A view from Chorazin
Chorazin (Korazin, Korazim) is located on the side of a large hill about two and one-half miles north of Capernaum. This city is remembered as one of the three key cities in which Jesus spent much of his ministry. These cities, Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida formed what is called the “Evangelical Triangle,” the small area where most of Jesus’ miracles were displayed (Matt. 11:20). Chorazin also has the dubious distinction of being one of the cities that Jesus cursed. The city is mentioned only twice in the New Testament (Matt. 11:21; Lk. 10:13), and both instances concern the curse that Jesus placed upon it.
WHAT WE KNOW AND DON’T KNOW ABOUT CHORAZIN
We know a little about the city from Jewish writings and from history. The city and its surroundings are mentioned in Jewish Talmud (b. Menahot 85a). It is praised as an area famous for its very early harvest of grain. This is no doubt due to an abundance of black basalt stones and dark volcanic soil in the area. Chorazin’s steep sun-exposed hillside, with its dark coloration tends to warm up in the springtime, much earlier than surrounding areas. Today this natural process is known as insoltation.
We learn from history that the city was destroyed, probably by an earthquake, in the fourth century AD and rebuilt in the fifth century.
The first archaeological work on the city began in the nineteenth century. The synagogue in Chorazin was discovered as a result of a survey conducted by the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1869. In 1905–07 excavations on the city were begun and work was resumed at different times, continuing on as late as 1980–84.
Surprisingly, Chorazin’s archaeological remains have yielded no evidence of first century (time of Jesus) settlement on the present site. An abundance of coins and other information date the current site clearly to the third and fourth centuries AD. However, potsherds gathered nearby may indicate that the biblical city ofJesus’ day lies somewhere in the immediate area.
The excavations in the city have yielded numerous archaeological treasures. The most outstanding of course is the well preserved synagogue made of local black basalt stone. The synagogue measures about 50 feet by 70 feet (15 x 21 m.) in size. Prominently displayed in the synagogue is the “seat of Moses,” likely referred to by Jesus in Matthew 23:2. There are also floral decorations, human and animal figures and surprisingly a well
Near the synagogue can be seen what remains of the city’s commercial area plus several dwellings. In one of these dwellings very near the synagogue a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) has been excavated.
WHY DID JESUS CURSE CHORAZIN?
We may ask why Jesus cursed this city as well as the other two cities of Capernaum and Bethsaida? The obvious reason from scripture is that most of his mighty works were done in these areas. All three were Jewish cities, contrasted with the many Gentile cities elsewhere around the lake and in the Galilee area. There were so many Gentiles around, that the area is even referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles” in Isaiah 9:1. We know from scripture that Jesus was sent primarily to the House of Israel and it is interesting that he also sent his disciples exclusively to Israel. We read about this in Matthew 10:5-6: “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.’”
We can only imagine the great responsibility brought to bear upon a small town as the King of the Universe came regularly to visit. We know from scripture that Jesus did many miracles in this city. These people witnessed the mighty power of God in their streets for the better part of three years. Yet, it seemed to make no difference in their lives. Jesus finally said: “Woe to you, Korazin…If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you” (Matt. 11:21-22).
The archaeological excavations at Chorazin may also help us understand why the people received such a curse from God. Although it obviously happened some generations after Jesus, it is truly interesting that the descendants of these people would allow a Medusa to be built right into their synagogue wall. Its presence betrays an assimilation with the Greek and pagan practices of the time. We know from other sources that this assimilation was going on in Jesus’ time and actually as early as Maccabeean period in the second century BC.
Of course the Medusa came directly from Greek mythology and was the most famous of the monsters known as Gorgons. Supposedly anyone who looked directly at Medusa was turned to stone. According to mythology she was killed by Perseus, who cut off her head. But we might ask what in the world does all this have to do with true religion?
THE ONGOING STRUGGLE WITH PAGANISM
It seems that the true faith always remains in a life and death struggle with paganism. Throughout the centuries we see both Jews and Christians involved in this ongoing struggle. It was not just at Chorazin, but it was at Capernaum, Hammat (Tiberias), Bet Alpha, and other places where pagan symbols were included in ancient synagogue architecture. At the Beit Alpha and Hammat synagogues, there are the symbols of the Zodiac embedded in the mosaic floors. At both sites one can also see the pagan symbol par excellence, the image of Helios, the Sun God
Although the early church began with great purity of doctrine, it was not long until pagan ideas even crept into Christianity. We see Jude writing to early Christians with this exhortation: “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3). In a very few centuries the mother goddess, so prevalent in paganism, was introduced into the church through Mariolatry. Her images continue everywhere in Catholicism today. Even our great Christian celebrations such as Easter can be traced directly to the pagan worship of the mother goddess Ishtar.
In our day neo-pagan ideas of Humanism, New Age, and eastern influences are often evidenced in our assemblies. Christian books and teachings often reinforce these strange concepts. We need a warning about all this lest we end up in a situation similar to that of Chorazin. When we take the name of God; call ourselves Christians and present ourselves to the world as God’s covenant people, we are placing ourselves in a peculiar and dangerous position. If we fail to be true to God and his word he will surely judge us and our judgment will exceed that of pagans who know no better. In Amos 3:2, the prophet reprimands Israel in stern words that certainly apply to believers today: “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.”
Publication date, 2004
The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, edited by Avraham Negev.
Jesus & His Word, An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary by John J. Rousseau and Rami Arav
Photo credits: Peggy Steffel