Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bethsaida 2012

This photo book provides a quick overview of the first two weeks of the archaeological dig at Bethsaida this summer. I did it for my own collection, so it features ME!, but there is enough general information to be helpful to others.

I'm well aware that there is some skepticism whether e-Tell actually is Bethsaida. After digging at the site, I think I’m supposed to be a true believer that it is!

Well, I’m not a true believer, but I’m pretty much persuaded. They have determined that there was some kind of lagoon system below e-Tell in the 1st century, so it certainly was accessible to the Sea. I wonder if maybe things were already getting difficult, and it perhaps is not a surprise that the New Testament locates Peter, James, and John in Capernaum rather than their home town of Bethsaida. It would be a lot more convenient. In terms of artifacts, there is much to commend e-Tell (especially as compared to the Araj site for which there is not any excavation evidence yet). We and others before us found Herodian lamps, limestone vessels, and coins that all indicate 1st century BCE/CE Jewish habitation. (We found a silver Cleopatra coin while I was working from late 1st century BCE.) In terms of architecture, they were working in one area that was 1st century CE. What’s missing to confirm identification as the Bethsaida? Well, it still doesn’t look like it was much of a polis. Of course there is still lots to excavate, but no sign of Philip’s tomb which I’m kind of imagining to be at least close to the scale of Herod’s at Herodium. There’s the Temple, but it’s hard to see how it was very impressive as anything in the 1st century. No synagogue found yet either. Still, there is still a lot of the site to be investigated. 

For more info about this dig, check at the official site at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (where Rami Arav teaches) or the semi-official site run by Shai Schwartz.


  1. Looks like an exciting dig. The school I attend has a dig at Gezer. Thanks for posting a bit about what you found there, in terms of numistics and such. Hopefully the funding will continue to allow excavation, and possibly the discovery of more of a "city".

  2. Great photos, Mark! What a marvelous time you must have had. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I was considering volunteering at Nebraska-Omaha's dig near Park HaYarden in the near future, so I stopped by the dig to try to learn more and connect with the team there while on vacation in Israel this summer. Regrettably, the people I met at the site were pretty inhospitable and bluntly told me to leave immediately. Perhaps this was for insurance purposes, or perhaps because they thought I was some rival archaeologist trying to spy on their work? At any rate, it wasn't a good impression and I would have strong reservations about working at the site at this point.

  4. @Anonymous: I'm sorry to hear of your experience. The Univ of Neb-Omaha team was only there for 4 weeks in June, and during the 2 weeks I was there, a number of tourists and groups came through. The directors always took time to answer questions and give tours if people wanted. I know the guard at the entrance was rather brusque, and there was some confusion about people wanting to see the archaeological site or the Jordan Park.