Biblical Prime Meridian: Capernaum

There are various places in and around modern Israel that are candidates for setting the Bible's Prime Meridian. This article explores the candidates and then suggests Capernaum as the only location with direct textual support.

Purpose of a Prime Meridian

The purpose of a prime meridian is to mark the place on the ground where a reference clock is kept. That reference clock is used for setting all other clocks.

Modern clocks are set using a Prime Meridian at Greenwich Observatory, itself located near London.

If we can find a location in the Bible that is called out as the inspired Prime Meridian, then we have the place were the reference clock for scripture should be set.

Impacts On Calendar

This location is important because the clock sets the time for the change in calendar day. So prophetic using of the calendar depend on a correctly set clock and that depends on location.

When I first started working on the Bible Time website I just assumed the reference location would be at Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This means that the Prime Meridian would be a north-south line drawn through that location. The clock would be set against Mean Time measured atop that mountain. So the calendar that is so important to prophetic study of time would be set at that location too.

Problems With Temple Mount

For many years the Bible Time software library kept time, and thus the calendar, using Temple Mount Mean Time.

Prophetic headlines that were accurate to the time of day would hit at the end of the calendar day at Temple Mount. The 2 most noteworthy of these headlines were 911, when the towers fell in NYC, and Presidential candidate Obama's famous Sunday Morning TV quip about his Muslim faith.

Both of these headlines happened around 11:00 AM Eastern time in the USA. Both of these headlines were happening about sunset in Jerusalem.

But these headlines are still not that precise. Anywhere in modern Israel could be used for the Prime Meridian, and this day-break pattern would still work fine. Those headlines do not themselves prove anything about the use of Temple Mount as the Prime Meridian used by inspired text.

Problems With Jerusalem

Temple Mount has another problem, a more severe problem. It is located at Jerusalem. Jerusalem has a strange history. As a city, it was not part of ancient Israel across most of the time of the Judges.

The most important quote that supports this idea is from Judges 19.

10But, unwilling to stay another night, the man left and went toward Jebus (that is, Jerusalem), with his two saddled donkeys and his concubine. 11When they were near Jebus and the day was almost gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let's stop at this city of the Jebusites and spend the night." 12His master replied, "No. We won't go into an alien city, whose people are not Israelites. We will go on to Gibeah." (Judges 19:10-12 NIV)

This story is taking place more than 400 years after the Exodus. It names Jebus as the location for later Jerusalem. And it is calling out Jebus as an alien city.

So is this the proper location for the inspired Prime Meridian? no.

Wherever the inspired Prime Meridian may be, it must have been known at the time of Joshua son of Nun, when he entered Canaan and setup the Tabernacle. Time keeping appears to be one of the functions of the Tabernacle itself.

Candidate: Shechem

In 2022 I adjusted the software used for the calendar on Bible Time. In that revision I set the Prime Meridian to Shechem.

New Testament readers will know this as Sychar, and the location of the encounter with the Woman at the Well.

This valley was used in ancient times when the tribes came together. The mountains of Ebal and Gerizim are just off to the west. At those mountains the text was carved in stone. That location was a simple monument to the traditions of Moses.

Measured by time, Shechem is not very many minutes different from Temple Mount. But, this location put the reference clock at a location that would have made sense from the era, at least, of Moses. This would be favoring the Samaritan Temple at Sychar as opposed to the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem. So this is a less politically correct choice to modern Christians.

This is also a location that would go back to the time of the patriarchs. Joseph's well is located there, so it has continuity back almost 500 years before the Exodus.

My change to this location in 2022 was a reasonable choice. It was better than Temple Mount in Jerusalem because of the connection of this place back to the time of Joshua son of Nun. But, there is an even better choice. This choice has even better textual support.

Better Choice: Capernaum

Remember, the location of a reference clock involves 2 components. It is 1) the location of the Prime Meridian and it is 2) the place where the transit of the sun from east to west happens at noon each day. The sun is highest in the sky when it is over that location. The world is divided into east and west at this location when the sun is overhead at noon.

These aspects work together and form part of the definition of the location for setting the reference clock. So if there is a reference location where the prime meridian of scripture is to be set, then scripture must call out these features of the place in some way.

Of course the Bible does not use modern technical terms, so "prime meridian" is not going to be in the text using that term. It can only combine other less technical terms when calling out that place.

The vocabulary components that point at the location of an ancient Prime Meridian are indeed in the Bible. They show up in the story that explains when Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. Here is the quote.

13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali -- 14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15"Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles -- 16the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Matthew 4:13-16 NIV)

This passage is simple enough. Jesus moved to Capernaum.

But why does this passage quote Isaiah? What is so important about the border between Zebulun and Naphtali? What is the great light? Capernaum itself is on the north shore of the Seal of Galilee. But why would the detail of moving to Capernaum want to also reference the Jordan river?

These are all references to the inspired prime meridian. The border between Zebulun and Naphtali is the north-south line of a meridian. The great light is the sun. The Jordan river is the ancient expression of that meridian, the place where Joshua son of Nun lead the people into the land by crossing the Jordan.

Isaiah

The passage above is itself quoting Isaiah 9. Here is the original quote.

1Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan -- 2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:1-2 NIV)

Here in this base story we are seeing the border between Zebulun and Naphtali, and a reference to the great light and we are seeing a reference to the Jordan river.

What are these? Why are they appearing together?

  • The border between Zebulun and Naphtali appears to be a non-technical reference to the inspired Prime Meridian.

  • The great light reference appears to be a reference to the sun overhead at noon. This is the great light in the sky and it is brightest at noon when the clock is set.

  • The Jordan river reference is indicating that this Prime Meridian runs along the Jordan river.

That the great light reference is also a reference to noon is seen when Paul recounts his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Here is one of the places where he retells the story and he includes word noon.

6"About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, `Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' 8"`Who are you, Lord?' I asked. "`I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 9My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. 10"`What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. "`Get up,' the Lord said, `and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' 11My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. (Acts 22:6-11 NIV)

House at Capernaum

Matthew 24 is pointing at the town of Capernaum. It still exists as ruins on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

The following video is a tour. Note that there is an octagon shaped concrete church that is built so as to float over the ruins of Peter' house at Capernaum. That same house was Jesus' house. That is the location of the reference clock.

Key Points

This is the exact location indicated in Matthew 4.

With this location in mind, it is possible to setup a prime meridian going through that structure.

When Bible Clocks are used to tell prophetic time, they must be set as though they were sitting at that location.