“Woe unto you, Chorazin!” So says Jesus of this town in the Galilee (Matthew 11-21; Luke 10-13).
Chorazin is one of several Galilean towns condemned because they did not repent-
“Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you Beth-saida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11-21–24).
Chorazin gets a better press in references to it in later rabbinic writings, from the third and perhaps fourth centuries. Then it is identified as one of the many “medium-size towns” in Palestine (Tosefta Makot, 3-8). Its characteristic features, as we shall describe them, are typical of these “medium-size towns.”
In the Talmud, Chorazin is also mentioned in connection with the ‘omer, the first harvest offering. There it is said that the ‘omer would have been brought to the Temple from Chorazin “if only it [Chorazin] had been nearer to Jerusalem” (Babylonian Talmud, Menahot, 85a).
Chorazin has generally been identified as the site of Khirbeta Karaze in the foothills rising above the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, not far from the lake itself.
The site was first identified with ancient Chorazin by C. W. M. Van de Velde, a Dutch officer who traveled in Palestine in the middle of the 19th century. In 1905, two German scholars, Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger, who were surveying the Galilee, looking for ancient synagogues, identified the remains of an ancient synagogue at Chorazin.
In 1926 Na’im Makhouly and Jacob Ory, then regional inspectors of the Department of Antiquities of the mandatory government of Palestine, cleared the synagogue and removed a later building erected on its northwestern corner. They also collected the many decorated architectural fragments scattered about the site and arranged these remains from the synagogue in some order…
The earliest olive press—in the northern part of the town—takes our evidence of settlement back to the second century A.D. But what of the village of Chorazin from the time of Jesus, the Chorazin referred to in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew?
This is still a mystery. From all that we now know archaeologically, it would appear that Chorazin was one of those sites founded during the influx of Jews into the Galilee following the resounding failure of the two revolts against Rome—the First Jewish Revolt that ended in 70 A.D. and the Second Jewish Revolt that ended in 135 A.D. As expelled Jews from the south moved north, they founded dozens of new towns and villages that prospered in the centuries that followed.
Yet we have clear literary evidence—from the Gospels and the Talmud—of an earlier village of Chorazin. At its height in the fourth century, Chorazin covered between 80 and 100 acres. Only a tiny portion of this village has been excavated. Perhaps we have not yet hit the first-century village, which was probably much smaller than the later expanded town built by the refugees who moved north after the Romans crushed the Jewish revolts.
Although we have not yet found the Chorazin of Second Temple times, it could not have been much different from the later town. It was probably a small Jewish village, rather than what the Talmud calls a “medium-size town.” The houses were doubtless built of the same black basalt. There was no doubt a ritual bath, and a synagogue, and even some olive presses. And this small village must have had the same serene view that Chorazin has even today, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Ze’ev Yeivin, “Ancient Chorazin Comes Back to Life- A Galilee town is reconstructed from fragments,” BAR 13-05, Sep-Oct 1987.