Sunday, April 16, 2006

KAFR CANA, Israel — Cana, the village in Galilee where the Bible says Jesus changed water into wine, has been excavated by archaeologists in a crash effort to uncover its ruins before they are pulverized by local building contractors.

The site is situated at Karm-a-Ras, a picturesque slope dotted by olive trees planted in the 14th and 15th centuries. It overlooks a lush agricultural expanse, part of which may eventually become an archaeological park.

Many of Cana’s houses contained ritual baths and stone vessels indicating its inhabitants were Galilean Jews at the time of the miracle described in the Gospel of John. No imported or glass vessels were found, a factor that attests to its Jewish identity and economically modest circumstances.

That may explain why the wine ran short there after the first three days of a weeklong Jewish wedding mentioned in the biblical narrative.

Jesus’ first miracle is described in John 2:1-10.

“When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’ Nearby, stood six stone jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing,” it says.

The servants were told to fill the jars with water “to the brim,” the text goes on. “Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.”

Yardenna Alexandre, a British-trained Israeli archaeologist, has been excavating a site she associates with the Roman-era village in which the miracle is said to have occurred.

A graduate of the Institute of Archaeology at University College, London, she led a monthlong “rescue dig,” in the course of which 11 large clay storage jars were found. They had been stashed in underground hide-outs hewn out of the bedrock by the village’s Jewish inhabitants, apparently to evade the Roman legions of the future emperor Vespasian. The jars, in perfect condition, contained mainly grain and other staples.

The igloo-shaped hide-outs were connected to a tunnel that opened on a large pit, with a hidden opening at one end permitting escape.

Miss Alexandre emphasized that her scientific work was not inspired or motivated by the miracle associated with Cana.

“Archaeology cannot prove or disprove miracles,” she said. “But it can provide a realistic background of the biblical narrative. …

“My vision is that the rest of the site will be excavated and become visible and accessible to pilgrims and tourists from all over the world who are interested in seeing Cana as it was at the time of Jesus,” Miss Alexandre said.

While the jars she found had not been used to store water, she said she found it plausible that Jesus would have visited a poor town like Cana while avoiding the more prosperous city of Sepphoris nearby. “Sepphoris opened its gates to the Romans,” she said.

The Roman-era village of Cana was built atop the ruins of an Iron Age settlement that dated from about 1,000 B.C., Miss Alexandre said. Most of its structures were built when the realm ruled by Kings David and Solomon was divided into the southern Kingdom of Judea and the northern kingdom of Israel.

That earlier town was destroyed in the ninth century B.C., probably by the Arameans who then ruled Damascus, Syria, Miss Alexandre said. Ancient Cana was rebuilt before the ninth century ended.

By the first century A.D., its economy was based on agriculture and it had Christians living alongside Jews, said Miss Alexandre, who has used pottery, coins and carbon dating to establish a timeline. But in the fourth century, the two religious communities “split.”

The original site was abandoned in the fifth century, but the village of Kafr Cana — which today is a small city — developed nearby.

The modern town was predominantly Christian throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, a period during which several Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were built to commemorate Jesus’ first miracle. By the 20th century, it was attracting an increasing number of Muslim Arab residents who now outnumber its Christians.

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