Dec 08, 2021
JERUSALEM WEATHER

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Archaeologists announced this week that they uncovered mosaic floors at a tie they believed was a church in the biblical village of Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) near where the Jordan River enters the lake. The mosaics were uncovered during excavations over the past summer by the Kinneret Institute for Galilee Archeology at Kinneret College and Nyack College led by Prof. Mordechai Aviam and Prof. Steven Notley.

The recent find of the mosaic floor settles a mystery that has been troubling both archaeologists and devout Christians as to the precise location of the church. With markings on the mosaic typical of Byzantine churches of the era. 

“We identified a large apse in the east and uncovered two inscriptions,” Aviam told  Haaretz. “While the smaller one mentions a deacon and a building project, the larger inscription is a half medallion and speaks of the bishop and reconstruction of the building.”

“The church was built at the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century and probably remained in use until the eighth century.”

Researchers believe the site is the Church of the Apostles, which was believed to have been built on the birthsite of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip, apostles of Jesus. 

Although Bethsaida is believed to be located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, there is disagreement among scholars as to precisely where. Since the nineteenth century, three places have been considered as the possible location of Biblical Betsaida: the Bedouin village of Messadiye; the small, deserted settlement of El-Araj (Beit HaBek), and the archaeological site of Et-Tell. 

The recent find strengthens the belief that the location at El Araj was the site of the Church of the Apostles.

The building is approximately 88 by 52 feet with its outer walls preserved to a height of about three feet. It is perplexing to note that not a single opening was identified, indicating to the researchers that for some unknown reason, the original building was buried inside a wall without openings. 

But the researchers have a theory that may explain the building being fully encased. The 8th-century  bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria named Willibald made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 724 CE, becoming the first known Englishman to visit the region. Willibald recorded his visit to “Bethsaida, the residence of Peter and Andrew, where there is now a church on the site of their house.”

Twenty years after Willibald’s pilgrimage a large earthquake hit the area. The Church of the Apostles was destroyed in the earthquake and its precise location forgotten as the region was then under Muslim rule.

The archaeologists suggested that the church was damaged in the earthquake. The researchers said it was possible the remains of the church were intentionally enclosed by a wall to preserve it and commemorate it as a holy site since there was no Christian community at the time. 

The researchers suggested an alternative theory. Many fragments of sugar containers were discovered during the excavations, suggesting that at a later date, the church was repurposed as a sugar factory during the Middle Ages. The researchers suggested that the builders of the factory may have filled the area with dirt when laying the foundations for the facility.

Bethsaida, or Bet Tzaida (בית צידה) in Hebrew (literally ‘house of hunting’), was mentioned in the New Testament. It is believed to be the place mentioned in several places in the Mishna and Talmud under the name Tzidon (צִידוֹן‎).

In Greek, the location was referred to as Julius which lay in an administrative district known as Gaulonitis.