Biblical village of Bethsaida where Jesus walked on water is finally identified by archaeologists

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A Biblical village where Jesus is said to have performed some of his most famous miracles really existed, and today lies in ruins only a mile from the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists believe.

In the Bible, Bethsaida was home to disciples Peter, Andrew and Philip, and was where Jesus purportedly fed the 5,000, walked on water and helped a blind man to see.  

Archaeologists have been working for 32 years to find the lost city, which was eventually cursed to destruction by Jesus because residents failed to repent in spite of his miracles. 

Now professor Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska says he is in no doubt that Et-Tell, in the Golan Heights near the Jordan River estuary, is the location of the biblical village.

A biblical village cursed to destruction by Jesus really existed and today lies in ruins only a mile from the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists believe

A biblical village cursed to destruction by Jesus really existed and today lies in ruins only a mile from the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists believe

Professor Rami Arav thinks the lost city of Bethsaida, where Christ also fed the 5000, is today the excavation site of Et-Tell

Professor Rami Arav thinks the lost city of Bethsaida, where Christ also fed the 5000, is today the excavation site of Et-Tell

The professor also highlights Josephus' description of how Bethsaida was later 'advanced unto the dignity of a city' and renamed Julias, after the wife of Roman emperor Augustus

The professor also highlights Josephus’ description of how Bethsaida was later ‘advanced unto the dignity of a city’ and renamed Julias, after the wife of Roman emperor Augustus

‘Ancient sources place several requirements for the identification of Bethsaida,’ Aray said,’ adding that ‘finds in Et-Tell convinced not only me but a group of experts.’ 

To argue his case, Dr Arav refers to the Roman historian, Titus Flavius Josephus, who describes the location of Bethsaida in his writings.

‘Josephus says that the town was in the ‘lower Golan’ near the estuary of the Jordan River,’ said Dr Arav – the same location as the El-Tell dig site.

'Josephus says that the town was in the 'lower Golan' near the estuary of the Jordan River,' said Dr Arav - the same location as the El-Tell dig site

‘Josephus says that the town was in the ‘lower Golan’ near the estuary of the Jordan River,’ said Dr Arav – the same location as the El-Tell dig site

Photo shows a model of Bethsaida city gate by Duane Pieper. A biblical village cursed to destruction by Jesus really existed and today lies in ruins only a mile from the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists believe

Researchers have been working at the site for 32 years and now believe it is safe to say it was the site of the biblical city

At Et-Tell the research team studying the location discovered a temple that was dedicated to Julia, Augustus’ wife.

The professor also highlights Josephus’ description of how Bethsaida was later ‘advanced unto the dignity of a city’ and renamed Julias, after the wife of Roman emperor Augustus.

At Et-Tell the research team studying the location discovered a temple that was dedicated to Julia, Augustus’ wife.

The name Bethsaida translates as ‘house of fishing/hunting’ and Dr Arav believes this holds another clue.

He contends that the ruins at Et-Tell were once known as Zer, which could also be transcribed as ‘Tzed’, a Hebrew word that means both hunting and fishing.

This name, he believes, ultimately morphed into Beit-tzed or Bethsaida.

And though Et-Tell is over a mile from the Sea of Galilee – contrary to the biblical description of Bethsaida as a place accessible by boat – the dig site may have been closer in ancient times.

The transformation, it’s argued, can be explained by tectonic movements and changing water levels in the lake.

Dr Arav said: ‘Basically you need to know that the Sea of Galilee is right in the middle of the Syro-African rift and is prone to tectonic shifts.’

They researchers also discovered ancient fishing equipment among the ruins of the settlement. 

Jesus was said to have cursed the village, warning it faced worse treatment than Sodom – a city destroyed by God in the Old Testament. 

Although Bethsaida did not meet the calamitous end Jesus foretold, it was ultimately abandoned.

‘Fortunately Jesus did not say when the town will be destroyed,’ joked Dr Arav.

‘So in the 4th century it was abandoned and, without maintenance, the buildings collapsed.’

The professor also threw down the gauntlet to archaeologists who claim the nearby site of El-Araj is the true Bethsaida.

He believes that what they have actually found is a former military camp.

Archaeologists have been working for 32 years to prove that the site of the city cursed to destruction by Jesus once stood at the El-Tell excavation site

Archaeologists have been working for 32 years to prove that the site of the city cursed to destruction by Jesus once stood at the El-Tell excavation site

Though Et-Tell is over a mile from the Sea of Galilee – contrary to the biblical description of Bethsaida as a place accessible by boat – the dig site may have been closer in ancient times

Though Et-Tell is over a mile from the Sea of Galilee – contrary to the biblical description of Bethsaida as a place accessible by boat – the dig site may have been closer in ancient times

‘This is an outstanding achievement, but it is not Bethsaida mentioned in the ancient sources,’ he said.

‘They simply do not meet the prerequisites mentioned above, but they fit perfectly the military camp.

‘I would also request that the directors of the dig at El-Araj publish a peer-reviewed article stating their discoveries.

‘They failed to do it so far and everything the archaeological community knows about their finds comes from sketchy briefing by journalists in newspapers.

‘This is, of course, not enough.’

The dig site at El-Araj flooded earlier this summer, stopping excavations.  

THE BIBLICAL MIRACLES OF BETHSAIDA

Bethsaida — the biblical hometown to disciples Andrew, Peter and Philip — was reputedly where Jesus performed a number of miracles.

It lies on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, at the terminus of the River Jordan — not too far from Capernaum, where Jesus spent much of his adulthood. The name Bethsaida means ‘House of the Fisherman’ in Hebrew.

The miracles performed at Bethsaida included the feeding of the 5,000, in which Christ — following the death of John the Baptist — used five loaves and two fishes supplied by a boy to feed a crowd of his followers. 

‘Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people,’ the event is described in Luke 9:16–17.

‘They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.’

The Gospel of Mark, meanwhile, tells of a blind man of Bethsaida whose sight was restored after two blessings from Jesus. 

‘They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him,’ begins Mark 8:22.

‘He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” ‘ 

‘He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” ‘

‘Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.’

‘Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” ‘

According to the Benedictine Monk Saint Bede, this miracle serves as an example of how ‘Christ teaches us how great is the spiritual blindness of man, which only by degrees, and by successive stages, can come to the light of Divine knowledge.’

Pictured: Jesus, as played by Robert Powell, heals the blind man, played by Renato Rascel, in the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth

Pictured: Jesus, as played by Robert Powell, heals the blind man, played by Renato Rascel, in the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth

Also in Mark is a reference to Jesus walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee — a miracle performed in the wake of the feeding of the 5,000, after which Jesus had sent the disciples ahead of him to Bethsaida by boat.

‘After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray,’ begins Mark 6–45.

‘Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. 

‘Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.’

‘Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down.’

According to Matthew, meanwhile, the area around Bethsaida is where Jesus began his public ministry — fulfilling the prediction of Isaiah that its people would see ‘a great light’.

However, Jesus’ preachings appear to have fallen on largely deaf ears by the time he came to make his final journey to Jerusalem.

‘Woe to you Bethsaida!’ Jesus is reported to have said in Luke 10:13.

‘For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.’

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