Sites - Israel: Bethsaida
Bethsaida in Archaeology
Bethsaida: An Ancient Fishing Village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee
Bethsaida is known as the birthplace of three of the Apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip. Jesus himself visited Bethsaida and performed several miracles there. (Mark 8:22-26; Luke 9:10)
Et-Tel, the mound identified as ancient Bethsaida, is located on a basaltic spur north of the Sea of Galilee, near the inflow of the Jordan River into the Sea of Galilee. The tel covers some 20 acres and rises 30 meters above a fertile valley. Geological and geomorphological studies show that in the past this valley was part of the Sea of Galilee. A series of earthquakes caused silt to accumulate, thus creating the valley and causing the north shore of the Sea of Galilee to recede. The result of this process, which continued until the Hellenistic period, was that Bethsaida, which had originally been built on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, came to be situated some 1.5 km. north of the shore.
The name Bethsaida means "house of the hunt" in Hebrew. Identification of Et-Tel with the site mentioned in the New Testament was proposed as early as 1838 by Robinson, but was not accepted by most contemporary researchers; yet excavations conducted since 1987 have confirmed the identification.
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Bethsaida in New Testament Times - Archaeology
The Hellenistic Roman Periods.
The importance of Bethsaida during the Hellenistic-Roman period is apparent from references to it in ancient sources. Josephus Flavius states that King Herod Philip, whose kingdom included the northern part of the country, changed the name of the city at the beginning of the 1st century CE to Julias, after Julia Livia, wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus, and granted it municipal rights. (Antiquities 104, 18, 28) Also according to Josephus, Philip died in the city and was buried there with great pomp. (Antiquities 104, 18, 108)
Several courtyard-houses dating from this period were uncovered in the excavations. Constructed of basalt and probably two storeys high, they included a paved, open courtyard surrounded by several rooms. Numerous fishing tools lead weights for nets, iron anchors, needles and fishing hooks were found in the houses, attesting to an economy based on fishing. One of the houses had a cellar in which ceramic wine amphorae and several vine pruning hooks were found.
At the beginning of the first century CE, a building with particularly thick walls, measuring 20 x 6 m. was constructed above the remains of the city gate of the biblical period. Only very fragmentary remains of the foundations were found. Limestone ashlars brought from a considerable distance and fragments of decorated architectural elements are suggestive of the elegance of this building. Ritual vessels, including two decorated bronze incense shovels, indicate that it functioned as a temple. Perhaps these are the remains of the temple that King Philip built in honor of Julia Livia.
Excavations at the site are still underway. It is assumed that further finds from the periods of settlement await the archeologists spades. In the meantime, the site has been opened to visitors.
The excavations at Bethsaida are directed by R. Arav on behalf of the Bethsaida Excavations Consortium headed by the University of Nebraska.
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Bethsaida in Old Testament Times - Archaeology
Biblical Period. The excavations revealed that the settlement at Bethsaida was founded in the 10th century BCE, in the biblical period. By that time the areas north and east of the Sea of Galilee were part of the Aramaean kingdom of Geshur. Its royal family, which ruled for several generations, was connected by marriage to tDavidic dynasty. King David married Maacha, daughter of the King of Geshur; she was the mother of Absalom, who later found refuge in the Land of Geshur. (II Samuel 3:3; 14:32) Archeological excavations conducted at the site revealed impressive structures and fortifications, and the excavator therefore surmises that during this period Bethsaida was the capital city of the Kingdom of Geshur and the seat of its monarchs.
The city was divided into two parts: a lower city, extending over most of the mound; and an upper city the acropolis on the higher, northeastern part of the mound. During the 9th century BCE, the acropolis was surrounded by a massive, fortified wall with a gate, constructed of large basalt stones. The 6-m.-wide wall, together with buttresses projecting from both sides, reached a width of 8 m.
The city gate complex discovered on the eastern side of the tel consisted of an outer and an inner gateway. The outer gateway included a passageway between two massive towers; thus far, only the western tower, measuring 10 x 8 m., has been excavated. In the outer gateway, a 30-m.-long walkway paved with flat basalt stones led to the "four-room" inner gatehouse, typical of this period and measuring 35 x 17.5 m. It is preserved to an impressive height of 3 m. This is the largest city gate of the biblical period excavated in Israel. It is constructed of large basalt stones, some slightly trimmed, laid in courses. Above the stone structure stood a brick superstructure, both entirely coated with light plaster. Two huge projecting towers, 10 x 6 m. each, protected the entrance to the gate. The threshold of the gate consisted of large basalt stones with depressions that served as door-hinge sockets.
Vivid evidence of the battle that took place here at the time of the citys conquest and the conflagration which destroyed the gatehouse, is found in the fired bricks, the pile of carbonized wood and the arrowheads.
A unique feature of the Bethsaida gate is the variety of cultic installations in front of the inner gate. An entire "gate altar" (bama) measuring 2.1 x 1.6 m. and constructed of basalt stones covered with light plaster was found there. Two steps led to the top of the bama which had a recessed, 35 cm. deep stone basin, measuring 60 x 50 cm. A basalt stele that once stood at the back of the bama was found, broken, on it. The stele, 1.15 m. high, 59 cm. wide and 31 cm. thick, was carefully shaped with a rounded top. On its front was carved the stylized figure of a horned bull, armed with a dagger. In the Mesopotamian pantheon, the bull represents the moon god. It was adopted by the Arameans as the symbol of their main deity, Haddad, identified as the figure represented on this stele.
Inside the gatehouse was a broad, paved plaza. On its northern side stood the palace of the kings which measured 28 x 15 m. with 1.4 m. thick basalt walls. The palace of Bethsaida is a typical example of the palaces of the Aramean kingdoms during the biblical period; it included a central hall which served as the throne room, surrounded by eight rooms.
The Aramean city of Bethsaida was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III during his campaign in the region in 734 BCE. (II Kings 15:29-30; 16:7-9)
From the time of that destruction, and until the Hellenistic period, the site was only sparsely inhabited.
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Bethsaida in Wikipedia
Bethsaida (pronounced /ˌbɛθseɪˈiːdə/; Greek Βηθσαΐδά
bēthsaidá;, from Hebrew/Aramaic בית צידה beth-tsaida "house
of fishing") is a place mentioned in the New Testament.
A city east of the Jordan River, in a “desert place” (that
is, uncultivated ground used for grazing) possibly the site
at which Jesus miraculously fed the multitude with five
loaves and two fish (Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10). It may be
possible to identify this site with the village of Bethsaida
in Lower Gaulanitis which the tetrarch Herod Philip I raised
to the rank of a polis in the year 30/31, and renamed it
Julias, in honor of Livia, the wife of Augustus. It lay near
the place where the Jordan enters the Sea of Gennesaret
(Ant., XVIII, ii, 1; BJ, II, ix, 1; III, x, 7; Vita, 72).
This city was most likely located at et-Tell, a ruined site
on the east side of the Jordan on rising ground, 2 km from
the sea. This distance poses a problem however. Why would a
fishing village be so far from the water? During Biblical
times the water level of the Sea of Galilee was higher and
came up to the base of et-Tell. A combination of three
hypothesises can explain this:-
Tectonic rifting has uplifted et-Tell ( the site is located
on the Great African-Syrian Rift fault)
the water level has dropped from increased population usage,
land irrigation, and
the Jordan delta has been extended by sedimentation.
Dissenters suggest two other sites as possible locations for
Bethsaida: el-Araj and El-Mesydiah. Both of these sites are
located on the present shoreline, however, preliminary
excavations have revealed only a small number of ruins not
dating from before the Byzantine Period. Schumacher is
however inclined to favor el-Mes‛adīyeh (a ruin and winter
village of Arab et-Tellawīyeh) which stands on an artificial
mound about a mile and a half from the mouth of the Jordan.
However, the name is in origin radically different from
Bethsaida. The substitution of sin for cad is easy; but the
insertion of the guttural ‛ain is impossible. No trace of
the name Bethsaida has been found in the district; but any
one of the sites named would meet the requirements. To this
neighborhood Jesus retired by boat  with His disciples
to rest a while. The multitude following on foot along the
northern shore of the lake would cross the Jordan by the
ford at its mouth which is used by foot travelers to this
day. The “desert” of the narrative is just the barrīyeh of
the Arabs where the animals are driven out for pasture. The
“green grass” of Mark 6:39, and the “much grass” of John
6:10, point to some place in the plain of el-Baṭeiḥah, on
the rich soil of which the grass is green and plentiful
compared with the scanty herbage on the higher slopes.
Bethsaida of Galilee
Here dwelt Philip, Andrew, Peter (John 1:44; John 12:21),
and perhaps also James and John. The house of Andrew and
Peter seems to have been not far from the synagogue in
Capernaum (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:29, etc.). Unless they had
moved their residence from Bethsaida to Capernaum, of which
there is no record, and which for fishermen was unlikely,
Bethsaida must have lain close to Capernaum. It may have
been the fishing town adjoining the larger city. As in the
case of the other Bethsaida, no name has been recovered to
guide us to the site. On the rocky promontory, however, east
of Khān Minyeh we find Sheikh ‛Aly eṣ-Ṣaiyādīn, “Sheikh Aly
of the Fishermen,” as the name of a ruined weley, in which
the second element in the name Bethsaida is represented (see
also Al Minya). Nearby is the site at ‛Ain et-Ṭābigha, which
many have identified with Bethsaida of Galilee. The warm
water from copious springs runs into a little bay of the sea
in which fishes congregate in great numbers. This has
therefore always been a favorite haunt of fishermen. If
Capernaum were at Khān Minyeh, then the two lay close
together. The names of many ancient places have been lost,
and others have strayed from their original localities. The
absence of any name resembling Bethsaida need not concern
us. Bethsaida was the birth place of Saint Peter.
Were there two Bethsaidas?
Many scholars maintain that all the New Testament references
to Bethsaida apply to one place, namely, Bethsaida Julias.
The arguments for and against this view may be summarized as
Galilee ran right round the lake, including most of the
level coastland on the east. Thus Gamala, on the eastern
shore, was within the jurisdiction of Josephus, who
commanded in Galilee (BJ, II, xx, 4). Judas of Gamala (Ant.,
XVIII, i, l) is also called Judas of Galilee (ibid., i, 6).
If Gamala, far down the eastern shore of the sea, were in
Galilee, a fortiori Bethsaida, a town which lay on the very
edge of the Jordan, may be described as in Galilee.
But Josephus makes it plain that Gamala, while added to his
jurisdiction, was not in Galilee, but in Gaulanitis (BJ, II,
xx, 6). Even if Judas were born in Gamala, and so might
properly be called a Gaulanite, he may, like others, have
come to be known as belonging to the province in which his
active life was spent. “Jesus of Nazareth” was born in
Bethlehem. Then Josephus explicitly says that Bethsaida was
in Lower Gaulanitis (BJ, II, ix, 1). Further, Luke places
the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the sea
from Galilee (Luke 8:26) - antípera tḗs Galilaias (“over
To go to the other side - eis tó péran (Mark 6:45) - does
not of necessity imply passing from the east to the west
coast of the lake, since Josephus uses the verb diaperaióō
of a passage from Tiberias to Tarichaeae (Vita, 59). But
this involved a passage from a point on the west to a point
on the south shore, “crossing over” two considerable bays;
whereas if the boat started from any point in el-Baṭeiḥah,
to which we seem to be limited by the “much grass,” and by
the definition of the district as belonging to Bethsaida, to
sail to et-Tell, it was a matter of coasting not more than a
couple of miles, with no bay to cross.
No case can be cited where the phrase eis to peran certainly
means anything else than “to the other side.”
Mark says that the boat started to go unto the other side to
Bethsaida, while John, gives the direction “over the sea
Capernaum” (Mark 6:17). The two towns were therefore
practically in the same line. Now there is no question that
Capernaum was on “the other side,” nor is there any
suggestion that the boat was driven out of its course; and
it is quite obvious that, sailing toward Capernaum, whether
at Tell Ḥūm or at Khān Minyeh, it would never reach
The present writer is familiar with these waters in both
storm and calm. If the boat was taken from any point in el-
Baṭeiḥah towards et-Tell, no east wind would have distressed
the rowers, protected as that part is by the mountains.
Therefore it was no contrary wind that carried them toward
Capernaum and the “land of Gennesaret.” On the other hand,
with a wind from the west, such as is often experienced,
eight or nine hours might easily be occupied in covering the
four or five miles (8 km) from el-Baṭeiḥah to the
neighborhood of Capernaum.
The words of Mark (Mark 6:45), it is suggested, have been
too strictly interpreted: as the Gospel was written probably
at Rome, its author being a native, not of Galilee, but of
Jerusalem. Want of precision on topographical points,
therefore, need not surprise us. But as we have seen above,
the “want of precision” must also be attributed to the
writer of John 6:17. The agreement of these two favors the
strict interpretation. Further, if the Gospel of Mark
embodies the recollections of Peter, it would be difficult
to find a more reliable authority for topographical details
connected with the sea on which his fisher life was spent.
In support of the single-city theory it is further argued
Jesus withdrew to Bethsaida as being in the jurisdiction of
Philip, when he heard of the murder of John the Baptist by
Antipas, and would not have sought again the territories of
the latter so soon after leaving them.
Medieval works of travel notice only one Bethsaida.
The east coast of the sea was definitely attached to Galilee
in AD 84, and Ptolemy (circa 140) places Julius in Galilee.
It is therefore significant that only the Fourth Gospel
speaks of “Bethsaida of Galilee.”
There could hardly have been two Bethsaidas so close
It is not said that Jesus came hither that he might leave
the territory of Antipas for that of Philip; and in view of
Mark 6:30, and Luke 9:10, the inference from Matthew 14:13
that he did so, is not warranted.
The Bethsaida of medieval writers was evidently on the west
of the Jordan River. If it lay on the east, it is
inconceivable that none of them should have mentioned the
river in this connection.
If the 4th Gospel was not written until well into the 2nd
century, then the apostle was not the author; but this is a
very precarious assumption. John, writing after AD 84, would
hardly have used the phrase “Bethsaida of Galilee” of a
place only recently attached to that province, writing, as
he was, at a distance from the scene, and recalling the
former familiar conditions.
In view of the frequent repetition of names in Palestine the
nearness of the two Bethsaidas raises no difficulty. The
abundance of fish at each place furnished a good reason for
the recurrence of the name.
Travel to Bethsaida
Jesus clearly knew Bethsaida well (Matt. 11:21). Early
Christian travelers also knew the town, just north of the
Sea of Galilee, which was home to Peter, Andrew and
Philip (John 1:44) and, according to tradition, Zebedee
and his sons. It was also scene of the feeding of the
5,000 according to Luke (9:10-17) and of Jesus healing of
a blind man (Mark 8:22-26).
In later centuries, when travel became difficult, this
location was actually forgotten! Now, thanks to
archaeology, Bethsaida has reopened its gates to
visitors. Following the rediscovery of Capernaum, and
more recently Korazim, Bethsaida is the last of the three
towns of the “Evangelical Triangle” of Jesus Galilee
ministry to rejoin Christian itineraries.
Among the many treasures yielded by this 21-acre mound is
a fishermans house, identified by stone net-weights, an
anchor, a fishhook and even a needle for repairing nets,
which recall Bethsaidas fishermen disciples. And most
thrilling of all: visitors can even walk a cobbled street
from the time of Jesus.
Visitors can also learn Old Testament history here;
Scholars tell us this was the capital of Geshur, the
hometown of Maacah, wife of Davids youth (2 Sam 3:3).
Massive burned gates are evidence of the destruction of
the north by the Assyrians in 732 BCE, as recorded in 2
Bethsaida is a shaded spot with a wonderful view of the
Sea of Galilee and natural-rock seats make a perfect
locale for Bible study and prayer. (Israel Minister of
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