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?
Bethsaida Used To Be A Jewish Fishing Village, According To An Ancient Roman Historian
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.'”
Archaeologists Used To Think No One Lived In el-Araj During Jesus' Time – Until Summer 2017
Before this excavation, archaeologists didn't think that el-Araj could have been Bethsaida, since they hadn't found Roman-era items (or anything pre-Roman) at the site. But, in Summer 2017, things changed! Researchers uncovered a Byzantine building with a surfeit of ancient coins; their presence alone dated the city to to at least the 5th century CE. But the coins weren't the only affirmative evidence that archeologists found during excavations there.
But Roman Pottery Was Found, Changing The Game!
As it so often is, pottery became archaeologists' saving grace at el-Araj. In the Byzantine building where they had found the coins, the diggers kept on excavating, going deeper and deeper. And it was worth it; they uncovered Roman-era pottery from between the 1st and 3rd centuries CE. (AKA, from Jesus' time onward)! That meant that this could have been Bethsaida, as it was inhabited in the New Testament era. Archaeologists also found a 2nd-century coin and a denarius from Emperor Nero's reign in the 60s CE.