Off the Beaten Track: Korazim's illustrious past

Overlooking the Kinneret, Korazim is one of the most well preserved cities from the Second Temple period.

Kinneret at sunset 311 (photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Kinneret at sunset 311
(photo credit: Joe Yudin)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
In the hills of the lower Galilee, overlooking Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) sits one of the most well preserved cities from the Second Temple period nestled away on a side road between Vered HaGalil and Moshav Almagor: Korazim.
This site, venerated by Christians as one of three cities cursed by Jesus, is almost always absent of Jewish visitors, perhaps this is due its connection to Christianity. However the city was home to the Jewish people for 800 years and evidence of their existence is abundant.
From Tiberias take Route 90 north towards Rosh Pina and turn right at Korazim Junction onto road 8277. Pass Domus Galilaeae on your right. You might want to stop there in the Catholic institution’s parking lot and take some pictures here of the lake below with the Golan Heights looming above.
Catholics consider this spot the summit of the Mount of Beatitudes, with Jesus giving his Sermon on the Mount between here and Capernaum. This unique building is worth a visit, especially the room where a Torah is enshrined. About a kilometer down the road on the right is the National Park of Korazim.
Walking into the park is a bit overwhelming as antiquities are scattered about everywhere. Notice how the stones are all black, being chiseled from the local volcanic basalt stone. The nearby Golan Heights was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago by a series of volcanoes, with the last one erupting 50,000 years ago.
Pass the bathrooms on the right and after about 50 meters you come to the ruins of a building on your right which seems to have some cubbies installed in the center. This may have been the changing room for the local mikve ritual bath. If you go a bit further you will see two baths that have been somewhat restored and indeed still fill up with water after every rainfall.
Continue in the same direction and you are entering the center of the town with buildings - probably from the fourth century - scattered about. The most impressive building is at the center of town, with modern stones fitted in the gaps among the original finely cut stones of the building.
Go to the end of the building and turn right and you can’t miss this very impressive ancient fourth century synagogue.
Take a look at the sign with an artist’s rendition of what the synagogue once looked like. Once you enter the synagogue and turn around you are facing due south towards the Kinneret and Jerusalem. Most synagogues in the Galilee and Golan are situated this way.
To the left is the seat of Moses, a copy of the original which is now in the Israel Museum. Notice the Hebrew writing just under the lip of the seat with an inscription of a “Ben Yudan” who dedicated the chair as a place of honor to sit during the service.
Remains of the Torah’s ark, heart shaped pillars and even carvings of grapes and Greek-pagan symbols can be found. The Medusa head is especially intriguing as to how it was accepted into the artwork of the synagogue. The use of these Hellenistic images here and in other synagogues all around Israel show the tolerance of the Jews during the Late Roman-Byzantine periods and their view that as long as you aren’t praying to them, graven images were not forbidden, even images of mythical creatures and pagan gods.
While in this synagogue one cannot forget its importance to Christians: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23).”
This line in the Gospels suggests that it is quite possible Jesus did visit this town and visited an earlier synagogue on this site. However Jesus didn't have good news for the people of Korazim:
“Woe to you, Korazim! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you (Matthew 11:20-22).”
Make sure to explore the city a bit. The main square of the city and its cobblestone roads are to the east of the synagogue and some later houses and oil presses are to the west. Down in the wadi lives a family of Hyrax. Try to see if you can spot one. The very best part of this site is, however, the quiet, majestic views of the mountains of Galilee, the Golan and the beautiful Kinneret.
Joe Yudin became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is currently studying toward a PhD.