"nature gathered every plant and season..."
The town of Capernaum - where so much of Jesus' ministry took place and where Peter and some of his other disciples came from - was situated on the edge of the Plain of Gennesaret on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, an area regarded by many people then as almost a paradise.
"In one sweeping gesture nature gathered every plant and season in this spot," the early Jewish historian Josephus wrote. "People can grow anything here. The temperate climate favors every kind of plant. Walnut trees that like the cold grow beside palm trees that thrive in heat, and figs and olives that like a milder climate."
Like the fertile plain, the fresh waters of the lake, eight miles wide and thirteen miles long, were rich, too, in all kinds of fish. Year round, fishermen spent long but profitable hours casting their nets into the blue water. The lake provided them a good living despite an occasional storm or a day when they caught nothing. Returning to shore, they sorted out the best fish, preserved them, and shipped them at a comfortable profit to nearby towns and even to distant cities throughout the Roman Empire. Fish from the Lake of Galilee, whether fresh, dried, pickled or roasted, was a favorite dish for any table.
Trade Route and Customs Center
Fishing and farming were not Capernaum's only occupations. It was also a customs town, just 3 miles from the border that separated the territory ruled by Herod Antipas from that of his brother Philip.
A major imperial road passed by the edge of the town, and travelers and merchants from far away cities like Damascus in Syria had to stop at Capernaum to pay a tax.
A detachment of Roman soldiers was stationed at Capernaum to police that part of the road. And, of course, tax-collectors lived there, too.
A Cosmopolitan Town
Living where they did, the Jews of Capernaum were far more involved with their gentile neighbors than were the strict-living Jews of Nazareth, who prefered to live apart in the remote hill country of Galilee. In fact, the relations of these Jews of Capernaum with some gentiles were quite cordial.
Just 30 yards from the house where Peter lived, a new synagogue (steps at right) had been constructed for the town, as a gift from the commander of the local Roman garrison, who genuinely liked the people there. And they liked him.
Capernaum residents even tried to get along with the tax collectors in the town. True, tax collectors could be untrustworthy, yet, how could you trade fish or farm produce without them? They could not be ignored.
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