‘We Have The Evidence’: The Search For The Last Missing City Mentioned In The Gospels

Anyone who has spent significant time reading the New Testament has probably tried to imagine the fishing village of Bethsaida.

According to the Gospels, the town was the home of brothers Peter and Andrew, as well as their fellow apostle Phillip. It was there, along the banks of the Sea of Galilee, that the pair were fishing when Christ called them to leave their nets and follow Him. It’s also where Jesus cured a blind man. Just outside the town is where he performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish.

But up until recently, though other tourist areas have claimed the title of Bethsaida, archaeologists and historians weren’t certain of its location. That may finally have changed as researchers continue to uncover a site in northern Israel known today as el-Araj.

Taking the travel writings of an 8th century Bavarian bishop as one of their guides, a team led by historian Steven Notley believes they have found not only the last missing city mentioned in the Gospels, but also the church that was built over Peter and Andrew’s home some time in the fifth century.

Notley, a distinguished professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Nyack College, is acting as academic director of excavations at el-Araj, a project sponsored by the Museum of the Bible and the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins. Notley tells The Daily Wire that the dig is entirely privately funded, and no one expected his team to find the extensive amount of remains they have on the site. “I think there’s been general shock,” he says.

His search began in 2007, when he authored a peer-reviewed article in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology, presenting evidence that the surmised location of Bethsaida was incorrect. Notley’s critique caused a bit of a firestorm in archeological circles, and he says those arguing for the first presumed location challenged him: “’If you think it’s someplace else, go excavate it,’ they said.” So he did.

One of the primary sources Notley and his partner Mordechai Aviam, a professor of archaeology and senior lecturer at the Kinneret Academic College of the Galilee, relied on was Saint Willibald’s account of his pilgrimage to Israel in 724 CE.

Willibald himself is a fascinating figure — born to an Anglo-Saxon nobleman in Wessex,  he miraculously survived a bout of the Black Plague in Rome and imprisonment by the Saracens in Asia-Minor. From there, he spent seven years wandering the Holy Land, later recording his experiences in what is now known as the “Hodoeporicon,” the first travel book written in English.

Before his death, he dictated a description of his visit to the famed Church of the Apostles to a nun who recorded, “And thence they went to Bethsaida, the residence of Peter and Andrew, where there is now a church on the site of their house. They remained there that night, and the next morning went to Chorazin, where our Lord healed the demoniacs, and sent the devil into a herd of swine.”

Other scholars had dismissed the saint’s account, believing him to be mistaken or confused about the location of the church. “They argued that when this bishop talked about the church built over the house of Peter, he was talking about the octagonal church in Capernaum,” Notley explains. But he and his team weren’t willing to write off the ancient Willibald so easily. “I said, ‘We have the evidence, right in our hands,” Notley remembers countering at the time. “I said, I don’t know where the walls are. But we do know, there’s a church there somewhere.”

So in 2014 they began a survey of the area, pinpointing a site that looked promising and began excavating in 2016. Almost immediately, they realized they had a significant find on their hands. Each year, Notley says, has unfolded new discoveries.

The first layer revealed what may have been a Crusader-era sugar factory, and when they dug down beneath that they found small glass tubes gilded with gold. “You don’t find those in synagogues,” Notley says. “The only place you have them is in ornate, important churches. So a discussion began and we asked ourselves, ‘What can this be?’ And I said, ‘Well, we have an eighth century pilgrim, who was a Bavarian bishop, who came traveling to this area, and he says saw a church built over the house of Peter and Andrew. He actually described it as a basilica, so not a small church.”

But it wasn’t until they excavated beneath the Byzantine layer and found the mosaic tiles of a Roman bath that Notley was certain they’d found something of incredible significance.

“You would not have a Roman Bath in a Jewish village,” he explains. Where you would have a Roman bath is in a town transformed to Roman polis by a Jewish

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