Chorazin: God’s Curse for Rejecting the Gospel

It is called the “Evangelical Triangle”—three towns on the north side of the Sea of Galilee: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin (KOR-a-zeen).1 Jesus spent over seventy percent of his ministry in this region. The people here witnessed more than half of Jesus’ recorded miracles. The area should have countless loyal followers of Christ, the most significant number of conversions, and be the center of the Christian world, right? No. 

“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:21). Tyre and Sidon? Those were pagan Gentile cities! “And thou, Capernaum…it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (vv. 23–24). Really? That Sodom? 

We are probably quite familiar with Capernaum and Bethsaida, as these cities appear in the Bible numerous times. Bethsaida existed on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee just to the east side of the Jordan River. Several disciples were from this town: Peter, Andrew, Phillip, James, and John. Jesus performed several miracles here: giving sight to a blind man (Mark 8), feeding five thousand men (Luke 9), and walking on water (Mark 6). 

Capernaum is even more well-known. It stood on the north side of the Sea of Galilee and to the west of the Jordan. This was Jesus’ “hometown” when he visited the area. He probably stayed at the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, whom he healed according to Matthew 8. In Capernaum, Jesus cured a centurion’s servant (Luke 7). He also “healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils” here (Mark 1:34).  

But what of this town, Chorazin? Chorazin gets mentioned out of nowhere in the “woe” passages above, only to disappear from Scripture by the very next verse.  

Chorazin is two miles north of the Sea of Galilee, almost directly above Capernaum. Beneath its land is an abundance of volcanic rock, which made Chorazin a thriving agricultural center in the New Testament times.2 This soil would cause the ground to heat up more quickly than other places, thus producing the highest quality grain. Chorazin flourished as a town. But Jesus pronounced a woe on it! 

The curse on Chorazin has been realized through its failure to maintain existence throughout history.3 Its inhabitants abandoned it in AD 135 when the Jews were expelled from Israel and Palestine by the Romans. Although it was rebuilt in the third century, an earthquake destroyed Chorazin around the year 330. Repeated attempts to revive Chorazin as a sustainable town have failed over the past seventeen hundred years. What man attempts to establish, God can destroy at any time.  

Nevertheless, some of Chorazin’s history is alive today due to excellent archaeological work over the past several decades. So, let’s visit Chorazin and examine some fascinating things they have unearthed. 

The remains visible today in Chorazin are estimated to have come from the third century, before the devastating earthquake.4 Historians estimate that Chorazin’s population consisted of one thousand to fifteen hundred people. Visitors can see a cobblestone public courtyard and a ritual bath that would have been used for cleansing and purification before entering the synagogue for special feast days. Even ruins of tiny stone homes remind us that people lived here.  

The masterpiece of Chorazin, however, is the synagogue, unearthed and ready for visitors to enter. Located in the center of town on an elevated site, its layout is similar to how it would have been during Jesus’ visits. The entrance faces southward because the doors of all synagogues must face Jerusalem. As visitors approach, they must go up a twelve-step stone staircase. From the patio at synagogue level, they enjoy a spectacular view across a beautiful two-mile vista of rolling, green hills meandering down to the coast of the Sea of Galilee. 

Inside the fifty by seventy foot synagogue is one large open hall where visitors will notice the stone benches that go around the entire perimeter of the room. No upper gallery exists, meaning that men and women were not segregated in this synagogue.5 The middle of the room is open because the people sat as they listened to the teacher. If visitors walk to the back, they will find a cabinet shell that contained the Torah and all the scrolls that could be read. Looking more closely at the walls, one can see beautiful carvings in the stone: plants, local animals, stone lions, and even the head of Medusa. These artifacts indicate the influence of Roman and Greek paganism that even made its way into a Jewish synagogue. This paganism may have influenced the people in their unbelief of Jesus. 

The crown jewel of this synagogue, however, is called The Seat of Moses.6 Discovered in 1920, it is a decorated stone seat on which only the most authoritative teachers could sit and read the Torah to the people. Jesus references this piece of furniture in Matthew 23:2–8: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not…But all their works they do for to be seen of men.” 

Although the woes Jesus spoke were applied to all three towns, the application to Chorazin stands out because this denunciation is all the Bible tells us of this city. We can summarize the cause of these curses in one word—unbelief. Think of all the time Jesus spent in this area. Think of all the miracles he performed in the sight of these people. But still they did not believe in Jesus! Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom never had the extraordinary revelation that Chorazin did: God in the flesh. These pagan cities had the general revelation of creation, which still left them without an excuse for unbelief (Rom. 1:20). Yet Chorazin and the other towns had the living gospel. Although Chorazin has experienced this curse throughout history, all three cities will undergo a final judgment more terrifying than the judgment on Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. 

Let us heed this warning also. We have the word of God. We have the faithful preaching of the word each week. And we have so many means by which we can grow spiritually every day: books, devotionals, podcasts, Bible studies, and more. The book of John, along with the rest of Scripture, was “written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). By the grace of God, let us obey the calling to believe! 

Mike is a member of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church and works as the plumbing manager at Williams Distributing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.