Garo Nalbandian

The interior of the Capernaum synagogue, a large, glistening white limestone structure. Although the synagogue was built in the late Roman style popular in the second and third centuries A.D., Italian archaeologists who excavated the site in 1981 say that the synagogue dates to the Byzantine period—the late fourth or early fifth century A.D.

In this photo, taken before 1981, we see the rear or north end of the synagogue—the solid structure at left, 27 feet across. Two rows of columns, perpendicular to the north wall, divide the interior into a central nave and two side aisles—one on the west (foreground) and the other on the east (background). On the left, the row of columns creates a third aisle at the back of the synagogue. In 1981, excavators dug an east-west trench across the nave, revealing a black basalt floor. Both ends of this floor ran up to basalt walls that were directly under the stylobates for the limestone columns that create the two side aisles. (Stylobates are low walls supporting columns.) Pottery found in and under this basalt floor clearly dates the basalt structure to the first century A.D. or earlier. Since the site of a synagogue rarely changed in antiquity, this basalt building, which closely follows the plan of the later limestone synagogue, must also be a synagogue, and very likely the one in which Jesus preached.