“What is the evidence for the size and character of Cepar Nahum in the 1st C CE?”
Both R. T. France1 and Robert H. Stein2 come to the conclusion that Capernaum in the time of Jesus was a town or “city” of around 10,000 people. They appear to base this conclusion on the evidence that the town had a detachment of Roman troops, a major customs post, and a residential royal official (βασιλικὸς). It lay on a major east-west trade route. Capernaum was also a border town between the tetrarchies of Antipas and Philip. Antipas’ favourite toll was one on goods in transit and the strategic location of the toll-collector, Levi, (Mark 2) by the shores of Lake Galilee implies significant traffic also on the waterways. Strange and Shanks3 note the site of the synagogue in a town tended to remain the same through a succession of rebuilding efforts and that there is evidence below the later fourth century synagogue of an earlier one. Stein concludes that in the time of Jesus there was a “major synagogue, whose black basalt foundation can still be seen below the impressive ruins of the later, fourth-century white synagogue.”
I don’t have any argument with the idea that Aramaic was a living language in Galilee during that time. My argument is that Greek was also a living language amongst the people; and that Jesus and others who based themselves in Capernaum were at least effectively bi-lingual. It is interesting to consider the comparative usage of local dialects and English in African countries. One of the forces pushing people to speak English is that local dialects simply do not have the vocabulary adequate for the modern world. If Jesus truly was a revolutionary, (and it is hard to imagine how a parochial backwoods boy from Nazareth would have managed to get himself crucified), there must have been pressure on him to reach for Greek vocabulary to express his revolutionary ideas.
1) France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC. Paternoster Press. 2002. p.101
2) Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical. Baker Academic. 2008. p.84
3) Strange, J.F. & Shanks, “St Peter’s House. Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?” in Top Ten Biblical Archaeology Discoveries. Biblical Archaeology Society. 2011. pp 68-85.
] On Behalf Of David Mealand
Sent: Wednesday, 29 February 2012 11:32 PM
Subject: RE: Targumim RE: [Synoptic-L] Re: Sources and languages
Greg writes of
...the bustling commercial town of Capernaum,
are we looking at someone who lived in a cultural and
linguistic ghetto, or someone exhilarated by a
cultural and linguistic mix?
What is the evidence for the size and character of
Cepar Nahum in the 1st C CE?
It is true that by the 3rd C CE it had a large white
limestone synagogue, but by that time the Jewish population
of Galilee had increased with people moving up
from Judaea. The use of Aramaic still in that later
period is evidenced by the inscription on a pillar.
The Franciscan custodians set up a replica but
the photo can't go in this email. It says the column
was made by Hlpy br zbydh br ywhnn (Alphaeus son of
Zebidah son of Johanan). In the later period Greek was
certainly more prevalent but Aramaic remains in use.
But what is the evidence for the size and character of
the place in the 1st C CE? My memory is of a fairly small
patch of house foundations - certainly enough to provide
a fishing village ...though some NT texts call it a polis.
But Josephus called it a kwmh (Vita 72) and it may still
have had that description much later.
Bet Zaida was upgraded from kwmh to polis when it became Julias.
That probably did have a more mixed character than Cepar Nahum
in the relevant period.
David Mealand, University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.
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