History of Cana of Galilee

Cana of Galilee

Cana of Galilee has a long history. Worked stone littering the site indicates occupation as far back as the Neolithic period (7000-8000 years ago). Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.E.) pottery is also evident. The Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser mentioned a city of Kanna in annals detailing his military campaign across northern Israel. And the town probably had important links to the Greek-speaking Seleucid empire, which controlled much of the area to the north and east (present-day Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq) after the death of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E.

By mid-second century B.C.E., a major power shift had occurred in the region when a revolt led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers (called the Maccabean revolt) established Jewish rule in Jerusalem. As their rule extended to the north to include Galilee, much of Cana probably became Jewish.

When the Romans took over the region in 63 B.C.E., major changes began to alter the landscape. The city of Sepphoris was built (and rebuilt) on the other side of the Bet Netofah Valley from Cana, and bustling trade began taking place between Cana and such nearby pottery villages as Shikhin and Kefar Hananya in upper Galilee.

With the Roman conquest, people of the town also witnessed increasing turmoil. A Galilean Jewish peasant named Jesus, who lived in nearby Nazareth, stirred up the population so much that the Romans crucified him as a criminal. The New Testament tradition has Cana housing a king’s man (John 4:46-54) and places Jesus there during a wedding feast (John 2:1-11). A major Jewish revolt took place against the Romans beginning in C.E. 66. Josephus, a Jewish historian, mentions Cana as a small town he visited during the first century Jewish Wars (Vita 16.41). People in Cana in July 67 would have seen a large Roman army march along the Wadi (valley) Yodefat at the western base of their hill to fight and win their first major battle against the Jews at Yodefat (Jotapata), only 3 kilometers away.

After the revolt, Cana grew, possibly from refugees fleeing battles around Jerusalem. But changes in the larger world were again to transform the town. Constantine gradually converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, and by the fifth of sixth century some unknown Christian group came to Cana and built what appears to be a large monastery directly over the earlier Jewish town. Numerous coins and very high-quality imported ceramic wares indicate that this group was quite well-to-do (perhaps due to profits from an increasing pilgrim trade of subsidies from the Christian emperor). Arabs then brought Islam to the region and Christianity began to fade. It was re-established when Crusaders took control of the region for about two centuries starting around C.E. 1000. On July 4, 1187, the balance of power changed again. People from Cana, with their great view of the valley, no doubt saw a large Crusader army marching to battle at the horns of Hattin (near the Sea of Galilee) against Islamic forces led by the great military general Saladin. The battle resulted in a resounding defeat of the Crusaders from which they never fully recovered. Cana passes out of history shortly thereafter and appears to become a small agricultural village until its abandonment and demise around 1837.

(Source: Edwards, Douglas R. "Sifting Through the Past: the Geospatial Future of Archaeology." Geo Info Systems 10 (2000): p.26.)