THE GALILEE, Israel – What does an ancient Roman Bath have to do with Jesus' miraculous feeding of the 5,000?
Archaeologists working in Israel peel back layers to unravel the mystery of the past. That's what happened at a site they now believe may have been biblical Bethsaida.
"We are on the northern shore of the Kinneret Lake, the Sea of Galilee, a site known in Arabic as el-Araj [and] in Hebrew [as] Beit Abek," Dr. Mordechai Aviam, with the Kinneret College of the Sea of Galilee's Institute for Galilean Archaeology, told CBN News. "This site was known since the end of the 19th century as an ancient site and one of the three candidates to identify Bethsaida."
For years, archaeologists searched for biblical Bethsaida, the home of Peter, Andrew and Philip. There were several candidates, but ironically, a Roman Bath could hold the key to identifying the ancient village.
"And a bathhouse is something that leads us to understand that we are within some kind of a city, some kind of a sphere of people who are building communal structures, public structures and although the dig here is very small, it immediately hinted us that we are in a very good place to suggest that we discovered the city of Julias," Aviam, who's directing the excavation, explained.
"Now what is the city of Julias? We were talking about Bethsaida!" he said. "Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian in the first century, tells us that King Phillip, the son of Herod the Great, who ruled from there to the Golan, toward Damascus – ruled this area – decided to upgrade the village of Bethsaida and to make it a polis [city], by the name of Julias, after the daughter of Emperor Augustus."
Scholars believe it was near the fishing village of Bethsaida where Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish.
Aviam said it's clear there's a Roman layer at the site.
"Also, two coins were discovered," he said. "One of them is a silver coin of Emperor Nero, from the year 65 to 66 [in the] first century. That's what we are looking for."
According to Aviam, another sign of the site's significance is roof tile and other remains of what appears to have been a Byzantine church as well as an historical reference by a Christian from that time.
"There is a document from a visitor from the end of the 7th century AD, a Christian pilgrim, [which] says that after he left Capernaum, he arrived to Bethsaida, and there is a church for the apostles, Peter and Andrew," Aviam explained. "So for the Christians in the sixth, seventh, [and] eighth century it was still called Bethsaida, although there was nothing here but a church dedicated to [Peter and Andrew]. It was identified and a church was built."
The team also found a 13th century Crusader layer, which included a sugar factory.
Excavating takes place in the summer so there are years of digging ahead.
"If we will succeed in proving scientifically that this is the place of Julias, therefore Bethsaida, I think it can be developed into an interesting site for people who are interested in being near, close, in the place where the apostles lived," Aviam said.