HADAVAR YESHIVA (Hong Kong)
Why El Araj?
An interview on site with the Academic Director of the @el..araj dig, Dr. R. Steven Notley.
Sergio and Rhoda in Israel
The True Location of Bethsaida
There are two proposed locations for Bethsaida, the city which Jesus cursed. In this episode, we join an exciting archaeological dig with Dr. Steven Notley, a professor of Biblical Studies, who believes this site of El-Araj to be the true location of Bethsaida Julias.
Season 2, Episode 4.
*Credits: Map footages are taken from Google Maps.
From the Lanier Theological Library
Lecture by Steven Notley - April 13, 2019
"Has Bethsaida-Julias Finally Been Found?”
For the last 30 years, archaeologists working on the site of et-Tell, north of the Sea of Galilee, have identified it with New Testament Bethsaida. However, its remote distance (1.5 miles) from the lakeshore makes it an odd location for a fishing village. Since 2016, archaeologists including Notley have excavated el-Araj. In August 2017, headlines announced that Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44) had finally been found at el-Araj. This lecture considers the method by which ancient sites are identified. Steven presents findings from the first three seasons of the El- Araj Excavation Project, which may have finally found evidence for Herod Philip's urbanization of this New Testament era fishing village, transforming it into a Jewish polis.
REPORT ON SEASON 3
The third season of excavations has been completed at Khirbet el-Araj (Beit ha-Bek) on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. New discoveries have come to light, which strengthen its identification with the ancient Jewish fishing village of Bethsaida. The city is mentioned in the New Testament as the home of the Apostles: Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44).
The excavation is being conducted on behalf of the Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret College and the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the direction of Dr. Mordechai Aviam, in collaboration with Dr. R. Steven Notley from Nyack College, New York, who serves as the excavation’s academic director. This season hosted over 80 students and volunteers. Among the participants were faculty, staff, and students from Nyack College, students from Kinneret College, and others from the United States, Hong Kong, and Brazil.
Last year unearthed mosaics from a Roman bathhouse, the first material evidence that the site was settled in the Roman period. The discovery challenged previous assumptions that the lake covered the entire area under two meters of water in the Roman period, and that el Araj was settled only later in the Byzantine period. Dr. Rami Arav had previously theorized that a lagoon extended inland to the vicinity of the Jordan Park, where he has excavated over the last 30 years attempting to identify Bethsaida with the site of et-Tel. However, the results of the current excavations have left no doubt that the lake did not extend inland to et-Tell, leaving el-Araj on the lakeshore and therefore the leading candidate for the site of Bethsaida-Julias.
This season the previously excavated Roman stratum at el Araj was expanded. The most important finds were from a newly excavated area about 50 meters east of the Roman bathhouse discovered last year. At a depth of 3 meters below the surface and 211 meters below sea level, remains of buildings from the Roman period were unearthed. These findings indicate that el Araj was, in fact, a large settlement and not merely a single bathhouse on the shore of the lake as some have claimed.
Among other discoveries, the new area has also yielded many fragments from oil lamps, including a knife-pared Herodian oil lamp. This type of lamp was produced in Jerusalem from the days of the Second Temple period. It appears primarily in Jewish settlements and points to an early Jewish presence at el Araj. In addition, red fresco fragments were found, indicating luxurious buildings of private or public space. Also, in several excavated areas, many lead weights for fishing nets were found. These are characteristic of the fishing communities surrounding the lake. The excavated area where the Roman bathhouse was discovered last year was widened, finding many fired bricks, both square and hollow (tubuli) typical to Roman baths, fragments of marble, and large chunks of mosaic reinforced with a thick layer of cement. A massive square built structure was also unearthed, which could be part of the bathhouse. The assemblage of pottery and coins clearly dates the settlement to the Roman period from the first century to the beginning of the fourth century CE.
After the abandonment of the settlement in the late Roman period the site was covered by floods from the Jordan River and water streams east of el Araj. In the Byzantine period a building complex was erected that may have included a church. This is affirmed by architectural elements typical of a church that have been discovered at the site. These finds correspond to the testimony of a Christian pilgrim by the name of Willibald who passed this area in 725 CE. He states that he visited a church at Bethsaida that stood over the house of Peter and Andrew. One unusual and interesting artifact was discovered this season. It was not found in situ but was in secondary usage as part the Ottoman building that once stood on the site. It is a large block of basalt, weighing some 300 kgs. with three smoothly carved depressions. It might have been used as a reliquary in a church, perhaps the church described by Willibald. If so, it may have held the relics of the Apostles under the altar.
The findings from the excavation continue to indicate that the water level of the Sea of Galilee in the New Testament period was much lower than previously thought, perhaps comparable to the level of today, approximately 215 meters below sea level, which some geologists have already suggested. In the next season, the excavators will deepen the excavated area exposing more layers from the Roman settlement, and open additional areas to understand the extent of the settlement. In addition to the historical and archeological evidence for a church at Bethsaida in the Byzantine period, there is increasing evidence of a possible synagogue. Two capitals unearthed resemble those found in use in other early Roman synagogues. Last winter a basalt lioness was discovered at el Araj. In almost all instances the decoration of lions in the
Only further excavations can determine this tantalizing possibility.
Plans are already in the works to expand the excavation in the summer of 2019!
Look out for more information and be sure to join us!
Submitted by Dr. R. Steven Notley
SHOVEL SURVEY & SEASON 1
2014 SHOVEL SURVEY
In May 2014 a team of professors and 85 students from North Central University, along with Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee, the Institute for Galilean Archaeology, and the Center for Holy Lands Studies, began an archaeological survey of el-Araj. During the initial shovel testing and land survey the students found pottery, architectural fragments from public buildings (possibly a synagogue) and pieces of mosaic tiles – all of which encourages additional research. At the conclusion of the five-day shovel survey, Dr. Mordechi Aviam, founder of the Institute for Galilean Archaeology and senior lecturer at Kinneret College, noted, "The results are very clear that we have pottery from the late Hellenistic period (the second century B.C.), Early Roman pottery from the first century, and even Byzantine pottery from the fifth and sixth centuries. We also found architectural fragments that were made of both limestone and basalt, which are typical of large public buildings like a synagogue."
Marc Turnage says, "We now know that el-Araj was an ancient site that began at least during the late Hellenistic period with settlement in the Early Roman period (time of Jesus), and continued to the Byzantine period. El-Araj is indeed a possible site for New Testament Bethsaida, but we will only know with a full excavation."
2016 EXCAVATION SEASON 1
In July 2016 another consortium of colleges and international students set foot on el-Araj and began a formal excavation of the site. Nyack College was the sponsoring institution of the excavation and Dr. Steven Notley was the leader of a group of Nyack students, laypersons and international participants to Israel for two weeks of excavation work at el-Araj. Marc Turnage represented a team of students associated with the Center for Holy Land Studies. A review of the 2016 excavation results can be found in the The El-Araj Excavation Project link.