Is El-Araj The Biblical Home Of The Disciples?

Ever wondered where Jesus' most loyal followers – his 12 disciples – came from? Archaeologists in Israel believe they've discovered the lost city of Jesus' disciples, where Peter, Andrew, and Philip lived, and it's called el-Araj today. Referred to as "Bethsaida" in the New Testament, it is also possibly the location of Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes. But was el-Araj Bethsaida?

Scholars don't universally agree, of course, but new archeological evidence points to the affirmative. Since physical proof of crucixion has also been uncovered in Isreal, now, archaeologists have to answer another question: Where are the disciples buried?

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  • What's So Important About Bethsaida? Three Of Jesus' Main Apostles Hailed From There

    What's So Important About Bethsaida? Three Of Jesus' Main Apostles Hailed From There
    Photo: Pamela P. Stroud / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Bethsaida gained biblical fame as the original city from which three of Jesus' 12 apostles hailed. According to John 1:44, "now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter." John 12:21 goes on to confirm Philip was from Bethsaida. There's been a great deal of scholarly back and forth regarding the location of Bethsaida, since John 12:21 mentions it being in Galilee, but other evidence refutes the existence of any historical Galilean settlement of such a name. For their part, contemporary scholars and archeologists believe that what was Bethsaida would have been east of the Jordan River. 

    The recent archeological findings at el-Araj seem to confirm this line of thinking.

  • Was There An Early Church In Bethsaida? Tiny Mosaic Tiles Found At The Site Point To Yes

    Was There An Early Church In Bethsaida? Tiny Mosaic Tiles Found At The Site Point To Yes
    Photo: Wasfi Akab / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It wouldn't have been any Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, but el-Araj might have contained an early church. Tiny tesserae, small pieces used to make up a mosaic, were uncovered during excavations there. And the thinking goes that they were possibly used to decorate a religious building. In 725 CE, a German bishop named Willibald trekked to Israel and described visiting a church in Bethsaida that was built over a house belonging to Peter and Andrew. The excavations happening at el-Araj might have finally unearthed the physical evidence of this visit.

  • Don't Believe False Headlines – Nobody Really Found The "House of The Apostles"

    Don't Believe False Headlines – Nobody Really Found The "House of The Apostles"
    Photo: wallyg / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    News reports have claimed that one of the buildings found in el-Araj was the house of the apostles Andrew, Peter, and Philip, but that's not the case. Rather, archaeologists think they might have found the apostles' home city, that of Bethsaida (which was given the name Julias by the Romans). Steve Notley, a researcher on site at el-Raj, told National Geopraphic that, simply put, the house of the apostles was included in headlines to falsely sensationalize an already sensational discovery. "We [the researchers] did not write the headline," explained Notley.

  • The Bible Gives Us Clues As To Bethsaida's Location, Which Brought The Archeologists To el-Araj In The First Place

    The Bible Gives Us Clues As To Bethsaida's Location, Which Brought The Archeologists To el-Araj In The First Place
    Photo: Vicky Tsavdaridou / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    So, what does the Bible say about Bethsaida in terms of its location? It says that it's a fishing village near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. And, indeed, el-Araj is on the northern end of the sea. The Gospel of John also specifically placed Bethsaida in the larger region of Galilee.

  • Bethsaida Used To Be A Jewish Fishing Village, According To An Ancient Roman Historian

    Bethsaida Used To Be A Jewish Fishing Village, According To An Ancient Roman Historian
    Photo: Seth Drum / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Around 93 CE, the ancient Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote a bit about the origins of Bethsaida, which scholars have potentially identified as el-Araj. In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote that Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great, "also advanced the village Bethsaida, situate [sic] at the lake of Gennesareth, unto the dignity of a city; both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and its other grandeur: and called it by the name of Julias; the same name with Caesar’s daughter." Thus, Bethsaida was a tiny fishing town, but Philip upgraded it and gave it a Roman name.

  • Bethsaida Wasn't Just The Home Of Three Apostles, It's Also Where Jesus Brought Sight To A Blind Man

    Jesus performed tons of miracles, including healing a number of blind men. One hailed from Bethsaida. According to Mark 8:22, "they came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him." Then, Jesus told them, "'Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with[a] power.'”