Tag Archives: Biblical Archaeological Society

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.

 

Jerusalem: Recent Developments Near the Gihon Spring — With Pictures

2-3 minute read with unique, never-seen-before, pictures.

The Gihon Spring is the natural water source for ancient Jerusalem.  David’s general Joab is said to have gained access to conquer the city via part of this water system (2 Samuel 5:8 and 1 Chronicles 11:6) and Hezekiah built the well-known 1,750 ft. tunnel (2 Chronicles 32:30).

On a recent trip sponsored by the Biblical Archaeological Society and Tutku Tours, led by the expert guide Ofer Drori, we descended into the water system complex.  For years the area excavated by Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron has been barely visible due to all the scaffolding in the area.

RoundChamber

View looking down into the “Rock-cut Pool” that dates to the 18th century B.C.
The opening just above center, where the upper blue light is located, is where Tunnel III brings water from Tunnel II to this large chamber
See the diagram in Shank’s article for details
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

I was delighted to find that the area is now available to the public via sturdy walkways, stairs and lights (with blue lights; hmm).  Completely visible are the Rock-cut Pool, Tunnel III (that brought water from Tunnel II to the Rock-cut Pool) and Tunnel IV that leads to “Hezekiah’s Tunnel.”

RoundChamber-2

The large 18th century B.C. Rock-cut Pool
Tunnel III enters from the large cut in the center of the image bringing water to the Rock-cut Pool
Tunnel IV exits to the left bring water to “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”–note the door-like exit left of center
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

RoundChamber-3

Artist’s reconstruction of the Gihon Spring, Rock-cut Pool, and associated defensive structures on the east side of the “Old Ancient Core” of Jerusalem — dated to the 18th century B.C.
On display above the Gihon Spring
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the above artists reconstruction the tower on the right (north) was built over and guards the Gihon Spring.  The tower on the left (south) contains and guards the “Rock-cut Pool.”  Note the city wall and the defended pathways that lead to and from the towers.  All of this was evidently built in the 18th century B.C.!

For a complete description of this system see the article by Hershel Shanks, “Will King Hezekiah Be Dislodged from His Tunnel?”  Biblical Archaeology Review, (September/October 2013), pp. 52–61, 73.  In it he notes that Reich and Shukron now believe that what has been called “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” (Hezekiah r. 715–686 B.C.) now should be dated earlier—to the late 9th or early 8th century B.C.!