Where Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine?

Finding Cana of Galilee, site of Jesus’ first miracle

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.”
—John 2:1-4


Where did Jesus turn water into wine? Excavations at Khirbet Cana in lower Galilee provide compelling evidence that the town where Jesus’ first miracle was performed has been found. The discovery of a large Christian underground veneration complex suggests that the site may have been worshiped as Cana of Galilee by early Christians since the fifth century C.E. Photo: Courtesy Khirbet Qana Project.

Jesus’ first miracle was performed in Cana of Galilee. When the wedding party in Cana ran out of wine, Jesus commanded the servants to fill up six stone jars with water. After he is offered a cup from one of the jars, the chief steward of the wedding discovers that he is drinking wine (John 2:1–11).

Where did Jesus turn water into wine? Where is Cana of Galilee? There are at least five candidates for Cana in the Bible, but, according to archaeologist Tom McCollough in “Searching for Cana: Where Jesus Turned Water into Wine” in the November/December 2015 issue of BAR, only one site offers the most compelling evidence.

Nine miles from Nazareth lies the site of Khirbet Cana (or Khirbet Qana—“the ruins of Cana”) in lower Galilee. Excavations at Khirbet Cana began in 1998 under the direction of the late Douglas Edwards. BAR author Tom McCollough joined the project as field director in 2000 and became codirector in 2008. Several factors have led McCollough to believe that the Bible’s Cana of Galilee, where Jesus’ first miracle was performed, has been found.

Archaeological work has revealed that Khirbet Cana was a modest, well-connected Jewish village in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (323 B.C.E.–324 C.E.). Khirbet Cana’s Jewish identity has been confirmed by the discovery of a Roman-period synagogue, several miqva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), six Maccabean coins and an ostracon incised with Hebrew letters.

In the free ebook Who Was Jesus? Exploring the History of Jesus’ Life, examine fundamental questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Where was he really born—Bethlehem or Nazareth? Did he marry? Is there evidence outside of the Bible that proves he actually walked the earth?

Khirbet Cana was thus indeed a vibrant Jewish village in antiquity, but was it Cana of Galilee from the Bible? Christians in the Byzantine period seemed to think so. Perhaps the most persuasive evidence that early Christians identified Khirbet Cana with New Testament Cana is the large Christian underground veneration complex discovered by the archaeological team at the end of the first excavation season.

An extensive underground exploration revealed that at least four caves comprise the cave complex. The first cave, which has been excavated, was lined with plaster dating from the Byzantine through the Crusader periods (415–1217 C.E.). Greek graffiti scrawled on the walls of the caves record the presence of Christian pilgrims: some read “Kyrie Iesou” (“Lord Jesus”), some depict crosses and some seem to record pilgrims’ names.

Even more fascinating, the archaeologists found in this first cave what may be an altar: A sarcophagus lid (see image above) inscribed with Maltese-style crosses had been turned on its side to serve as a kind of altar, its top edge worn smooth, perhaps by pilgrims who placed their hands on it during prayer. Above the “altar,” a shelf with two stone vessels had been found.

“There was space for another four,” writes BAR author Tom McCollough. “Six stone jars would have held the water that Jesus turned into wine (John 2:6). All this suggests that Khirbet Cana was regarded as New Testament Cana from a very early time.”

As mentioned earlier, there are at least four other candidates for the Bible’s Cana of Galilee. Khirbet Cana, in fact, is not even the site most visited by tourists today. So why does McCollough believe Khirbet Cana is the best candidate for New Testament Cana? Learn more about the evidence supporting Khirbet Cana’s identification with the site of Jesus’ first miracle and the reasons why the other candidates’ identifications don’t hold water by reading the full article “Searching for Cana: Where Jesus Turned Water into Wine” by Tom McCollough in the November/December 2015 issue of BAR.


Subscribers: Read the full article “Searching for Cana: Where Jesus Turned Water into Wine” by Tom McCollough in the November/December 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a subscriber yet? Join today.

In the free ebook Who Was Jesus? Exploring the History of Jesus’ Life, examine fundamental questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Where was he really born—Bethlehem or Nazareth? Did he marry? Is there evidence outside of the Bible that proves he actually walked the earth?


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Mark and John: A Wedding at Cana—Whose and Where? by James Tabor

The Bethesda Pool, Site of One of Jesus’ Miracles

The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Healed the Blind Man

Where Is the Original Siloam Pool from the Bible?

Mikveh Discovery Highlights Ritual Bathing in Second Temple Period Jerusalem

Pilgrims’ Progress to Byzantine Jerusalem

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on October 5, 2015.


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19 Responses

  1. Jack says:

    Domestic violence could be attributed to the Bible teachings of women and children being possessions.

  2. daniel visan says:

    Did the Lord Jesus ever drank wine at the wedding in Cana or any other place?

  3. Husbandman says:

    So, what wedding was this, what water, what wine? What was there about the being, life and teaching of Jesus that turned the water of a wedding into fine wine? Anything? What Marriage, what Bridegroom, what Bride? And does any of that have anything to do with what Marriage is? Was there something Jesus was, said or did that inspirited Marriage? Or was this miracle simply looking for a place to happen with this place, with its drunken wedding party, a handy prop. Was the miracle all about Jesus the miracle worker or was there something being said about Marriage and Mother? Should we be looking at Jesus or should we be looking at the Bride and Groom. “Your faith has made You well.” So where then should we be looking, at Jesus or at the faith of the faithful? Was Jesus too a prop and the Bride and the Bridegroom the miracle?

  4. Prince says:


    Those who are mislead into thinking that Jesus advocated drinking Wine need to re-read the Bible! A man who taught to wish for others what we wish for ourselves could never have wished us to drink alcohol while he himself abstained from it! The sufferings of men due to alcoholism, the billion dollars of medical budget deficits due to soaring drinking problems, its associated crimes and domestic violence can never be attributed to the miracle of Christ turning Water into an alleged alcoholic component. This is what I think he actually did…

  5. Paul Ballotta says:

    Correction: the quote from my previous comment was from “Before the Muses; An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, vol 1,” by Benjamin R. Foster, p. 354, and is available in personal document form online.

  6. Paul Ballotta says:

    The introduction to the Creation Epic “Emuna Elish” is borrowed from the translation in “Babylonian Genesis; The Story of the Creation,” by Alexander Heidel, p.354:
    “When on high no name was given to heaven,
    Nor below was the netherworld called by name,
    Primeval Apsu, their progenitor,
    And matrix-Tiamat, who bore them all,
    Were mingling their waters together,
    No cane brake was intertwined nor thicket matted close…”
    Note the duality of the cane-brake and reed-mat that were used in southern Mesopatamia to regulate the flow of river water compared with the shrub and herb of the field that prevents soil erosion in the dryer conditions of the Negev desert (Genesis 2:5). The footnote explains the Apsu as being the freshwater and while the term “matrix” that is applied to the mother ocean Tiamat is the word “mummu” which means “wisdom” or “skill” and can be compared to the primordial wisdom described in Proverbs 8:30 as a “master craftsman” (Hebrew “amon,” a term that dates back to the city of Ebla in the 25th century B.C.E. that refers to the leader of a scribal school).
    By the time Khirbet Cana was founded, the “Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach” was already vintage, and chapter 24 is devoted to the personification of Wisdom and verses 32-39 (The Jerusalem Bible) describe 6 major rivers (not unlike the 6 stone jars in John 2:6) and it states that “her thoughts are wider than the sea, and her designs more profound than the abyss.”

  7. Paul Ballotta says:

    “Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (John 2:13).
    The observance of Passover from Exodus chapter 12 coincided with the time when the Babylonian New Year was observed in the spring when the barley is harvested. Personally I regard the winter barley crop as the cruder cereal of the two, with wheat being harvested in the autumn when it was the Jewish New Year. Thus, the vernal equinox serves as a time-frame for the wedding feast, and the barley harvested is signifying the earlier work of the gospel of Mark who was the companion of Peter in Egypt (think Passover) while the refined product of wheat is the gospel of Matthew (which is based upon the Mark version) which includes the chronology at the beginning of Jesus being a descendant of the Davidic dynasty (think Babylonian rite of ” taking the hand of Bel,” which is another epithat of Marduk).
    “The Babylonian ceremonies consisted of a sequence of rites which were concerned (1) with celebrating or marking the spring barley harvest; (2) with a patronal festival of the city-god, Marduk, including his enthronement (known as ‘taking Bel by the hand’), incorporating (3) symbolic representation of certain episodes in the Babylonian Epic of Creation; (4) with marking the calendrical aspect of the New Year; (5) with the affirmation of the king as bearer of the sacred duties of kingship; and (6) with the reception and enthronement of the God Nabu” (“Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopatamia” by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, p.137).
    Now while the book of Second Isaiah doesn’t look favorably on these foreign deities (Isaiah 46:1) and sees them abandoned by pack-animals as being too burdensome, we shouldn’t dismiss the symbolism of enthroning the scribal god Nabu/Nebo, or, for that matter, the symbolism of the description of the God Marduk from the Creation Epic as the”shepherd who guides the stars” in reference to the constellation Oruon who’s right hand is extented to Pleides, with its grouping of 6 visible and 1 invisible stars, as it is written; “he had in his right hand seven stars” (Revelation 1:16). So having a surplus of writings on which to produce an updated gospel based on an unknown source of the “Book of Signs” from which come the Johannon account of the 7 signs and hence the name of the town Cana could be interpreted as the Hebrew word “qanah” means “acquisition, possession.”
    Then in John 1:24-25 we learn how alone he was in the big city in this gospel version that is “filled to the brim” (John 2:7) with wisdom.
    “Orion, won’t you make me a star sign
    Orion, get up on the sky-line
    I’m high on your love and I feel fine
    Orion, let’s sip the heaven’s heady wine.”
    From the song “Orion” by Jethro Tull

  8. Paul Ballotta says:

    As far as the connection with Essenes goes, there is an obscure reference to this “sign” that Jesus wrought in John 2:11, on a stone slab with writing similar to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls that is dated to the late 1st century B.C.E. and the early 1st century C.E.. Known as “Gabriel’s Revelation” (that is also available in e-book form on this website), it is thought to be a prophecy from YHWH the Lord of Hosts who states in lines 17-19 that “My servant, David, asked from before Ephraim … to put the sign (?) I ask from you” and that “in three days you shall know…”
    Apparently there was a pre-Christian belief in 2 messiahs; the Messiah son of David and the Messiah son of Joseph (Ephraim), and that this narrative written in the gospel of John, though a century after “Gabriel’s Revelation” was composed, is the fulfillment of this prophecy, with Jesus giving the first “sign” on the third day after being baptized by John.
    In the Sept./Oct. 2008 issue of BAR, the Bible scholar Israel Knohl interpreted line 80 of this text to read ‘In three days live…,” thus alluding to Jesus prediction that he would be ressurected after 3 days. However, in the Jan./Feb 2009 issue of BAR, Ronald Hendel, an expert in the language of that period, interpreted the 80th line to read “in three days, the sign…’
    I would think that both terms, ” live” and “sign,” would apply to the miracle at the wedding, for the simple reason that the rules regarding ritual immersion baths or “mikva’ot,” require that the bath be connected to a “living” water source, or a spring, and it is likely that the stone vessels used for the ritual washing of hands (John 2:6) were filled from a nearby “mikvah.”

  9. Paul Ballotta says:

    McCollough’s article in the current issue of BAR (p.33, and summarized in the above article) mentions that the Roman-period synagogue at Khirbet Cana existed between “the late first- or early second-century C. E.,” and by this fact (I might add) we may infer that this account of the wedding at Cana dates to the time when the gospel of John was composed and was thus not included in the earlier composition of the gospel of Mark. Also McCollough states; “From this period we also found several stepped pools identified as ‘miqva’ot’ (Jewish ritual baths).”
    Now the narrative beginning with John 2:1 is a continuation of the previous chapter in John’s gospel that makes the wedding occur on the third day after Jesus was baptized by John the baptizer. We know from the evidence at Qumran where a ritual immersion bath was found, that the account provided by Josephus was correct, and that the baptism of Jesus was in accordance with the Essene sect’s ritual water purification that new adherents were given to make them at least eligable for membership in the commune (Josephus; The Wars of the Jews, 2.8.7 [138]}.
    The fact that Jesus tells Nathanael that he had a vision of him under a fig tree (John 1:48) is a tantalizing clue referring to the cave that was converted into a shrine for pilgrims during the Byzantine and Crusader periods, where there is presently a fig tree on top of the cave entrance. Jesus also tells Nathanael (who was from Cana, John 21:2) and the other disciples that they will ‘see the heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending to the Son of man” (John 1:51). This was also among the oaths taken by Essenes, that they will “equally preserve the books belonging to their sect, and the means of the angels” (Wars, 2.8.7 [142]).

  10. Paul Ballotta says:

    Commentator Bob brings up a good point about Jesus’ initial reluctance to succumb to his mother’s entreaty to intervene on behalf of the wedding guests for such a mundane matter. From McCollough’s article in the current issue of BAR (pp. 32-33) we see evidence that the site of Khirbet Cana had a Jewish identity with its own synagogue and perhaps Jesus’ mother was trying to avert a situation that occurred at the synagogue in Nazareth where the people “took offense at him” (Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:3, while the account of the townspeople trying to throw him off a cliff in Like 4:29 can be called into question as there is no indication that the town was built on a cliff).
    From Matthew 11:16-17 we see why he would not want to appease the crowd:
    “With whom shall I compare this generation? It is like young children sitting at the marketplaces who cry out to their playmates, saying ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we wailed, but you did not beat yourselves in grief.'”
    In other words, this generation is being manipulated by people who are not busy with the business at hand but are immature control freaks who have nothing better to do than to play center stage in everyone’s affairs.
    There is an interesting depiction of a wedding on a cylinder seal found in western Galilee dating to the beginning of recorded history:

  11. Rob Palmer says:

    Jesus appears very frustrated on this occasion to lash out at his mother. Why so emotional? Was this an account of his own marriage to Mary Magdalene as reported by recent authors? Perhaps he felt entrapped in this situation and the entire concept of matrimony as many do today. Were that we were all there!

  12. Fr Christopher Kelley says:

    Exact places DO matter, because Jesus is no phantom. But they are not for obsession. Diligent research is of interest because it glorifies the Incarnate God. He really stood & acted & taught in various locations.

  13. Fr Christopher Kelley says:

    Moses’ first miracle was turning the Nile waters to blood; provision of wine at a wedding — a week-long party, for which guests left their work, expecting enough food & drink to make it worthwhile. There are cases where unsatisfied guest Sued the Groom for failure to provide them enough! Jesus steps in to the Bridegroom Role, revealing what He will do in “His Hour” yet to come, when He sheds His own Blood on the Cross, that His Bride may come forth from His Side, in Blood & Water.

  14. Kurt says:

    Was Jesus being disrespectful or unkind in the way he addressed his mother at the wedding feast in Cana?—John 2:4.

    Shortly after his baptism, Jesus and his disciples were invited to a marriage feast in Cana. His mother was also there. When the wine ran short, Mary told Jesus: “They have no wine.” In response, Jesus said to his mother: “What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come.”—John 2:1-4.

    Today, for someone to address his mother as “woman” and to say to her “what have I to do with you?” would likely be considered disrespectful, even insulting. But to lay such charges against Jesus would be to ignore the cultural and linguistic context of the event. An understanding of the usage of these expressions in Bible times would be helpful.

    Regarding the term “woman,” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words notes: “Used in addressing a woman, it is a term not of reproof or severity, but of endearment or respect.” Other sources agree with this. For example, The Anchor Bible says: “This is not a rebuke, nor an impolite term, nor an indication of a lack of affection . . . It was Jesus’ normal, polite way of addressing women.” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology explains that the word “is used as an address with no irreverent secondary meaning.” And Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that such usage “is in no way disrespectful or derogatory.” Thus, we should not conclude that Jesus was being rude or unkind to his mother in addressing her by the term “woman.”—Matthew 15:28; Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 19:26; 20:13, 15.
    What about the expression “what have I to do with you?” This is apparently a common Jewish idiom that appears a number of times in the Bible. For example, at 2 Samuel 16:10, we find David stopping Abishai from killing Shimei by saying: “What do I have to do with you men, you sons of Zeruiah? Thus let him call down evil, because Jehovah himself has said to him, ‘Call down evil upon David!’” Likewise, we read at 1 Kings 17:18 that the widow of Zarephath, upon finding that her son had died, said to Elijah: “What do I have to do with you, O man of the true God? You have come to me to bring my error to mind and to put my son to death.”

    From these Bible examples, we can see that the expression “what have I to do with you?” is often used, not to show disdain or arrogance, but to refuse involvement in some proposed or suggested action or to express a difference in viewpoint or opinion. What, then, can be said about Jesus’ words to Mary?

    When Mary told Jesus, “They have no wine,” she was evidently not simply informing Jesus of that fact but suggesting that he do something about it. Jesus used that common idiom to turn down Mary’s subtle suggestion, and his added words, “My hour has not yet come,” help us to see the reason for his doing so.

    From the time of his baptism and anointing in 29 C.E., Jesus was keenly aware that it was Jehovah’s will for him, as the promised Messiah, to follow a course of integrity that would culminate in his death, resurrection, and glorification. “The Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many,” he said. (Matthew 20:28) As the time for his death neared, Jesus made this clear by saying: “The hour has come.” (John 12:1, 23; 13:1) Thus, in his prayer on the night before his death, Jesus said: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your son, that your son may glorify you.” (John 17:1) And, finally, when the mob arrived to arrest him in Gethsemane, Jesus roused the apostles from sleep and said: “The hour has come! Look! The Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.”—Mark 14:41.

    At the wedding in Cana, however, Jesus had just embarked on his ministry as the Messiah, and his “hour” had not yet come. His primary objective was to do his Father’s will in the way and at the time that his Father directed, and no one could interfere with his determined course. In conveying this to his mother, Jesus was firm but in no way disrespectful or unkind. Mary, in turn, did not feel embarrassed or insulted by her son. In fact, sensing Jesus’ meaning, Mary told those ministering at the wedding: “Whatever he tells you, do.” Rather than ignoring his mother, Jesus performed his first miracle as the Messiah—turning water into quality wine—thus demonstrating a fine balance in doing his Father’s will and acknowledging his mother’s concern.—John 2:5-11.

  15. maryp79 says:

    I’m by no means a theologian or archaeologist, though my heart is very much in embedded in both; I have simply gone as far as studying Bible Hermeneutics. When we read the words that have come from Jesus himself, we must understand that He never spoke just for the sake of saying something. His words had depth and meaning beyond our reasoning.
    What has always dawned on me is why Mary, the mother of Jesus, mentions to Him that the wine had run out. Till this moment, Jesus had not performed any miracles – she had not witnessed any. What compelled her to announce this to Him, and why did Jesus respond with the words, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (NRSV) One would NOT expect these words from Jesus, the Son of God – He would NOT have responded with these words, because in our modern day English, this is understood as “What do you or I care”? And Jesus CARED very much about everything! It annoys me sick, how the Bible has been translated into a ‘hundred and one’ ways to suit the interest of different bodies, but not that of Christ.
    And I probe another question to anyone who could possibly shed some light please; and that is WHY would Jesus’s mother go on to tell the servants to do as Jesus would instruct, ‘despite’ the preceding remark Jesus had made?
    Blessing to all,

  16. Ray Briggs says:

    P.S. I walked with Jim Monson to the Biblical Cana. Also spent a month traveling the country with Jim Flemming in his prime. Spent this entire last summer in Israel. Still can’t believe how much energy and attention goes into such trivial issues. “Could this be the shoelace of John the Baptist?”

  17. Ray Briggs says:

    I studied archaeology in Israel in 1983-84 under the best professors in the country (Hebrew University and The Institute of Holy Land Studies) Believe me, the best money could buy. I have been back many times. I always felt a bit smug going through the modern Arab village of Cana because I knew the wedding didn’t happen there. But now, with maturity, I realize the actually location doesn’t matter in the least. It is a stupid, unimportant, irrelevant, inconsequential, meaningless distraction. I regret any time wasted on the issue. It is like making a relic from a soda can from which a famous person drank. Ray Briggs Bradenton Fl

  18. johanes saragih says:

    Yes, Kurt. Jesus is our savior for our needs not wants.

  19. Kurt says:

    Jesus conveyed to people that their concerns mattered to him. For instance, consider the first miracle Jesus performed. He was attending a wedding feast in Cana, a town in Galilee. An embarrassing problem arose—the wine ran out! Jesus’ mother, Mary, told her son what had happened. And what did Jesus do? He had the attendants fill up six large stone jars with water. When a sample was taken to the director of the feast, why, it was fine wine! Was that a trick, some sleight of hand? No, the water “had been turned into wine.” (John 2:1-11) Turning one thing into another has long been a dream of humans. For centuries, men called alchemists tried to turn lead into gold. They never succeeded—although lead and gold are, in fact, remarkably similar elements.(footnote)What about water and wine? Chemically, water is simple, a combination of two basic elements. Wine, on the other hand, contains nearly a thousand components, many of them complex compounds! Why would Jesus perform such a marvelous deed in answer to something as trivial as a shortage of wine at a wedding feast?
    The problem was not trivial to the bride and groom. In the ancient Middle East, hospitality to invited guests was of profound importance. Running out of wine at the wedding feast would have caused the bride and groom considerable shame and embarrassment, casting a pall over their wedding day and their memories of it in the years that followed. The problem mattered to them, and it mattered to Jesus. So he did something about it. Can you see why people would approach him with their concerns?
    Students of chemistry know that lead and gold are quite close on the periodic table of elements. An atom of lead simply has three more protons in its nucleus than gold has. Modern-day physicists have even converted small amounts of lead into gold, but the process requires so much energy that it is not cost-effective.

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