Jesus' Coming-out Party: Wedding at Cana
Summer, 29 AD

 

Soon after his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, Jesus, his mother and his disciples attended a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and it was there that he performed his first recorded public miracle by changing water into wine (John 2:1-11).

According to the prevailing custom, the festivities began on the third day of the week (Shenee or Monday) and lasted seven days. The reclining guests ate on floor mats and, in the course of the celebration, consumed large quantities of food and wine. There was rhythmic music and lively dancing. But, in the course of the festivities, the hosts ran out of wine, causing them great embarrassment:


"On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, 'They have no more wine.' 'Dear woman, why do you involve me?' Jesus replied. 'My time has not yet come.' His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, 'Fill the jars with water'; so they filled them to the brim. 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. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, 'Everyone brings out the choice wine firsthand then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.'" (John 2:1-10).


John explicitly adds:


"This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him."


The emphasis here should not to be placed on the actual miracle, which helped the wedding hosts overcome a temporary embarrassment, but on the profound meaning of the story. The effect of this first manifestation of Jesus' powers is that of a demonstration that he was not an ascetic who lead a retired life in the desert like John the Baptist or the Essenes. He went among common people to care for their needs.

Right, Arab Muslim wedding celebration at Kfar Kana, traditional site of Biblical Cana.

Cana (Hebrew qanah "reed") appears in the gospel of John on three separate occasions, and each time it is followed by "of Galilee," to distinguish it from another Cana (NIV Kanah) on the border of Phoenicia, now Lebanon (see Joshua 19:28). During a later visit, he cured the son of an official from Capernaum (John 4:46-53). John also tells us that one of Jesus' disciples, Nathanael, also called Bartholomew, came from Cana. It was he who inquired of another future disciple, Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46). When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to meet him, he said: "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47).

Earliest mention of Cana outside the Bible

First century AD Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, recounts how he, during the first Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70 AD), stayed for some time "in a village of Galilee named Cana." Furthermore, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, members of the family of Elisha, one of the 24 Jewish priestly families came to live in Cana. Pilgrims, including St. Jerome, commemorated the first miracle of Jesus and the beginning of his public ministry, in a locality of Galilee quite near the town of Nazareth. Initially they mention a church and later, in the medieval period, the ruins of the same. In 570 AD, the anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza, coming from Sepphoris near Nazareth, wrote:


"After walking three miles, we arrived at Cana, where the Lord was present for the marriage, and we sat at the same place, there I, the unworthy, wrote the names of my parents. There are still two vases, I filled one of them with water and out of it I poured wine; full as it was I placed it on my shoulder and placed it on the altar; then we washed at the spring for the blessing."



Where was "Cana of Galilee" located?


Actually, two places in the Galilee have been identified as the village of Cana where Jesus performed the miracles of turning water into wine at a wedding feast and healing the official's son. Both are near Nazareth.

The more-established (but not necessarily correct) site, visited annually by thousands of pilgrims, is called Kafr Kana, just to the northeast of Nazareth. Wine sold here, labeled "Wine from Cana," reflects this Christian tradition:


Kafr Kana or Kanna


Kafr Kana ("village of Kana") is located 5 miles northeast of Nazareth, on the road that descends from Nazareth to Tiberias. Just outside the village, with a mixed Muslim and Christian population of some 8,500, is a spring. Salvage excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority have uncovered remains of a settlement that existed at the time of the United Kingdom of King Solomon and the Kingdom of Israel (following the split between Israel and Judah, from the 10-9th centuries BC). During the course of the excavations, a section of the city wall and building remains were exposed. The site was destroyed in the 9th century BC and abandoned until its ruins were re-inhabited by Galilean Jews in the 1st century AD.

The identification of Kafr Kana with the Cana of the Bible is accepted by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Both have built extensively there. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914, the identification of Kafr Kana with Cana dates back to at least the 8th century. In 1641, the Franciscans purchased the house next to a mosque. But, it was not until 1879, after almost 200 years of negotiations, that the entire property was acquired. In 1881, a small church was built with ancient architectural elements found on the site. (Below) approaching the thriving town of Kafr Kana, traditional site of biblical Cana, on the road from Nazareth to Tiberias.

 

(Above left) Twin towers of the Franciscan Wedding Church at Kafr Kana, modeled after the cathedral in Salzburg, Austria, and consecrated in 1881; (above right) Interior of Franciscan church, with crypt entrance at the base of the steps. The lower church has a chapel and a small museum with artifacts from the site, including a winepress, a plastered cistern and vessels of various dates. One old jar is said to be one of the six used for the miracle.

(Above left) Crypt of the Franciscan church at Kafr Kana, with ritually pure stone jar; (above right) another example of a stone jar, like those in the miracle. Johnís remark that standing nearby were "six stone water jars," or large containers used for the ritual cleansing of the hands before a meal. Each stone jar had a capacity of "twenty to thirty gallons," or some 120 to 180 gallons in all. John gives us this detail to emphasize the magnitude the miracle.

In 1997, excavations beneath the Franciscan church uncovered a medieval church (14th century AD) described by the pilgrims of the 17th century AD as taken over by Moslems. The place of Jesus' miracle was venerated in an underground area. The Franciscan chapel partially occupied this edifice reusing its north wall. Also discovered was a 5th-6th century AD Christian funerary chapel. Only an apse containing a tomb remains. Another find was a 3rd-4th century AD Aramaic dedicatory inscription on a mosaic floor reading:


"Remember Joseph, son of Tanhum, son of Butah with his sons because they made this tabula (mosaic?); may they be blessed. Amen."


Aside from the difficulty in interpreting the word "tabula", the inscription is evidence of an ancient Jewish community. Further excavations in the north courtyard and adjacent rooms brought to light the remains of dwellings in use between the 1st and 4th century AD, along with the walls of a synagogue, which had a facade facing south toward Jerusalem.

Also commemorating the miracle at Cana is a Greek Orthodox church (exterior and interior above), built in 1885.

During his travels in the Holy Land in 1893, famed English artist David Roberts came to the traditional site of the village of Cana. His journal entry dated April 21st:


"There is a small Greek church, said to cover the place formerly occupied by the house in which the marriage took place. A ruined house is pointed out as the residence of our Savior."


The priest of the church showed Roberts a priceless relic ó this, the priest said, was one of the jars in which Christ had transformed the water into wine. Not far from the church, a building lay in ruins, and it was generally indicated as the home in which Christ had lived as a guest for certain period of time. Robert's journal continues:


"...and on entering the village we were shown a fountain from whence the water was said to have been taken."


Roberts noted that the water was plentiful and pure. The women of the village would go to the fountain every day, bearing jars made of the same materials and the same size and shape as those described in the Bible. And the Christian pilgrims would often remain around the fountain, quenching their thirst and participating in what almost seemed a sacred ceremony prior to entering the village. The fact that there were no other sources of fresh water for many miles around reinforced that it truly was the site of biblical Cana. Wine sold here, labeled "Wine from Cana," perpetuates this Christian tradition.

At the north edge of the town, near a school run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is a 19th century chapel dedicated to Nathanael (below) who initially scorned Jesus ("Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"), but later became one of his disciples and was also present when the risen Christ appeared to the disciples "by the Sea of Tiberias." (John 21:2).

 

Despite the general acceptance of Kafr Kana as the scene of Jesus' first miracle, the exact location of Cana is a subject of debate.


The real Cana of Galilee?


According to biblical scholars, the Cana of Galilee mentioned in the gospel of John was not at Kafr Kana, but at Khirbet ("ruin") Qana, a small uninhabited mound of ruins 8 miles northwest of Nazareth and about 3 miles north of Zippori (Sepphoris),* on the north side of the Bet Netofa Valley. Given the difficulty in reaching this site, there exists the strong possibility that Kafr Kana, and not an uninhabited mound, was chosen for its easy access and its proximity to Nazareth.

* (Zippori, four miles northwest of Nazareth, was the capital of the Galilee district at the time of Jesus, but it is not mentioned in the Bible.)

Following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Eliashib family of priests settled at Cana. The Jerusalem Talmud mentions Cana as the origin of a famous 3rd century AD robber, Eli of Cana. The tradition of Jesus changing water to wine at this site may have continued when a Byzantine pilgrim church called the Church of the Master of the Feast was apparently located there. Ancient walls, pottery, glass and other artifacts litter the site.

A 1997 survey and 1998 excavations conducted Khirbet Qana by the University of Puget Sound found many building remains at the site. Pottery found there ranges from the 8th century BC to the 14th/15th centuries AD shards (broken pottery), suggesting that the village was occupied for a long time. Rock-cut tombs were found on the south and southeast side of the village as well as to the north, and numerous caves and cisterns dot the site. Large building stones, possibly from a city wall, are located on the west and east sides. On top is a large building complex (roughly 197 feet x 230 feet) dating to the 5th/6th centuries AD, possibly the Church of the Master of the Feast. The complex has a "mystery" cave on its west side and on the east side is a dovecote (a roost for domesticated pigeons), possibly dating to the Hellenistic period, a Byzantine storage area with steps, and an earlier complex under the "church," possibly from the Roman period. In addition, the site provides a strategic view of an important trade route leading to the west. Given the fact that Qana means "place of reeds" and that nearby are marshy stretches where reeds still abound, the name is entirely appropriate and the identification of the site with biblical Cana is certainly possible.

(Above left) Tell of Khirbet Qana in the Bet Netofah valley, currently under excavation by teams directed by the University of Puget Sound; (above right) Excavated foundations at Khirbet Qana with the Bet Netofah valley beyond.

Jesus' Life Home n Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well