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20. Chorazim – the Condemned City

Most of the sites in this series are places mentioned in the Gospels which were later developed as Holy Christian sites, and are venerated by pilgrims to this day. But Luke 10:13-16 (cf. Mat 11:20-24) records a surprisingly negative statement made by Jesus on some of these sites: “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths”.

This statement was probably made as a result of local antagonism towards Jesus and his followers at these places. The fact that even Capernaum is condemned is of special interest, because anywhere else in the Gospels Capernaum is mentioned in a positive way, as if the whole village was in favor of Jesus and his acts. Chorazin is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, nor in any contemporary historical sources. In fact only in two sources from the late Roman period Chorazin is mentioned, and briefly: The Babylonian Talmud mentions the grain from Chorazin (Menahot 85a), and the fourth century CE Eusebius states Chorazin is a “ruined village, 2 miles away from Capernaum”.

Chorazin is never mentioned again. It seems that the curse of Jesus was indeed effective.

In 1738 the English geographer R. Pococke was the first to identify ancient Chorazin at Khirbet Karaze, a hilltop 4 km (2.5 miles) north of Capernaum. In 1869 C.Wilson documented an ancient synagogue at the site, and its remains were exposed by later expeditions. In 1962-4 the whole village was surveyed, and in 1980-1984 additional parts of the site were excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority. These excavations exposed a few houses, a few ritual baths (Miqvaot), streets and channels, cisterns, and three olive presses. Today this impressive site is under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Nature Parks Authority and is open to the public all year.

A view of the interior of the ancient synagogue at Chorazin.

A view of the interior of the ancient synagogue at Chorazin. Photo © Steven Conger

The main structure in Chorazin is its ancient synagogue. Built in local basalt stone, the partly-reconstructed building stands out in the center of the village. Many of its stones are ornamented, some with figurative art, including even a human mask. Most intriguing is an ornamented basalt seat found in the synagogue. It is dedicated to“Yodan son of Yishmael” in reward for “making this stoa and its staircase, at his expense”.

The seat is probably “Moses’ seat”, a common element in ancient and modern synagogues alike. “Moses’ seat” is also mentioned in the Gospels in Matthew 23:1.

At the western edge of the village a large oil press was recovered. All the stone parts were found in situ, and it seems that large quantities of olive oil were produced at this place (perhaps that was the source of wealth of “Yodan son of Yishmael” mentioned at the “seat of Moses”?).

A replica of a decorated stone seat discovered in the synagogue of Chorazim

A replica of a decorated stone seat discovered in the synagogue of Chorazim. It was most likely a seat of honor ("Moses seat"), such as the one mentioned in Mat. 23:1. Photo © Danny Herman

All of the visible remains today at Chorazin date to a period which is a few centuries later than the days of Jesus, yet a visit to the site provides a unique “feeling” of what a rural village around the Sea of Galilee looked like in antiquity.