Capernaum is the name of a settlement on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in modern Israel. The RP pronunciation has four syllables, with the stress on the second: 'cap-PURR-nay-um', IPA: /kə ˈpɜr neɪ (or ɪ) əm/. The name means 'village of Nahum', although, as it was founded in the second century BCE, the Nahum cited was probably not the Old Testament prophet Nahum, who was active around the seventh century BCE - 500 years earlier.
Under the name Kfar Nahum, it is now an archaeological site and a tourist centre, whose main attraction is that it was the scene of much of Jesus' teaching and several of his miracles. He is thought to have lived in Capernaum (perhaps in the house now known as St Peter's house) and preached in the older of the two synagogues there (of Roman date). Capernaum was a fishing village, catching fish in the Sea of Galilee, and it was the home not only of Peter but also of the other apostles James, Andrew and John. Matthew the tax collector lived in Capernaum. The site is now much visited by pilgrims: tourist literature often calls it 'the town of Jesus'. The village is named in all four Gospels, including Jesus' curse "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matthew, 11.24).
The name of the Lebanese film Capharnaüm ('kaff-arn-ah-om', IPA: /ka faʁ na ɔm/), written collaboratively (in Arabic and Amharic) and directed by Nadine Labaki in 2018, is indirectly derived from the French name of the town. (Lebanon was a French mandate from 1920 to 1946, and "almost 40% of Lebanese are considered francophone" (wikipedia, 2019).) On screen, the sub-titled version shown in UK cinemas translates the title as 'Chaos': it is a gruelling account of a Syrian refugee boy of around 12 years old serving five years in prison for stabbing his late sister's husband, who sues his parents for bringing him into the miserable life he has led. The explanation of the indirect link to 'the town of Jesus' is:
- According to the French version of Wikipedia, the French transliteration Capharnaüm of the Hebrew כְּפַר נַחוּם ('Kəfar Nāḥūm'), تلناحوم in Arabic ('Tel Nahum') given as Capernaum in English "is used above all to describe a place in a big mess, containing many things piled up pell-mell together; a place of disorder, and by metonymy a heap of such objects. This meaning, unique to French [AWE's emphasis], and much used by Balzac, is explained by Littré by the fact that Capernaum is tied to the reading in Mark 2:2, "many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door". French Wikipedia also cites Larousse as saying that this meaning is 'to do with a large commercial city', and that there may be a phonetic confusion with the French word cafourniau, which means 'a little room at the side of a house used for getting rid of clutter' - a lumber room.