Cana in Galilee

Dionysus (a.k.a. Bacchus) was a god of wine, beer and hallucinogenic mushrooms, whose cult included phenomena of uninhibited ecstasy (think of a rock concert). His cult was closely associated with the worship of the Roman emperor. He was famous, above all, for transforming things into wine.

Recent excavations in Sepphoris and Scythopolis (Beth Shean) have shown how widespread was the worship of Dionysus among the pagans of Galilee. This fact provides a new context for understanding the first “sign” in the Gospel of John. In transforming water into wine at Cana, Jesus is “out-dionysusing Dionysus” (just as in Jerusalem, at the pools of Bethesda, he will “out-aesculapius” the Greek god of medicine). (John 2:1-11)

For the last 1400 years at least, Christians have remembered this first sign at a village called Cana low on the northern slope of the Nazareth ridge. There are three churches. The largest is Franciscan, built on the ruins of a building (synagogue?) from the 4th or 5th centuries AD, when one of the 24 major divisions of Jewish priests lived here. In the middle aisle below a glass panel, we can see a mosaic inscription from this building, mentioning a donor. The monks show a jar revered as one of the six that held the water-become-wine. The Greek Orthodox across the street show another two. To the north is the Greek Catholic church of Nathanael, who hailed from Cana.

Was this the Cana of the Gospel? Perhaps. In the year 2004 a salvage dig (required at ancient sites in Israel before building a house) revealed finds from the Roman period, including fragments of stone vessels and a Jewish ritual bath, pictured below:

In his Onomasticon of the 4th century AD, Eusebius of Caesarea locates Cana in Lebanon. Many scholars prefer a site called in Arabic khirbet kana, “the ruin of Cana,” on the other side of the Netufa valley WNW of here. A dig is underway, but the access is still difficult.

Both khirbet kana and the traditional site lie within a few miles of Sepphoris. We can imagine how Jesus might have met his friend, the future bridegroom, while laboring at this city, which was the capital of central Galilee during his teen years.

In the traditional Cana, the Franciscan church (called the Wedding Church) is open from 8.00 – 11.30 and again from 14.00 – 16:30 (17:30 between April and September). Phone: 04/6517011. Modest dress required.

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