Seeking the location of a myriad of New Testament miracles, excavations in area of important Second Temple-era town uncover conflicting finds
In the New Testament, Bethsaida is a place of miracles. Here, Jesus cured a blind man, turned a few loaves and fishes into food for 5,000, and walked on water. But mysteriously, its location was lost. Now, dueling archaeological excavations place it in the same vicinity on the northern bank of the Sea of Galilee, but at slightly different locations.
Based on the recent discovery of a Roman-era bathhouse in the Bethsaida Valley Nature Reserve, a Haaretz report this week trumpeted “The Lost Home of Jesus’ Apostles Has Just Been Found, Archaeologists Say.” Its location, according to the article, is el-Araj, one of three sites historically debated by scholars.
Known in the New Testament as Bethsaida, the location is the birthplace of three of Jesus’s apostles — Peter, Andrew and Philip. Aside from New Testament accounts, its history was chronicled solely by the Jewish leader Josephus Flavius, who recorded that Herod’s son Philip Herod turned the fishing village into a Roman polis called Julias after the mother of the Roman Emperor Tiberius Livia Drusilla, aka Julia Augusta.
“Josephus reported that the king had upgraded Bethsaida from a village into a polis, a proper city,” Dr. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College told Haaretz. “He didn’t say it had been built on or beside or underneath it. And indeed, all this time, we have not known where it was. But the bathhouse attests to the existence of urban culture.”
In 2014, excavations began at the el-Araj site with a shovel survey, headed by the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology and the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies directed by Dr. Dina Shalem and Aviam. Other collaborators include Nyack College and North Central University.
Pottery shards found at the 2016 el-Araj excavation at Bethsaida (courtesy of Dr. Mordechai Aviam)
The site was previously known primarily for its Byzantine-era artifacts. However, in addition to the bathhouse, a newly excavated Roman layer at el-Araj has offered up remains of a mosaic and pottery sherds from the 3rd to the 1st centuries BCE, according to Haaretz. Additional evidence helps date the settlement: a bronze late-2nd century coin and a silver denarius featuring the Emperor Nero from the year 65-66 CE.
According to a 2016 dig report, “The most surprising find was a group of gilded glass tesserae, which are used in the construction of wall mosaics. These type of tesserae are typical to large and important churches. Which means, even before finding the church itself, it is possible to suggest that in the Byzantine period, el-Araj was identified as a holy place, most likely Bethsaida.”
However, according to the head of a decades-long Bethsaida Valley excavation team at competing site e-Tell, these findings are hardly conclusive for pinpointing the “lost” city’s location. Besides, he’s already found it.
Rami Arav, professor of Religion and Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and co-director of the excavation at Bethsaida north of the Sea of Galilee, has excavated the e-Tell site since 1987. He is the head of the Consortium of the Bethsaida Excavations Project, which consists of 30 scholars from 18 international institutions.
In an email exchange with The Times of Israel, Arav explained that the newly discovered Roman layer “is not enough to identify a place with Bethsaida, there are some more requirements which the dig at El Araj thus far failed to provide,” including finds from the second and the early first half of the first century and a cultic center dedicated to Livia/Julia.
“All these and much more was discovered at e-Tell, hence the identification of e-Tell with Bethsaida as was confirmed by the place-name committee of the Prime Minister of Israel,” wrote Arav.
Judea Capta coin with the head of Domitian found at Bethsaida, dated to 85 CE. (photo credit: Hanan Shafir)
The el-Araj excavators, however, remain unconvinced.
“The evidence of over twenty years of excavations is far from conclusive in demonstrating their claim that et-Tell was first century Bethsaida. The site’s elevation and remoteness from the lake, together with its unexplained decline in material culture at the beginning of the early Roman period, challenge the identification of et-Tell as the lost city of Bethsaida,” according to their website.
Could there have been two Bethsaidas?
Bethsaida’s history predates the dawn of Christianity. The region was settled some 3,500 years ago during the early Bronze Age as evinced by remains of ancient dolmens (tombstones), which can be visited in the Bethsaida Valley Nature Reserve.
The Hebrew Bible depicts it as a desirable and strategic area. According to a 2000 Biblical Archaeology Review article by Arav and the team of archaeologists who excavated the e-Tell Bethsaida site, “In the tenth century B.C.E., Bethsaida was at the heart of the small kingdom of Geshur.”
Basalt Stele decorated with a bull’s head from Bethsaida, 8th c. BCE. (photo courtesy of Israel Museum)
The city-state Geshur appears in the trove of cuneiform tablets called the el-Amarna letters, which largely consists of missives between Egyptian pharaohs and governors of their conquered territories, including in the Holy Land.
The military force of the kingdom of Geshur was to be reckoned with, according to the Bible. In the Book of Joshua it is written, “The Israelites failed to dispossess the Geshurites and Maacathites, and Geshur and Maacah dwell among the Israelites to this day.” Based on archaeological evidence of an impressive city found at the e-Tell site from the Israelite period, Arav and his team hypothesize that Bethsaida is the capital of Geshur.
Taken from the 2016 report of the e-Tell excavation site of Bethsaida, Area A South, Stratum VI city gate. (courtesy)
Through the marriage of Geshur King Talmai’s daughter Maachah to King David, 10th century BCE Bethsaida “allied itself with King David and his dynasty (as a result, Bethsaida absorbed many Israelite cultural influences).” Maachah was the mother of Absalom, who murdered his half-brother Amnon and fled to his mother’s homeland, Geshur. Ties were reformed when Absalom’s daughter Maachah married Solomon’s son Rehoboam, king of Judah.
The Second Temple era saw a flurry of settlement and activity in the Galilee, as many Jews fled the Jerusalem area, which had become more difficult under Roman occupation. Under Josephus, it was fortified ahead of the 67 CE Great Jewish Revolt against Rome.
The potential viability of three potential locations of Bethsaida — the potential third location, el-Mesydiah, about 2 kilometers from the mouth of the Jordan River, has not yet yielded promising finds — has led to some scholars to question whether there was more than one settlement with the same name.
“It is true that there is Degania Alef and Degania Beth and Ein Harod Ihud and Ein Harod Meuhad. But unlike these wonderful modern examples, there was not such a case in antiquity, particularly when they were in such proximity,” said archaeologist Arav.
‘The fishermen at e-Tell abandoned their site because it became too far from the lake and moved further south to the sea shore’
“I suggested long ago, that el-Araj became Bethsaida in the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) after a geological disaster pushed the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee further south. In this period, the fishermen at e-Tell abandoned their site because it became too far from the lake and moved further south to the sea shore,” said Arav.
“So the great great grandchildren of the first century Bethsaida moved three hundred years later to their new location at el-Araj. Perhaps they called it New-Bethsaida,” Arav wrote.
Linda Sarsour (right). Photo: Screenshot.
Anti-Defamation League National Director CEO Jonathan Greenblatt slammed The New School on Monday over the Manhattan-based institution’s upcoming hosting of a panel discussion on antisemitism that will feature several prominent anti-Israel activists.
Participants in the Nov. 28 event — titled “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice” — will include Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson.
“Having Linda Sarsour & head of JVP leading a panel on #antisemitism is like Oscar Meyer leading a panel on vegetarianism,” Greenblatt tweeted on Monday. “These panelists know the issue, but unfortunately, from perspective of fomenting it rather than fighting it.”
Mexico’s Sec. of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso, thanked the IDF team for their work to help the people of Mexico during the earthquakes. (IDF Spokesperson)
Mexico has reportedly announced that it will change its voting strategy at the United Nations and other international bodies by stopping to vote in favor of the Palestinians.
According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Figari contacted Israeli Ambassador to Mexico Yoni Pelad and told him of the shift in strategy for all upcoming voting procedures related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perpetuating the romance of the Bolshevik regime, whose ‘good intentions’ cannot mask the horrors imposed in its name
This was written not in the Soviet Union or one of its satellites, but in New York in 1947 by Robert Warshow in Commentary magazine about the American culture of the previous decade. While slightly hyperbolic (the Southern Agrarians, the American Scholar, etc.?) it faithfully describes American Jewish culture of the time, emphatically including its Yiddish branch. At the extreme of this movement were people like Julius Rosenberg, George Koval, and Mark Zborowski, who actively spied for the Soviet Union. At the same time, editors of Communist publications, Hollywood and union activists, party writers and institutional leaders were all directed by Moscow and were joined by rank-and-file members in promoting the virtues of Stalinism over the evils of American constitutional democracy.
How the grandparents of today’s Christian victims of ISIS were also butchered by Muslims.
Editor’s Note: The following review was written by Raymond Ibrahim, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. The book reviewed is Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide, a History (published by the Oxford University Press, 2016), by Joseph Yacoub, an Honorary Professor of Political Science at Catholic University of Lyon. A significantly shorter version of this review first appeared in the Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2017.
This important contribution to genocide studies documents how the world’s oldest Christian communities—variously referred to as Chaldeans, Syriacs, and Arameans, but best known as Assyrians—were, along with the Armenians, “victims of the [Ottoman] plan for exterminating Christianity, root and branch,” to quote Lord Bryce, circa. 1920. In fact, as half of the Assyrian population was massacred—going from 600,000 to 300,000 in 1915-18—relative to their numbers, no other Christian group, including the Armenians, suffered as much under the Ottomans.
Three non-Jewish men and one non-Jewish woman went up to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, on Thursday morning, and took part in a ceremony in which they received upon themselves the responsibility of adhering to the seven Noahide laws and were officially accepted by a rabbinic tribunal.
The seven Noahides went up to the Temple Mount accompanied by a group of rabbis. One rabbi explained to them the significance of the place and how the Temple was intended as a House of Prayer for all Nations, that benefits the entire world. The rabbis then discussed the laws pertinent to a non-Jewish resident of Israel, righteous gentiles, and the commandments incumbent upon them.
Allahu Akbar. You hear it everywhere these days.
Special agent Scott Wickland said that he heard cries of “Allahu Akbar” before the Benghazi attack. And then the guards ran for their guns.
In Nice, France, the Islamic terrorist who killed 86 people and wounded over 400 by running them over with a truck, shouted, “Allahu Akbar”. In New York, the Islamic terrorist who was trying to imitate him, also shouted, “Allahu Akbar.” The 9/11 hijackers had the same message, “Allahu Akbar”.
With so many investigations and promised indictments, why is the prime minister’s popularity still so high? Part of it is certainly the convoluted nature of the allegations. The more closely one examines them, the more unbelievable they become.For all the differences between Israeli and American Jews, one thing is uncannily similar: the daily headlines lambasting their current political leader.
Normally, we’re allowed to discuss everything, even the salaries of senior judges and police officers. And if we want, we can even demand a pay raise for the prime minister.
There’s no taboo. Everything can and should be on the table. Even a law granting the prime minister immunity from police investigations, in a slightly more reasonable version, is an appropriate subject for a public debate.
But these are not normal times. We are in the midst of a dangerous campaign against the heads of the law enforcement system. They are not immune to criticism. But in the past few months, something completely different has been happening. of the campaign.
There has always been a debate about the “loyalty” of Israeli Arabs. Meaning, of course, Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, apart from those living in the West Bank/Judea-Samaria.
Now, a new poll bolsters the argument that these Palestinians are a sort of Fifth Column within the Jewish state.
Not loyal at all.
According to a report in the Times of Israel:
“Two-thirds of Arab Israelis believe Israel has ‘no right’ to define itself as the Jewish nation state, while a majority of Jewish Israelis (58 percent) say those who reject that definition of Israel should have their citizenship revoked, according to a new poll underlining deep divisions between the two communities.
A report on Channel 10—a known stronghold of Bibi-animosity—claims that
senior law enforcement officials have concluded there is sufficient evidence to file an indictment against [Prime Minister Netanyahu] on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust…. The report quoted an unofficial police opinion according to which the evidence that has accumulated against Netanyahu is robust…. The State Attorney’s Office, Channel 10 reported, was also coming to the opinion that there are grounds to file an indictment on bribery, but was not as sure as the police.
Most of the latest purported information—once again leaked by the police, guardians of virtue in the Bibi-hunt who have leaked ruthlessly and systematically throughout this affair—concerns Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is alleged to have done favors for his longtime friend, businessman and movie mogul Arnon Milchan, in return for gifts of cigars and champagne.