In His Footsteps…Bethsaida

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Bethsaida means “house of fishing.” It is a place mentioned in the New Testament. In this fishing village, among the residents were Philip, Andrew, and Peter. (John 1:44) James and John most likely came from here. Jesus clearly knew Bethsaida well (Matthew 11:21). Early Christian travelers also knew the town located north of the Sea of Galilee. It was the 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 the Old Testament, the city is mentioned. Scholars tell us this was the capital of Geshur, the hometown of Maacah, a wife of David’s youth and mother of Absalom. In later centuries, when travel became difficult, this location was actually forgotten. Now, 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.

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Bethsaida is one of three cities in the Galilee cursed by Jesus because of the lack of faith in the people there to receive Him and His teachings.

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Carving on a rock identifies the City of Bethsaida as it is mentioned in the New Testament.

fisherman's house

The Fisherman’s House – This picture shows the ruins of the house – the central courtyard is on the north side – marked by the left white sign – while the kitchen is on the east side, marked by the right sign.

gates of the city

Massive burned gates are evident of the destruction of the north by the Assyrians in 732 B.C., as recorded in II Kings 18:10. An Iron age city was excavated under the Roman layer, which was founded in the 10th C BC and destroyed on the 8th C BC. On the eastern side of the city the excavators reconstructed a massive gate complex. It is indicated as a red square on the digram.  The photo below shows the gate area as viewed from the inner side of the city. The design of the inner gate was based on a four-chamber layout.

grinding stone at bethsaida

A grinding stone found on the site.

room with grinding stone

A kitchen in one of the remains of the homes unearthed at Bethsaida. Notice the grinding stone in the foreground.

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Artist’s rendition of the Winemaker’s house

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Ruins of the Winemaker’s House – This house (2,700 square feet) included an undisturbed wine cellar with four complete Hellenistic jars.  In addition, a gold earring with the picture of an animal was found, as well as numerous examples of expensive imported vessels. A hook and some anchors were found in the house, as were three iron sickles.

winemakers cellar

A view of the wine cellar from the eastern side. Four large wine jars were found under the roof of the cellar. In another wine cellar in area C, in a nearby house, a total of 17 jars and jugs were found. 

street in bethsaida

A Roman period stone paved street was excavated in the residential area (“Area C”) on the northern section of the city. It is indicated on the diagram as a red square.    The north-south street passes between two residential houses – the “Winemaker’s house” on the left and other structure on the right. The view of the street is shown in the following picture, from the north side.

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A Walk Back in Time – Visitors can even walk a cobbled street from the time of Jesus and stroll along in His footsteps! 

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Artist’s rendition of the Fisherman’s House – Among the many treasures yielded by this 21-acre mound is a fisherman’s house, identified by stone net-weights, an anchor, a fishhook, and even a needle for repairing nets, which recall Bethsaida’s fishermen disciples. This house was a two-story structure, with a large courtyard on the street side, residence rooms on the north side, and a wine cellar on the east side. The house is dated from the Hellenistic period (2nd C BC) to the early Roman period (1st C AD).  The House of the Fisherman measures 4,300 square feet, and is believed to be a fisherman’s home based on the discovery of two types of lead net weights, a round lead weight of the so-called musket type, and a long, crooked needle.  Among the coins discovered in the house were two silver didrachmae of Demetrius II.

IMG_9563The kitchen in the unearthed home was rather large.

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Dr. Rami Arav, professor of religion and philosophy at UNO, re-discovered the site and identified it as Bethsaida in 1987. Since 1990, UNO has led a consortium of institutions in uncovering and studying artifacts. Their work has shed new light on the archaeology of the Bible Land and the way scholars interpret the Bible.

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A Bit-hilani is an ancient architectural type of palace. It seems to have become popular at the end of the tenth and during the ninth century BCE during the early Iron Age in northern Syria although it may have originated as early as the Bronze Age. Contemporary records call it a Hittite-style palace, probably after the Neo-Hittite kingdoms of the region. The palace had a columned portico, a long reception room, with an adjoining staircase to the roof, and a varying number of retiring rooms.

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One of the “interesting” and personally disturbing discoveries among the ruins at Bethsaida is this ancient carving that features the swastika. Finds show the symbol was used centuries ago by various religions, long before it was adopted by the Nazis. The word means “It is good.”

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Remains of a Syrian Military Post until 1967

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The University of Nebraska at Omaha leads a consortium of universities in excavating Bethsaida, an important city in biblical history located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Each summer, faculty and students from UNO, consortium members, and the general public travel to Bethsaida to continue excavations and archaeological study. 

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