Archaeologists insist that their specialty can't "prove" that the Bible is factually true, and they're right. However, the work of archaeologists lends considerable weight to the probability that New Testament biblical history is rooted in the actual lives of people who lived at the time attributed to Jesus. Such is the case with the search for Cana, the place where the New Testament says Jesus performed his first miracle.
Jesus Turned Water into Wine at Cana
Christians know Cana as the place where Jesus performed his first earthly miracle during a wedding by turning large jars of water into wine, according to John 2:1-11. In the story, Jesus attended a wedding along with his disciples and Mary, his mother. When the wine ran short at the feast, Mary told Jesus to do something about it. Jesus balked at her request, saying it wasn't yet time for him to perform miracles.
Undeterred, Mary went to the household servants and told them to do whatever Jesus instructed. Jesus then complied with Mary's request, asking the servants to bring six large jars estimated to hold 20 to 30 gallons each that were used to store water for Jewish purification rituals. Jesus had the servants fill the jars with water, and then told them to have the steward taste the contents. The steward was astonished at the quality of the wine, and commended the host for apparently saving the best wine for last.
The Bible calls this miracle the first sign that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jews.
Two Sites Considered for Cana's Location
According to archaeologist Jonathan L. Reed, author of The Harper Collins Visual Guide to the New Testament, there are two sites in the Galilee region of Israel thought to be the location of biblical Cana. One is known in Arabic as Kafr Cana ("village of Cana"), a site four miles northeast of Nazareth. The other is Khirbet Cana ("ruins of Cana"), nine miles north of Nazareth. Khirbet Cana is often called Cana of Galilee, so as not to confuse it with a similarly named town in Lebanon.
Tradition holds Kafr Cana to be the site of the wedding at Cana, based on the location of a small Franciscan church built to commemorate the miracle. However, archaeologists have been able to date this site only as far back as the Byzantine era, roughly A.D. fourth to seventh centuries. There have been no artifacts dating to the era of Jesus or the Roman Empire found in the strata below the church.
The other site, Khirbet Cana, has become more favored among archaeologists. Many artifacts dating to Jesus' time have been dug up there, including a few fragments of stone vessels that resemble the stone jars of the wedding at Cana story.
A Third Location Has Been Excavated
However, there's a third possible site for the wedding at Cana at a place called Kerem al-Ras. This site is located on the outskirts of the traditional site at Kafr Cana. Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority have found evidence of a large settlement in this location, including artifacts that more closely resemble the large stone jars described in John 2:6.
Ultimately there may be no way to tell which if these sites, if any, was the setting for the story of the wedding at Cana. Their value lies in the fact that uncovering A.D. first-century stone containers at these excavations shows they were a key part of Jewish life. What's more, vessels of this kind usually were found only in wealthy homes. Thus, their link to the wedding at Cana provides two important clues to the biblical story:
1) Jews practiced water purification; and
2) If such jars were present during the wedding at Cana, then most likely the wedding party was an upper-class celebration.
The search for the location of the wedding at Cana shows that biblical archaeology is important for more than finding holy sites. It's also valuable for learning the history of how people lived during Jesus' time more fully.
Wedding in Cana Resources
Reed, Jonathan L., The Harper Collins Visual Guide to the New Testament (Harper Collins, New York, 2007).
The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version (Oxford University Press, New York, 1994).
Bible Verses Related to the Wedding at Cana
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.