Imagine seeing with your own eyes the place where Jesus healed a blind man!
Archaeologists recently announced that they have uncovered the New Testament village of Bethsaida.
As the site of several miracles and the famous Church of the Apostles, it’s an important place in Christian history.
Here’s what they discovered:
A team of archaeologists have been excavating a site on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The site, called El-Araj, is believed to be the location of the New Testament village of Bethsaida.
Jesus spent a significant amount of time in this village performing miracles and preaching.
It’s where he healed a blind man (Mark 8:22), rested after feeding the five thousand (Luke 9:10), and called for repentance and faith on the part of the Jews (Matthew 11:21).
Bethsaida was also the birthplace of Philip, Andrew, and Peter, and it’s where the famed Church of the Apostles was built.
This church was so named, archaeologists said, because it was built over the home of the Galilean brothers Peter and Andrew. It was an important site for early Christians and pilgrims in the centuries following Jesus’ ascension.
One of the most prominent historical accounts of the Church of the Apostles comes from the Bavarian bishop-saint Willibald. In 725 A.D., Willibald wrote that “the church was in Bethsaida built over the house of Peter and Andrew, among the first disciples of Jesus.”
The discovery of the Church of the Apostles is important for two reasons, the archaeological team said. “First, until its recent discovery, scholars questioned its existence. Although it is mentioned in Byzantine pilgrim itineraries, many thought these reports mistaken.”
Finding the church is further proof of the accuracy of Christian historical records, which often come under dispute. Structures like the Church of the Apostles prove that Christianity was already growing shortly after Christ death and resurrection.
“Of equal importance,” the team continued, “the church indicates that there existed a living memory in the Christian community about the location of Bethsaida, home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1:44).”
The existence of the Church of the Apostles provides insight into the early Christian community’s memory of Christ’s life on earth. “Early churches were often associated with biblical sites,” noted the team.
Early Christians built the church as a beautiful reminder of Christ’s miracles and His constant presence with them. It was an intricately decorated house of worship.
Continuing excavations at El-Araj have uncovered “pieces of marble,” which suggest statues and solid walls, and “small gilded glass blocks called tesserae.” These were most likely used to create colorful mosaics on the walls of the church, much like stained glass windows.
A lavish mosaic floor was also uncovered, as well as stones carved with Christian symbols like the cross. The builders of the Church of the Apostles wanted to create “a magnificent structure” that truly celebrated the glory and grandeur of their Savior.
The archaeological team plans to continue their work at the church’s site, excavating more areas to create a fuller picture of how it actually looked. “Thus far, we have only uncovered some of the southern rooms of the church,” noted one team member.
He continued, “At the end of this season, we were just beginning to uncover the mosaics of what is likely the nave, the center section of the church.” There are more sections and rooms to uncover, and the team is looking forward to showing the public a full reconstruction of the building.
The team affiliated with the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology at Israel’s Kinneret College, the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins, and New York’s Nyack College, was thrilled and moved by their discovery of the church.
They said that “it’s always remarkable to bring… to light” beautiful historic sites like this, and they can’t wait to see what else the Church of the Apostles reveals about the early Christian community.
There are many more artifacts to be excavated and investigated at the El-Araj archaeological site! The team believes that further work will reveal Roman artifacts from the first century A.D. and perhaps more evidence of a Christian settlement in the region.
To learn more about the excavation and see pictures from the dig, visit the website of the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins.