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Author's Journal Transcripts for Bill Humble
Bible Archeology - Proofs From the Earth

 


Professor Bill Humble has traveled to the Holy Land numerous times over the past 30 years. He has visited many of the ancient sites that provide evidence of the accuracy of the Bible. He shares his insights with us in the KNLS series,  Bible ArcheologyóProofs from the Earth.

 

 


 

Archaeologists recently uncovered the foundation of an earlier synagogue beneath the 4th or 5th century one pictured here. The earlier synagogue is probably the one where Jesus taught. If so, it was built by a Roman centurion for the people of Capernaum. (Luke 7:1-10)  (Click photo to view a larger image)

1st Century Synagogue

Did you know that Jesus often taught in the synagogue in Capernaum? And that archaeologists have found the foundation of that synagogue? You can see it at left.  Let me tell you about it.  Capernaum was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was Jesusí "home town" during the three years of his public ministry. The archaeologists have done a lot of digging at Capernaum, and they found one of the most beautiful synagogues anywhere in Israel. It was made of white limestone, that had to be brought from a long distance, and it had columns and ornate decorations. This synagogue was built in the third or fourth century, so it was not there when Jesus lived at Capernaum. But archaeologists knew that in ancient times, the Jews would often build a new synagogue on the site of an older one. So just a few years ago, they began excavating around the white synagogue, and they discovered the foundations of the earlier synagogue that had stood on the same site. The foundation was not made of white limestone. It was black basalt, the volcanic stone common around Capernaum, and this was the synagogue that was there in Jesusí day. The New Testament has an interesting story about this synagogue. A Roman army officer came to Jesus and asked him to heal his servant. The Jews usually hated Roman soldiers and the Roman rule they had imposed. But in this case, Jewish leaders came and told Jesus that the centurion deserved his help. They said, "He loves our nation and has built our synagogue." Thatís the synagogue that was there 2000 years ago, the one where Jesus often taught, the synagogue whose black basalt foundations we can see today. Built by a Roman army officer. Maybe he had become a believer in the one God of the Jews. Jesus often taught in this synagogue. After he fed the multitude with the five loaves and two fishóthe only miracle that is recorded in all four gospelsóhe taught, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." And where did he do this teaching? In the synagogue at Capernaum. Iíve been to Capernaum many times. And when I stare at the foundation of that first century synagogue, I think, this is where Jesus came on the Sabbath. This is where he read from the Scripture. And this is where he said, "I am the bread of life." And my faith in him grows stronger.


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The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake that stretches 22 kilometers from north to south and 13 kilometers east to west. Jesus called four of his apostles there (Matthew 4). He calmed a storm in Matthew. He preached the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) on a mountain overlooking the lake. He fed the 5,000 near the lake. And Jesus walked on its water. (Click photo to view a larger image)

    1. Sea of Galilee

I have been to the Holy Land more than twenty times, and the Sea of Galilee, seen at left, has been one of the highlights of every visit. For two reasons: itís such a beautiful place, and itís so important in the ministry of Jesus. Let me tell you about it.  It can be a very moving spiritual experience to stand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and think about Jesusí ministry around the sea. The Sea of Galilee is not very big, about 13 miles from north to south and 8 miles across. The Jordan River flows in at the north end and leave at the south end to make its way 90 miles down to the Dead Sea. Except for these two places, where the Jordan comes in and out, the Sea of Galilee is surrounded by mountains, some nearly 2,000 feet high. So the sea sits in a natural bowl, and this causes the storms that Jesus and his disciples sometimes faced. The Sea of Galilee is nearly 700 feet below sea level, so it has a warm climate with palm trees and tropical flowers and fruit. Much of Jesusí ministry took place around the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum, at the north end of the sea, was Jesusí "home town" for those three years. He healed Peterís mother-in-law and the centurionís servant there, and he often taught in the synagogue. The black stone platform where that synagogue stood was found just a few years ago. He preached the Sermon on the Mount on a mountainside near Capernaum. Once, when a throng of people crowded around him, he got into a boat and taught them in parables, the sower, the tares and the hidden treasure. Bethsaida was a fishing village just a few miles east of Capernaum, and Peter and Andrew came from there. Bethsaida has recently been excavated, and they found fishermenís houses with nets and other fishing gear. One of Jesusí great miracles, the feeding of the five thousand, happened near Bethsaida. Jesus crossed the sea in small fishing boats many times, and once when they were caught in a dangerous storm, he calmed the sea. And after his death and resurrection, he appeared to the apostles at the Sea of Galilee, where they had gone back to their fishing. When you visit the Sea of Galilee, Jesus seems very real and very near. You can sail across the sea, just as he crossed it so many times. You can stand in the ruins of towns that were there 2,000 years ago and youíre standing where he stood and walking where he walked. You can hear the good news of his teaching again, and you know that no other message has ever had such an impact. When I stand on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus challenges me to be his disciple. And I answer, as Peter did long ago, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.


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This is the synagogue in Chorazin, a small village in the Galilean hills, about three kilometers north of Capernaum. Jesus taught in Chorazin and later rebuked the people for their unbelief. (Matthew 11:20-24)  (Click photo to view a larger image)

  1. Chorazin

Have you ever heard of Chorazin? Probably not. It was one of the towns in Galilee where Jesus preached. Let me tell you about it. Chorazin was a little town up in the hills of Galilee, about two miles north of Capernaum. Itís only a short distance from the Mount of the Beatitudes where, tradition says, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. The archaeologists have excavated Chorazin, and they have uncovered many buildings, some of them 2,000 years old. They are all made of black basalt, the volcanic rock common around the Sea of Galilee. The most important building the archaeologists found is a synagogue, and itís the same black basalt. In Jesusí day the synagogue in Capernaum, where he taught, was also made of black stone. Later, it was replaced by a beautiful new synagogue of white limestone which still stands in Capernaum today. So when we see the black synagogue at Chorazin, we have a good idea of what the Capernaum synagogue looked like when Jesus went there on the Sabbath. Jesus once criticized the teachers of the law who "sit in Moses seat." "Moses seat" is not a figurative expression. The synagogues had a seat of honor, where the teacher or rabbi sat as he taught the law, and this was called "Moses seat." Archaeologists found the one that was used at Chorazin, and itís now on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Itís a large chair, made of stone, with beautiful decorations and an inscription to honor Yudan, the man who gave it to the synagogue. Jesus preached at Chorazin and even worked miracles there. But later, he denounced the town for its unbelief. He said, "Woe to you Chorazin. If the miracles that were performed in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented." The wicked Old Testament cities of Tyre and Sidon never had the chance that Chorazin had. I have wandered through the ruins of Chorazin many times. Iíve walked down the ancient streets and Iíve stood in their synagogue. And when Iíve been there, Iíve thought of Jesusóhe walked these streets, preached here, and even worked miracles here. And then I remember the people who lived there 2000 years ago. They heard the good news that Jesus preached and then they rejected it. And I felt a sense of deep sadness for Chorazin, just as Jesus did.


This is the excavation site of Bethsaida, a fishing village located where the Jordan River flows into the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida was home to three of Jesusí fishermen-apostles, Philip, Peter, and Andrew. Jesusí miracle of feeding the 5,000 (Luke 9:10-17) took place nearby.  (Click photo to view a larger image)

Bethsaida

Two thousand years ago, Bethsaida, see at left, was a little fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, but it was very important in the ministry of Jesus. Let me explain why. Bethsaida was just one of many little villages clustered around the Sea of Galilee when Jesus spent three years preaching around the sea. Bethsaida is mentioned several times in the New Testament, but even so, archaeologists were not sure, until recently, where it was located But over the past 10 or 12 years a team of archaeologists and students from the University of Nebraska identified the ruins of Bethsaida, carefully excavated them, and opened the site to the public. Itís on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, up on a hill overlooking the place where the Jordan River flows into the sea. We know from the New Testament that Bethsaida was a fishing village, and the archaeologists have confirmed that. They have found houses with large nets and other fishing tackle in the courtyards. And why was this little fishing village important to Jesus? Because three of his twelve apostles, Philip, Peter and Andrew, all came from Bethsaida. We know that Peter and Andrew were commercial fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, but when Jesus called them, they left their nets and followed him. We also know that two other apostles, the brothers James and John, had been partners with Peter in the fishing business, so they may also have had ties with Bethsaida. Five of the twelve apostles with ties to the little village. Bethsaida was also the site of one of Jesusí only miracle that is recorded in all four of the gospels: the feeding of the 5,000. He had been preaching to a great throng of people near Bethsaida. And when evening came and the people had nothing to eat, he blessed five loaves and two fish and fed the whole multitude. I had a chance to visit Bethsaida not long after it was opened to the public. I walked among the houses, all made of the black basalt stone common around there. And when I went through the fishermanís house, I thought of Peter and Andrew and Philip. And I remembered how important those men were in the early church. It was Peter who preached the first sermon on Pentecost. And when the time came for the kingdom to be opened to Gentiles, the Lord sent Peter to a Roman solider at Caesarea. Simple fishermen from Bethsaida. As I walked through the town where they lived, I knew again that our Bible is a trustworth history of real people and real eventsóa record of how Jesus could use fishermen from a village in Galilee to accomplish his will. 


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