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Among Christians and other students of the New Testament, Cana is best known as the place where, according to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus performed his first public miracle, the turning of a large quantity of water into wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-11) when the wine provided by the bridegroom had run out (see Jars of Cana). Although none of the synoptic gospels records the event, mainstream Christian tradition holds that this is the first public miracle of Jesus.
The other biblical references to Cana are from John too. John 4:46, which mentions Jesus is visiting Cana when he is asked to heal the son of a royal official at Capernaum; and John 21:2, where it is mentioned that the apostle Nathanael (usually identified with the Bartholomew included in the synoptic gospels' lists of apostles) comes from Cana. The Book of Joshua mentions one city (19:28) and one brook (16:8; 17:9) named Cana – neither is likely to be the Cana of Galilee.
In secular history, the annals of Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, who conquered the Galilee in a 733 BC campaign, contain a badly preserved list of cities that had been thought to mention a certain Kana. It relates 650 captives were taken there. However, a revised transliteration revealed the one well preserved syllable to be Ku, not Ka.
Flavius Josephus mentions more than one place named Cana; in the context of the Galilee there are two mentions in his Life. Once, a place on the road from Iulias, and again, a place where he resided, about a day's walk from Tiberias.
The name possibly derive from Hebrew or Aramaic for either reeds or nest.
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There has been much speculation about where Cana might have been. In his Gospel, the author makes no claim to have been at the wedding, and the gospel is not a reliable topographical source. Many would regard the story of the wedding at Cana as of theological rather than historical or topographical significance; it is the first of the seven miraculous "signs" by which Jesus's divine status is attested, and around which the gospel is structured.
The consensus of modern scholarship is that the Fourth Gospel was addressed to a group of Jewish Christians, and very possibly a group living in Judea province; so it is unlikely that the evangelist would have mentioned a place that did not exist. There is a minority view that the gospel was written for a gentile audience, and those who take this view assert that the description in the passage about the marriage at Cana of "six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification" is specifically for a gentile audience, who would not know the topography of the Holy Land. On this hypothesis the name "Cana" might have some purely symbolic significance.
There are two locations in the Galilee which scholars consider for biblical Cana:
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a tradition dating back to the 8th century identifies Cana with the modern Arab town of Kafr Kanna, on the feet of Nazareth range, about 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) northeast of Nazareth. The ruined village of Khirbet Qana, overlooking Beit Netofa Valley from north, is about 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) further north, and has also been noticed by pilgrims since the 12th century or earlier. Its Arabic name Kana-el-Jalil, although it parallels the gospel of John, can either be an ancient retention, as Edward Robinson maintained, or it was attached to the place in conversation with querying pilgrims.
Geographers since the 19th century had tended toward the latter, but in the 21st century, excavations in the west of Kafer Kanna tilted their views once more. Ain Kana, closer to Nazareth, is considered by some to be a better candidate on etymological grounds.