Every summer, a group of senior scholars comes to Bethsaida from universities worldwide, as well as students who are captivated by the mystery of Bethsaida and drawn by the opportunity to take part in historic discoveries that are uncovered here during the excavations.
Dr. Rami Arav: “We have textual people, we have sociologist who work here. In addition to that, there are all kinds of auxiliary scientists who help us to understand the past. For example, we worked with geologist, geographers, and all kinds of other people, who in fact, all of us together tried to build up an historical picture that would be as close as possible to what actually had happened here.”
One of the most important pieces of evidence of Bethsaida appearing in history books is manuscripts of the Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who recounted Bethsaida's transformation into polis, a Roman city, by Philip, son of King Herod, who named it Julias - after Livia Julia, the wife of Roman Emperor Augustus and the mother of Tiberius Caesar.
Dr. Rami Arav: “After the death of Herod the Great in 4BCE, the territory of Herod was divided by his sons.”
Dr. Gregory C. Jenks: “So this part in the Golan basically goes with Philip. And across the river, the Galilee was with Antipas.
“Philip and Antipas both wanted to become King of Jews like their father. And the Romans were playing them off one against the other and dividing and conquering, so around about 20, Antipas moved his capital from Sepphoris (Zippori), and he created new city on the lake called Tiberias. Ten years later, his brother Philip who had Caesarea Philippi up in the north, takes Bethsaida and makes it a city called Julias.”
Dr. Rami Arav: “And discovered those, so what he did physically to the city, he surrounded the city with city wall, which were not as majestic as the Iron Age city wall that were here. And in addition to that, he renamed the place as Julias Bethsaida and built-up a temple here to the honor of Augustus wife Livia.”
Dr. Gregory C. Jenks: “Philip and Antipas are competing and each one to be bigger than the other, so the only real industry they could exploit was the fishing industry.”
Fishing was the main source of livelihood in sustenance for the people of the villages and towns surrounding the Sea of Galilee for thousands of years.
According to the New Testament, the fishing village of Bethsaida during Jesus time was located on the shores of Sea of Galilee, but today it is two kilometers away from the lake. This made it difficult for scholars in previous centuries to locate the site.
Dr. Mark Appold: “It's hard to imagine similar place who was unique for the Sea of Galilee. It's different today because during Jesus time, Sea of Galilee came up here to the edge of the Tel (mound). That was one of the problems when we start working here. People would say, "Come on. Why would fisherman live here and drag their boats and nets a mile and a half off to the sea?”
Dr. Aaron M. Gale: “Geological surveys carried out have told us that earthquakes and other associate geological shifts have moved the Sea of Galilee back, but in Jesus time, this was a fishing town.”
Dr. John Kloppenborg: “One of things that we find is lots of evidence of fishing. We got fish hooks, we got net weights, we got anchors, which probably means that the Kinneret (sea of Galilee) camped up into this area at that time, so that's where they connect with stories that we get told about Jesus and his friends.”
Dr. Aaron M. Gale: “And in fact, this is what leads us to some of the controversy initially when Bethsaida was first excavated by Dr. Arav in 1987. People say, "Oh, this can't be Bethsaida. It's too far away from the Sea of Galilee". But recent research has told us that indeed this could be the Bethsaida of the New Testament, and in fact was probably much closer to the Sea of Galilee that it is today.”
Dr. Nicolae Roddy: “And we actually this session right now, we're continuing the pavement which would have gone down to the lower part and perhaps down to the water, perhaps down to the boats, and just this morning, we found a net weight for fishing that it hadn't even been crimped yet, it's still waiting to be used, but 2,000 years late.”
In addition, the tangible findings discovered at Bethsaida clearly show a link between the historic text of the gospels and the historic events depicted Flavius Josephus and the discoveries on site.
Dr. John Kloppenborg: “We have literally historical accounts of the conquest of this area by Hasmoneans about 100 before the Common Era, and that actually turns out to correlate extremely well with what we find in pottery. Before 100, before the common era, the pottery profile that we find here is pottery that comes from Tyre and Sidon and even as far west as Italy, Puglia. After 100 BC, almost all the pottery comes from Upper Galilee or Kfar Hananya, just on the border between the Upper and Lower Galilee, so the material profile changes in a way that seems to align with Josephus' account of the Hasmonean conquest, so sometimes you get really nice connection between literary stories and archeological profiles.”
The final discovery and authentication of Bethsaida is extremely important in that it provides a glimpse into the history of Christianity and allows us to pin point the exact place from which one man began a journey at the end of which He was to become the symbol, sacred to billions of people worldwide.
Click Here to watch the documentary movie about Bethsaida