Having spoken of Nazareth, it will not be amiss to make some mention of Capernaum, which, however distant many miles, yet was it the place where our Saviour dwelt, as Nazareth was his native soil. We have considered its situation in another treatise, being in the country of Gennesaret, a little distance from Tiberias. There is another Capernaum mentioned by Gulielmus Tyrius, that lay upon the coast of the Mediterranean, as this did upon the coast of Gennesaret: "In a place called Petra Incisa, near old Tyre, betwixt Capernaum and Dor, two sea-coast towns."
It is uncertain whether the name be derived from pleasantness or comfort. And though our Capernaum might justly enough take its name from the pleasantness of its situation, according to the description that Josephus giveth of it; yet the oriental interpreters write it the latter way. The Rabbins also mention such a town, written in the same letters; of which, perhaps, it will not be tedious to the reader to take this story:
"Chanina, R. Joshua's brother's son, went into Capernaum, and the heretics" (or magicians for the word signifies either) "enchanted him. They brought him into the city sitting upon an ass"; on the sabbath-day, which was forbidden by their law. "He went to his uncle R. Joshua, who besmeared him with a certain ointment, and he was recovered." It should seem that, by some kind of enchantments, they had thrown him into a delirium so far, that he had forgot both himself and the sabbath-day. There is another story immediately follows that:
"A certain disciple of R. Jonathan's flies over to these heretics" [that himself might be entered amongst them, and become one too]. "Jonathan finds him out employed in castrating birds and beasts. They sent to him" [Jonathan], "and said, It is written, Cast in thy lot amongst us, and let us all have one purse. He fled; and they followed him, saying, Rabbi, come and give us a cast of thy office towards a young bird. He returned, and found them committing adultery with a woman. He asked them, Is it the manner of the Jews to do such things as these? They answer, 'Is it not written in the law, Cast in thy lot amongst us, and let us all have one purse?' He fled, and they pursued him to his own house, and then he shut the doors against them. They call to him and say, 'O Rabbi Jonathan, go, and rejoicing tell thy mother, that thou didst not so much as look back towards us; for if thou hadst looked back, thou hadst then followed us as vehemently as we have now followed thee.'"
While I read these things, I cannot but call to mind the Nicolaitans, and such who indulged to themselves a liberty of all obscene filthiness; nor is what we have related unworthy our observation with respect to heresies of this kind. Should this Capernaum be the same (as probably it is) with that Capernaum which we meet with so frequently in the evangelists, it is something observable what is said of it, "Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell."