Unearthing Bethsaida

Date: June 11, 2014 - 9:46am

Three phases go into unearthing the candidate for the historical site for Bethsaida, and in that, unearthing the area in which Jesus performed 70-80 percent of his ministry. The phases are: survey, excavation, and analysis. 

North Central University is partnering with the Center for Holy Lands Studies (CHLS) for this project. Marc Turnage, Director for CHLS, and Dr. Tracy Paino, Dean of the College of Ministry at North Central University, led students from North Central on the study tour through Israel and Jordan, where they were able to participate in the shovel-testing survey.

For the survey, Dr. Mordechai Aviam, lead archaeologist and head of the Institute for Galilean Archaeology at Kinneret College, led the students to what may be the historical site of Bethsaida, located in Khirbet el-Araj, Israel. There, he opened up squares of dirt in which students got to dig their hands into the dirt of history— pickaxing, shoveling, and sifting, searching for artifacts that could be from the first century. 

El-Araj was initially ruled out from being a candidate for the biblical site for Bethsaida when the last surveyor claimed that there were no ancient artifacts at the site. However, the survey has proven that belief wrong. In the survey, a Doric column capital, which is potentially from the first century, was found. Further, members of the team discovered pieces of pottery and mosaic, which date to the early Roman through the Byzantine eras. 

Dr. Buzz Brookman, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew and participant in the survey, states that the "shovel survey of eleven squares produced adequate pottery samples to indicate continuous occupation from the late Hellenistic period through the Byzantine period," which indicates that "the results of the survey met our highest expectations given the modest scope of this initial phase." 

Even though the excavators cannot prove from a simple shovel testing whether or not this area is the biblical Bethsaida, what they now know is that the artifacts in this area date back to biblical times. Now that the survey is complete, it is conclusive that there is no reason why el-Araj should not be the biblical site for Bethsaida, and looking toward the future, Dr. Brookman states that the "uncovering of several architectural pieces heightened our desire for future excavation at this site even more." 

The partnering and lead institutions are now in the process of collaborating in order to develop a plan for full excavation.