Friday, October 22, 2021

Mosaic inscriptions found at the church at El-Araj (Bethsaida?)

PRESS RELEASE: 'Church of the Apostles' Mosaics Discovered in Biblical Bethsaida. Archeologists uncovered 1,500-year-old mosaics believed to be above Peter and Andrew's home.

Let's unpack this story.

First El-Araj is one of the two main contenders for the site of the city of Bethsaida in the time of Jesus. The other is et-Tell. Both have longstanding excavations and both excavation teams are fully confident that their site is the site of Bethsaida. I have been following the debate for years. Both cases sound completely convincing to me. I take no position on who is correct. For many posts on the subject, start here and follow the links.

The discovery of a Byzantine-era church building at El-Araj was announced in 2019. This discovery was important because an eighth-century writer mentioned a church built on the site of the house of Peter and Andrew located at Bethsaida. It is possible that this building is that church, although there was no specific evidence of its connection with Peter.

The new inscription is exciting. It clinches the identification of the building as a church. But as far as I am aware (fact check me on this), no one had disputed that.

Do the inscriptions prove that this was Church of the Apostles and that the site was actually Bethsaida? Nope.

We still have no proof of a connection of the church with Peter and Andrew. And even if it is that church, this would only tell us that people seven hundred years after the time of Jesus thought the site was Bethsaida. That's a long time for mixups to happen.

That said, the discovery of this church does add weight to the identification of El-Araj as Bethsaida - unless and until the excavators of et-Tell can produce a Byzantine-era church on their site.

As I have said before, I don't think that this debate will be resolved conclusively unless we find a first-century sign at one of them that says "Wecome to Bethsaida."

Meanwhile, both sites are uncovering important information about the area in the Roman era and other periods. The contribution of both excavations is signficant, whichever site is the real Bethsaida.

I wrote the above before seeing the Haaretz article by Ruth Schuster: ‘Church of the Apostles’ in Bethsaida Mysteriously Buried, Archaeologists Discover. Researchers at the Sea of Galilee find inscriptions proving they found a major church, shoring up their belief that this was the church of Jesus' disciples, the real Bethsaida (HT Rogue Classicism). It has a good account of the discovery, with more information than in the press release. It also gives a balanced assessment of the evidence from both sites.

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