THE ROOTS OF EARLY CHRISTIANITY
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”
In the heart of the Galilee, in the northern region of the Holy Land, where the pure waters of the Jordan River meet the Sea of Galilee, lies one of the sites that had the greatest impact on the history of the world.
Here, among the slopes of the Golan Heights, by the shores of the sacred lake begins the story of a small group of people, transformed into a movement that enraptured billions of followers over the next 2,000 years. In this rural area, surrounded by breathtaking nature, ancient secrets await their revelation.
For hundreds of years, pilgrims and scholars from the all over the world have come here to search for one of the most important sites mentioned in the New Testament: Bethsaida.
Contrary to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, which remained inhabited throughout the centuries, Bethsaida vanished and all that was left as to each location was diverse speculation.
The first person who estimated that the mound facing the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee is Bethsaida was American Biblical Scholar, Edward Robinson, who came here twice in 1838 and 1856.
But it was only in 1987, that the site was officially recognized as the Ancient Bethsaida by archeologist Rami Arav, who had just completed his doctoral studies at the New York University.
Currently, Rami Arav is an associate professor in The Department of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. His findings established the link between the biblical stories in this site.
Since 1987, excavations at this site reveal more historical treasures every year.
Dr. Rami Arav: “In 1987, I was looking at this place and there was absolutely nothing here. There was no, I mean, the place that we are sitting right now. There was nothing here. There was just a barren hill.
“I was intrigued by the question that Bethsaida was the only site around the Sea of Galilee that still had a question mark on the maps. So if you, prior to 1980's, if you would look at maps that would describe the site in first century or sites which are related to Ministry of Jesus around the Sea of Galilee, the only place that had a question mark around it was Bethsaida. So I was intrigued. I said, why is there a question mark and how do we resolve the problems? So this is what actually draw me then to the site, to find out where it is.
“Once I discovered where it is located, it turned out that the stories are much more interesting than just the identification problem, because identification problem was resolved in about 10 days of work, but the stuff that was coming out from the dig, the data, the discoveries were much more interesting and much more intriguing than just the story of the identification of the site.”
During years of excavation on site, Professor Arav and historians from all over the world who would come to Israel to take part in excavations of Bethsaida realized that the rocky mound rises over the Sea of Galilee not only hides the story of Jesus and the events of the New Testament, but as one of the most significant discoveries uncovered in the Holy Land as it reveals the story of the region thousands of years ago.
Dr. Rami Arav: “In the 10th century BC, this place was first build as a city, as a capital of the kingdom that was known as the Kingdom of Geshur in the Bible, and this kingdom thrived from the 10th century to the 8th century BC when it was destroyed. This was in fact the foundation of the city.
“The city was destroyed in 732 BC by the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III and it was barely occupied for the next couple of centuries, and only with the conquest of Alexander the Great we see here a rise in occupation.
“And we see new people coming in and by looking at the pottery, looking at the coins, looking at the material culture, we think that this people came from Phoenician coast probably from Tyre, so we have Phoenicians moving in and we see that their main business, main occupation, was in growing flax for a textile industry.
“And they thrived for a while, for a time until they were conquered by the Hasmonean kings in the first, of around the year 100 BC.
“The Hasmonean kings had an agenda, they wanted to restore the Kingdom of Israel but when they conquered this place, they found out the population was not Jewish, it's Phoenician.
“The vast majority of the population decided to leave and they went back to Phoenician, this place was deserted again.
“The place was deserted, we see Bedouins coming in and that would threat the international trade routes and Herod was requested now by Romans who wield the authority in the area. The Romans turned to Herod in order to ask him to provide security in this region. So in order to provide security, what Herod did was simply bringing in new population.
“This population, these settlers who came here in the 1st century BC, this is the core of the apostles, this is the families of the apostles, the family of Jesus, and all these Jewish population that you see here in Galilee in the first century.”
Click Here to watch the documentary movie about Bethsaida