Exploring the Ruins of Bethsaida
Location – The Galilee North Shore, east of the Jordan River
Map Coordinates - 32.910000, 35.630728
Merged Gospels story - 113
Bethsaida (meaning house of the hunt), was the town of origin for at least three, and perhaps as many as five of Jesus’ Apostles: Peter, Andrew, Philip, James and John. Jesus also claims to have performed many miracles here; one, in particular, being recorded in the Gospel of Mark (8:22-26). Bethsaida is also mentioned more in the Gospels than any other city, except Jerusalem and Capernaum.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, the city was destroyed by two earthquakes and was never rebuilt. It simply disappeared for 1700 years.
Then in 1998, after ten years of excavation, Bethsaida was opened to the public, and it is the only place in Galilee where we can see the remains of an entire city from the Biblical era which was not rebuilt in the following centuries. There were no buildings constructed over the ruins, and no restorations have been done, as there were in other Galilean cities like Capernaum and Nazareth. This means that the ruins of this town can be studied in the same condition as they were when the town was abandoned. The dirt has simply been removed, and these ruins remain in much the same condition that they were during Jesus' lifetime. We can walk the same streets on which Jesus walked.
Why is this town so far away from Lake Galilee?
Remnants discovered at this site indicate that one of the houses belonged to a fisherman (as fish hooks were found here), with another home apparently belonging to a winemaker. If there was a fisherman’s house here, why is the city over a mile away from Lake Galilee?
Back in the days of Jesus Bethsaida was actually on the shoreline of the lake. But after 2000 years, the lowering of the water level of the lake, accumulating silt and two earthquakes changed all of that. Now the ruins of Bethsaida are inland.
Jesus’ Prophecy of Bethsaida.
In The Merged Gospels, story 127, Jesus said
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! Because if the miracles happened in Tyre and Sidon that happened in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Moreover, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.”
This prophecy was made two centuries before Bethsaida was destroyed, and never repopulated. The first-century Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, called Bethsaida “one of four lovely cities on the Sea of Galilee”. Yet, like Capernaum and Chorazin, Bethsaida was abandoned and forgotten for many centuries.
Some people also believe that Jesus fed the 5000 here. I don’t believe this, since there are some serious geographic and Biblical contradictions with this theory. Plus, the earliest historical sources locate this feeding at the site of the Church of Multiplication, over three miles west of Bethsaida.
The Biblical Story.
From Mark 8:22-26 we read about a miracle that happened in Bethsaida.
“And they brought to Him (Jesus) a blind one, and called on Him that He might touch him. And taking the hand of the blind man, He led him out of the village, and spitting on his eyes, and putting His hands on him, He was questioning him, if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, ‘I see men as trees walking.’ Afterward again, He put His hands on his eyes, and He made him look up, and he was restored, and saw all things clearly. And He sent him away to his house, saying, ‘You should not yet enter into the village.’”
Were there two Bethsaidas?
This is a subject that I will not deal with here, but historians and archeologists have discovered another site close to the shoreline of the lake, just west of the Jordan River. It is called Bethsaida Al-Araj. I visited this site several times before excavations were made at Al-Araj, and I discovered some interesting ruins, which I captured on film.