Tag Archives: Bethsaida

A Visit to the “real” Bethsaida — el-Araj

On a recent trip to Israel, I decided to try to visit the site of el-Araj that is located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just east of the Jordan River.  This site has been much in the news recently because it is a much better candidate for the Bethsaida mentioned in the New Testament, Josephus and other sources than “et-Tell.”

The Jordan River and Lagoon by el-Araj (Bethsaida/Julias).

According to the New Testament the disciples Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from the town (John 1:44; 12:21). In addition, Jesus performed mighty works there (e.g., healed a blind man [Mark 8:22], and fed 5,000 in the vicinity [Matt 14:13; Mark 6:30ff]) yet the town was cursed by him because of unbelief (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13).

Steven Notley and Mordechai Aviam have conducted four seasons of excavations at the site and have found a bathhouse and a residence from the Roman Period.  In addition, they have found the remains of a large Byzantine Church that they believe was The Church of the Apostles that was mention by Willibald in A.D. 725 as having been built over the house of Peter and Andrew.

My first visit to the site was with a group of adult learners from the Jerusalem University College.  We turned off the main road east of the Arik Bridge at dusk and our bus took us partway in.  We “debussed” quickly and set off at a brisk pace to try to reach the site before we lost all our daylight.  We were surprised to find that there were already THREE tourist busses at the site—those of a large group led by Jonathan Cahn (of “Harbinger” fame).  I have no idea why they were interested in the site, but we did hear them finish their “devotional” with the blowing of the shofar.  Hmm . . . .

My second visit, a few days later, was with a group from the Biblical Archaeological Society that was being led by Ofir Dror and myself.

Our BAS Group hiking into el-Araj.

The tricky part in accessing the site was due to the fact that the Israelis were busy clearing minefields in the area.  It was about a 12 minute walk in from where our bus parked.

Heavy equipment clearing minefields west of el-Araj.

Once we arrived at that excavations, we had a great time looking at the main place of excavation—Area A.

Area A of el-Araj—looking east.

I also had a chance to peek at Area C, about 100 yards to the north of Area A, where they have begun to uncover remains of a residence that dates to the Roman Period.

Area C — the area where a Roman residence has been partially excavated.

Finds from the house date from the first to the third centuries CE and include pottery, coins, fishing net weights, and a cooking oven.

For additional images of el-Araj you are invited to check out HolyLandPhotos.org.

The official website for the el-Araj excavations can be found Here.  And there you will find numerous links to related newspaper articles.  There are also a number of good videos of the site that have been posted on YouTube see Here for example.

 

Worship (illicit) at the City Gate

One of the not–to–frequently mentioned actions that the ancients practiced at city gates was  worship ([always?] illicit).

2 Kings 23:8     Josiah brought all the priests from the towns of Judah and desecrated the high places, from Geba to Beersheba, where the priests had burned incense. He broke down the shrines at the gates—at the entrance to the Gate of Joshua, the city governor, which is on the left of the city gate. (NIV)

One of the best places to envision an example of one of these shrines is at a not–too–frequently visited place in Israel called et–Tell—probably to be identified as biblical Geshur (home of Absalom; see below for location).  One of the spectacular finds is a massive four–chamber Iron Age Gate.

Iron Age II City Gate at et-Tell/Geshur

Iron Age II City Gate at et-Tell/Geshur

View looking west into the entrance of the east gate of et–Tell.  Note the basalt paving stones and the two upright standing stones on each side of the gate.  On the right (north) side are three steps that led up to a “high place” (= worship center?).

GeshurStelaThe carved basalt stela found at the Iron Age Gate at et–Tell (probably biblical Geshur).  Note the bull headed figure that is place upon a tripod and wearing a sword.  It may be a representation of the storm god Hadad.  The stela dates to the 9th or 8th centuries BC.

high-place-detailView looking north at the High Place and stela located on the north side of the Iron Age gate that leads into the city.  On the left is one of the seven(!) stelae that were found in the gate area—this one is not inscribed.  Slightly to the right of center note the three steps that lead up to a high place that has a basin—carved black basalt—on the top platform.  Note the replica of a stela with the deity Hadad engraved on it.

GeshurEt-Tell is located about 2 miles north of the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee on the east side of the Upper Jordan River.  It is often identified with the New Testament city of Bethsaida but in fact the remains from the Old Testament period are much more significant and it is probably to be identified as biblical Geshur (home of Absalom).