen, 1986) note. The synagogue was built on an artificial platform that was itself on top of the remains of an earlier village (stratum a). Chronology was established after construction of the synagogue but not before leaving the timing and cause for the underlying village to be in remains unanswered - at least not definitively. Russell (1980) speculated that the village was damaged or destroyed by the northern Cyril Quake of 363 AD citing numismatic evidence to bolster his case.

After publications by Loffreda (1972) and Loffreda (1973), there was opposition to the dating of the construction of the synagogue at Capernaum to the late 4th or early 5th century AD. Opposing scholars dated these synagogues later with Magness (2001) supporting a 6th century CE date for it's construction.

Seismic Effects
Destruction of Stratum IV earthquake

Tzaferis in Stern et al (1993) states that Stratum IV was apparently destroyed in the earthquake that struck the region in 746 CE [as] evidenced by the great quantity of huge stones in the piles of debris and by the ash covering the stratum throughout the area.

Intensity Estimates
Destruction of Stratum IV earthquake

Effect Source Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls Tzaferis in Stern et al (1993) Tzaferis in Stern et al (1993) states that Stratum IV was apparently destroyed in the earthquake that struck the region in 746 CE [as] evidenced by the great quantity of huge stones in the piles of debris and by the ash covering the stratum throughout the area. VIII+
The collapsed walls requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224).

Notes and Further Reading

Amiran et al (1994) state that Tsafrir and Foerster (1989:357) presume that the destruction of Capernaum, which Weiss dated to shortly after 743 C.E. on the basis of coins, was also caused by the earthquake of 749.