🔼The name Capernaum: Summary
- Town Of Nahum, Village Of Consolation, Protected By Being Sorry
- From (1) כפר (kapar), village, and (2) the verb נחם (naham), to be sorry or to comfort.
🔼The name Capernaum in the Bible
Capernaum is a sea-coast village of Galilee, probably somewhere on the border between the territories of Naphtali and Zebulun. Jesus moved there from Nazareth, right after his temptations by satan (Matthew 4:13). It was also the home of Peter (Matthew 8:14), and that of the centurion whose servant Jesus healed (Matthew 8:5).
Since Capernaum became Jesus' home town and many of his miracles occurred there, the people of Capernaum had a front row seat to much of his ministries. The conversion rate was disappointing, however, and Jesus pronounced a pretty sturdy curse of his village: "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades, for if the miracles that happened in you would have happened in Sodom, it would have remained until today..." (Matthew 11:23).
The name Capernaum occurs 16 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Capernaum
The first part of our name is the word כפר (kapar), meaning village:
The verb כפר (kapar) describes the formation of any sort of protective perimeter around any sort of vulnerable interior.
Noun כפר (koper) describes the price of a human life, i.e. the purchasing price and maintenance costs of keeping a person out of slavery. This is not simply a single sum of money but rather an economic protective layer of all sorts of hedges and investments. The noun כפרים (kippurim) is in fact a plural of the previous and denotes a massive free-buying and free-keeping of many people at once. Noun כפרת (kapporet) is the technical term for the cover of the Ark of the Covenant; the Mercy Seat.
Nouns כפר (kapar) and כפר (koper) mean village, but emphasize not the mere huddling together of folks, but rather any rudimentary social stratification that mimics the natural formation of eukaryotic cells, with cell walls, organelles and a nucleus that hosts the wisdom tradition.
The second part of our name is the same as the name Nahum, which comes from the verb נחם (naham), meaning to be sorry:
The verb נחם (naham) basically means to be sorry. It may mean to have regret but also to have compassion and often to comfort and console whoever one is sorry for. This verb often describes God's attitude toward mankind.
Noun נחם (noham) means sorrow or repentance. Nouns נחום (nihum) and נחמה (nehama) mean comfort or compassion. Noun תנחום (tanhum) meaning consolation.
The whole name Capernaum translated means Village Of Consolation or even Protected By Being Sorry, but most commentators translate it with Village Of Nahum. Note that the famous Biblical author and prophet Nahum was an Elkoshite, which would denote someone from Elkosh. Also note the pleasing associative similarity between our name Καπερναουμ (Capernaum) and the verb κυβερναω (kubernao), to steer or govern.
Particularly John uses Capernaum (John 2:12) to make a very obvious point, namely that the first chapters of his gospel correspond to the first chapters of Genesis. The ancients used names differently than we moderns do, and the names of people and towns were often commemorative rather than indicative. Said otherwise, a man named Grace (= John) was not necessarily a kind of embodiment of grace but rather a walking memorial of the Grace of God: a man named John was not named after his own grace but rather after the Grace of God. Likewise, a town called Town of Nahum was not necessarily the town where Nahum was born, or a town founded or owned by somebody named Nahum. Instead, the Town Of Nahum may very well have been named in commemoration of the City Of Nahum, and that (obviously to literally everybody in the time of Jesus) was Nineveh (read the very short Book of Nahum for why people might have figured that Nineveh was the city of Nahum).
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and had been given its final warning by Jonah the prophet, who, like Jesus, was from Galilee (see the obvious pun in John 7:52), and who ministered probably about one hundred years before Nahum. The Jewish elite demanded a sign, and Jesus replied that none would be given other than the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39, and see John 2:18). Nineveh finally fell to the Babylonians in 612 BC when the Tigris overflowed and soaked the hitherto impenetrable walls until they collapsed (Nahum 1:8). In John's composition, the flood of Nineveh obviously corresponds to Noah's flood, the wedding at Cana to the line of Cain (even Naamah to Nahum), and the six water jars to both the six days of creation and the global cleansing achieved by the great flood. Post-flood, the Tower of Babylon is overturned (Genesis 11:8), which John creatively links to Jesus overturning the commercial component of the templar enterprise (compare John 2:15 to Revelation 18:2-3).