The Gospel of John mentions a town named Cana. John specifically tells us Cana is in Galilee, which is a region in Northern Israel. The location of the biblical town is widely debated today, however, the name Cana may derive from the Hebrew word for “reeds”, which suggests the town was located near marsh or grasslands.
In the Bible, Cana is best known as the place where Jesus performed his first public miracle. Told in chapter two of the Gospel of John, “a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.” (John 2:1) “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) Jesus was attending a wedding in Cana with his mother and disciples. During the celebration, the host ran out of wine and Mary asked her son to do something about the situation. Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water, however, when the master of the banquet tasted the liquid, it had become wine. Although this is believed to be Jesus’ first miracle, it is not recorded in the synoptic Gospels.
The Gospel of John mentioned Cana a further two times. “Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.” (John 4:46) When the man heard Jesus was in Cana, he begged Jesus to heal his son. Jesus declined to go with the man to his house; however, Jesus promised his son would live. As Jesus was saying this, the fever left the young boy, and Cana became the location of a second miracle.
The final time Cana is mentioned in the Gospel of John is in relation to one of Jesus’ disciples. “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.” (John 21:1-2) Nathanael from Cana is more commonly known as Bartholomew the Apostle who was born in Cana during the 1stcentury AD. He was first mentioned in John 1 when Philip introduced him to Jesus. When Jesus met Nathanael, he said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47) Jesus promised Nathanael that he would “see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) St Bartholomew (Nathanael) was later skinned alive and beheaded in Albanopolis, Armenia, where he is now celebrated as the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In some versions of the Bible, Simon the Zealot, as he is known in the NIV, is known as Simon from Cana or Simon the Cananite. (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:18) Simon was another of Jesus’ apostles who, like Nathanael, may have been born in Cana. Some scholars, however, contest his place of birth, pointing out the Hebrew for “zealous” and “Cana” both derive from the same word, qanai, therefore, “Simeon from Cana” could be a mistranslation.
The location of Cana has baffled historians for centuries and many theories have been developed. There have been some suggestions that Cana may not have been a real place, however, the name of the town has also featured in The Life of Josephus written between 94-99 AD. To date, five places have been proposed as the true location of the town. They are Qana, Lebanon; Kafr Kanna, Israel; Khirbet Qana, Israel; Karm er-Rasm, Israel; and Ain Qana, South Lebanon.
The early Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, selected Qana in Lebanon as the location of Cana during the 4thcentury. It is a village situated approximately 18 miles from the city of Tyre. It is said that Jesus’ first miracle took place in one of the natural caves in the village, which contain ancient inscriptions on the rock.
In the 17thcentury, a papal emissary to Palestine reported two possible locations of Cana: Khirbet Qana and Kafr Kanna. The latter, located 4.3 miles from Nazareth, was considered to be the location of Cana long before the emissary’s visit, however, there is no tangible evidence for this. Although Arabs predominantly inhabit the town, there are a few Catholic churches, including the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Apostle Bartholomew and the Franciscan Wedding Church.
Khirbet Qana, on the other hand, means “ruins of Cana”, giving it more standing as the true location of the city. The village is 8 miles from Nazareth and contains the remains of a settlement from the Early Arab Period. Maps produced by the Crusaders cite Khirbet Qana as the biblical Cana, however, since the village lies in ruins, there is little other evidence.
Meanwhile, Yardenna Alexandre, an Israeli archaeologist, is convinced the ruined site of Karm er-Rasm is the true location of Cana. Excavations have revealed it was once inhabited by a Jewish population and eventually abandoned in the Byzantine period. Unfortunately, no one else agrees with her theory.
Finally, Ain Qana, which means “the spring of Cana”, is an agricultural town that has been considered as a better candidate for the biblical Cana. Situated only a mile from Nazareth, early Christian pilgrims reported the town contained a spring from which the jars at the wedding may have been filled. The spring is no longer there and excavations have not yet taken place. Once again, there is not enough evidence to determine if this is the true location.
For now, Cana remains missing!
Caesarea is a city that is heavily featured in the Acts of the Apostles. Today, the ancient city lies in ruins two kilometres from a modern city of the same name. To differentiate between the two, the Biblical city is now known as Caesarea Maritima and is located within an Israeli national park in the Sharon Plains on the coast of the Mediterranean.
Herod the Great constructed Caesarea (Maritima) between 22 and 9 BC. Before then, Straton I, king of Sidon (365-352 BC) had built a tower on the land, which may have been used as a storehouse. In 90 BC, Alexander Jannaeus, a Hasmonean King of Judea, captured the tower and developed the area into a shipping industry. It remained under Jewish control until 63 BC when the land was taken over by the Romans. The city was awarded to Herod the Great in 30 BC and he began to make vast changes, which included renaming it Caesarea after the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Other developments included a harbour named Sebastos, storerooms, market places, roads, temples and public baths.
In 6 AD, Judea became a Roman province and Caesarea replaced Jerusalem as the capital. The city was the home of Roman governors, including the prefect Pontius Pilate who, as we know, ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. A block of carved limestone was discovered in 1961 bearing the inscription “To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]” which confirms Pilate lived in the area.
If the writings of the 1st-century historian, Josephus, are to be believed, Caesarea’s harbour was as large as the harbour in Athens. The city became the largest in Judea, spreading over 1.4 square miles and provided homes for 125,000 people. During the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) the city was raised to the status of a Colonia and renamed Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea.
Caesarea is first mentioned in Acts 8:40: “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” Philip the Evangelist was responsible for introducing Christianity to Caesarea. One of the converts, possibly the first gentile to convert to Christianity, was Cornelius the Centurion. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.” (Acts 10:1) Peter the Apostle was also involved in the spread of Christianity and when Cornelius heard that Peter was nearby, he requested a visit. “The following day [Peter] arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.” (Acts 10:24) Following this, Cornelius was baptised, which again was a first for the gentiles.
Naturally, the Jewish converts were concerned about a gentile becoming a Christian and being baptised, so they began to criticise him. Peter defended himself and explained his actions, retelling the story of Cornelius’ baptism from his perspective. “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them.” (Acts 11:11-12)
Unfortunately, Peter’s explanation did not please everyone and he eventually ended up in prison after being seized by King Herod Agrippa. An angel of the Lord, however, helped Peter escape and the next day, Herod began thoroughly searching for the fugitive. “After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.” (Acts 12:19) Shortly afterwards, Herod was struck down by the Lord for not allowing God’s word to flourish, and “he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:23)
Another apostle loosely associated with Caesarea was the convert Paul, previously Saul. In Acts 21, Paul “reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist.” (Acts 21:8) Whilst there, Philip prophesied that Paul would be bound by his belt in Jerusalem and handed over to the gentiles. Although people implored Paul to stay in Caesarea, he assured that he was “ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
As Philip predicted, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, however, some people wanted to go one step further and have him killed. To save his life, a commander ordered his centurions to “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmento go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” (Acts 23:23-24) Paul stayed in Caesarea for two years until he was transferred to Rome.
After this, Caesarea is never mentioned in the Bible again, however, there are other works and literature that reveal a little more information about the city. Some say the Nicene Creed may have originated in Caesarea and the early Christian scholar Origen wrote some of his theological works whilst living in the city. The Apostolic Constitution, which was written somewhere between 375 and 380 AD suggests that Cornelius the Centurion became the second Bishop of Caesarea and was followed by Theophilus, the possible addressee of the Gospel of Luke.
Caesarea became the capital of the Byzantine province Palaestina Prima in 390 AD. It remained the capital until the early 7th century when the Sasanid Empire of Persia conquered it during the Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628. The Byzantine Empire managed to temporarily re-conquer Caesarea in 625; however, it was permanently lost to them after the Muslim conquest in 640, during which time the city was partially destroyed. People may have continued to live in the remains of Caesarea and the harbour still functioned until the 9th century.
According to accounts written of the First Crusade, which began in 1101, Caesarea had been rebuilt and fortified. The Crusaders took control of the city until 1191 when Saladin, the Egyptian sultan captured it in 1187. The Crusaders won back their control in 1191 and, during the following century, Caesarea was fortified with high walls and a moat on the orders of Louis IX of France. Unfortunately, the fortifications were not enough to keep Mamluk armies out and the city fell for good in 1265.
In 1952, the modern city of Caesarea was established as a Jewish town near the ruins of the old city. Excavation work began in Caesarea Maritima, unearthing mosaics, foundations of buildings and, most recently, 24 gold coins dating to the Crusader period.
In the Bible, people occasionally confuse Caesarea with another place of a similar name. Caesarea Philippi (Philip’s Caesarea) is mentioned twice in the Gospels. This is not the same place as Caesarea Maritima and may have been called Baal Gad in the Old Testament. “… Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon.” (Joshua 11:17) Caesarea Philippi is now an almost uninhabited archaeological site in the Golan Heights.
Philip II named Caesarea Philippi in honour of Caesar Augustus. It was generally known as Caesarea, however, the New Testament refers to it as Caesarea Philippi to differentiate from the other Caesarea. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus came near to Caesarea Philippi but there is no record that he entered the city. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” It was at this time that Simon Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus promised him keys to the kingdom of heaven. This is also recorded in the Gospel of Mark, which states, “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi.”
Just for fun, did you know there was a saint who once lived in Caesarea (Maritima)? Saint Albina was a young woman from Caesarea who died a martyr in 250 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius. It is not certain whether she died in Caesarea or another city, however, Greek tradition states that after her death, her remains were miraculously transported to the Italian city of Gaeta, where they remain today.
Bethel, meaning “House of God”, is a place name that frequently appears in the Old Testament. It was first mentioned in the Book of Genesis after God had called Abram. “From [Shechem] he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12:8) Unfortunately, the true location of Bethel has been lost.
Some early Christian writers, such as Jerome and Eusebius of Caesarea, described Bethel as a small village, twelve miles north of the city of Jerusalem. Many modern scholars have identified the village Beitin as Bethel, although others suggest the Palestinian city El-Bireh. This is 15 miles north of Jerusalem. Since 1967, Bethel has been associated with Beit El, an Israeli settlement adjacent to Beitin.
Bethel, wherever it may be, appears in twelve books of the Old Testament. As we read in Genesis 12, which is also referenced in chapter 13, Bethel is a place close to where Abram pitched his tent on the way to and from Egypt. It is next mentioned in Genesis 28 when Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau. “He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.” (Genesis 28:19) While resting here, Jacob dreamt of a ladder stretching between Heaven and Earth; at the top stands God, who promises Jacob the land of Canaan. On waking, Jacob renames the place Bethel (House of God), although it is never revealed why the name had changed to Luz, or whether it is the same place as the Bethel mentioned earlier in the book.
Later, God instructed Jacob to return to Bethel, where he built an altar to God “who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Genesis 35:3) Not long after Jacob and his family left Bethel, Rachel gave birth to his final son, Benjamin. Unfortunately, the birth was not without complications and Rachel passed away shortly after.
Bethel is mentioned a few times in the Book of Joshua, which confirms its location to be the same village Abram camped near. “Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, ‘Go up and spy out the region.’ So the men went up and spied out Ai.” (Joshua 7:2) Joshua 12 reveals that Bethel had a king, although we do not learn his name and, in Joshua 18, it is revealed that Bethel was located in the land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin. This is also recorded in 1 Chronicles.
Before the Israelites arrived, Bethel was inhabited by Canaanites. According to Judges 1, however, the tribes of Joseph killed the Canaanites. “Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them.” (Judges 1:22) Unfortunately, the Israelites went on to do evil things and the Lord had them sold into slavery under King Jabin of Canaan. At this time, Israel was being led by a woman named Deborah who held her court “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.” (Judges 4:5) Under Deborah’s command, the Israelites managed to defeat King Jabin.
In Judges 20, the Israelites went to Bethel to ask God whether they should fight against the Benjamites. “Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord.” (Judges 20:26) In this instance, Bethel is living up to the meaning of its name, the House of the Lord. Rather than calling on God from their hometowns, the Israelites travelled to Bethel to seek God out. Bethel was an important religious place at the time and the Ark of the Covenant was kept there. In the following chapter, the Israelites returned to Bethel asking how the tribe of Benjamin could survive since all their women had perished. The Israelites could not give their daughters as wives to the remaining male Benjamites due to an oath they had previously made. The solution was for the tribe of Benjamin to take their wives from “Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” (Judges 21:19)
The prophet Samuel went on yearly visits “from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.” (1 Samuel 7:16) He also instructed Saul, before he was made king, to visit Bethel. “Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there.” (1 Samuel 10:3) It is inferred that there was a Philistine garrison near Bethel because “Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin.” (1 Samuel 13:2) The army attacked the Philistine outposts from these locations.
In 931 BCE, following the death of King Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. This king of the northern kingdom was Jeroboam, Solomon’s superintendent. Fearing his people would prefer the ruler and faith of the southern kingdom, Jeroboam made two golden calves and told his people they were the gods who brought them out of Egypt. “One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.” (1 Kings 12:29) By tricking the Israelites into worshipping these idols, Jeroboam ensured his people stayed within his kingdom. The Israelites would not be fooled forever, as predicted by a man who had travelled “from Judah to Bethel” (1 Kings 13:1) who cried, “A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you … The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.” (13:2-3) The sacrifice of the priests is written in 1 Kings 10 during the reign of King Jehu (842-815 BC); however, the altar was not fully destroyed until the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC). “Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger. “ (2 Kings 23:19)
The Lord had previously spoken through the prophet Amos (c.750 BC) who warned the Israelites that “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.” (Amos 3:14) Bethel had become a place of sin. God tried to encourage the Israelites to “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel.” (Amos 5:4-5)
In the Book of Hosea, Bethel is referred to as “Beth Aven,” which means “house of wickedness”. The prophet Hosea repeated Amos’ warning: “So will it happen to you, Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.” Hosea also remembered the great things of Bethel’s past, for instance, Jacob’s dream: “He found him at Bethel and talked with him there.” (Hosea 12:4) By the time the prophet Jeremiah was writing in the 6thcentury BC, Bethel had received its fate. Jeremiah states, “Israel was ashamed when they trusted in Bethel.” This shows that the Israelites had repented of their sins. Zechariah, writing in around 520 BC, reveals that Bethel once again became the “House of God”. “The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, ‘Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’” (Zechariah 7:2-3)
During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605-562), the Israelites were enslaved. After Cyrus the Great conquered the empire in 539 BC, the exiles were allowed to return from Babylon. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the number of male Israelites that returned to each city. There is, however, a discrepancy in numbers; Ezra records that 223 men returned to Bethel and Ai but Nehemiah claims it was 123. Nehemiah also records that it was the descendants from the tribe of Benjamin that reclaimed Bethel and its settlements.
Although not recorded in the Bible, Bethel was inhabited during the time of the Maccabees (167-37 BC) and built up by Bacchidies, a Hellenistic general and friend of the Syrian-Greek King Demetrius. The last written historical record of Bethel tells us the emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) captured the town, but after that, it fell into obscurity.
If the proposed town of Beitin really were the location of Bethel, the events of the Bible would have occurred there during the Iron Age. Before then, during the Bronze Age, the Canaanites lived in the era, evidenced by the remains of tombs and houses to the north and south of the town. It was around 1750 BC when the village of Bethel was elevated to the status of a town.
As a minister, life is very unpredictable. What is nice about Christmas is it always happens on 25th December. The season of Christmas is well signposted with Advent, Nine Lessons and Carols, and the joy of Christmas Morning where we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour. We will no doubt be waking up to an array of presents, some unexpected, and some because of all the hints (e.g. a video doorbell so that I can see who is at the door so I do not have to get up) that you have dropped have been received and acted upon.
Following Jesus, of course, is unpredictable because we try to imitate the love that Christ offers and that can sometimes be nigh on impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit. But if we have love in our heart for all people, irrespective of who they are, and demonstrate that love, then not only will this be a most blessed Christmas for us, we could be the answer to other people’s prayers, which means we could make it feel like Christmas for others.
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon