Sites & cities that bear the name of El-Araj


Today in : Israel
First trace of activity : ca. 1st century B.C.E
Last trace of activity : 65 C.E
Recorded names : El Araj, Al-Araj, Bethsaida?, beth-tsaida?, Ṣaidan?, بيت صيدا, ?בית צידה?, beth-tsaida?, Ṣaidan?, צַידָן?

Description : Bethsaida (Arabic: بيت صيدا‎, from Hebrew/Aramaic בית צידה‎ beth-tsaida, lit. "house of hunting", from the Hebrew root צ-י-ד‎), also known as Julias, is a place mentioned in the New Testament. Julias lay in an administrative district known as Gaulonitis. Historians have suggested that the name is also referenced in rabbinic literature under the epithet Ṣaidan (Hebrew: צַידָן‎). Although Bethsaida is believed to be located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, there is disagreement among scholars as to precisely where. Since the nineteenth century, three places have been considered as the possible location of Biblical Betsaida: the Bedouin village of Messadiye; the small, deserted settlement of El-Araj (Beit HaBek, "House of the Bey"); and the archaeological site (tell) of Et-Tell. Over time, the latter two locations have come to appear more likely. While Messadiye and El-Araj are closer to the Sea of Galilee, Et-Tell shows significant archaeological remains including fragments of fishing equipment. No trace of the name Bethsaida has been found in the district, but any one of the sites named would meet the requirements. Et-Tell, a site on the east bank of the Jordan River, is promoted by the Bethsaida Excavations Project, lead by Rami Arav. El-Araj is proposed by a second group, led by Mordechai Aviam, under the auspices of the Center for Holy Land Studies. Al-Araj According to Josephus, around the year 30/31 CE (or 32/33 CE) Herod Philip II raised the village of Bethsaida in Lower Gaulanitis to the rank of a polis and renamed it "Julias," in honor of Livia, also called Julia Augusta, the wife of Augustus. It lay near the place where the Jordan enters the Sea of Galilee. Julias/Bethsaida was a city east of the Jordan River, in a "desert place" (that is, uncultivated ground used for grazing), if this is the location to which Jesus retired by boat with his disciples to rest a while (see Mark 6:31 and Luke 9:10). The multitude following on foot along the northern shore of the lake would cross the Jordan by the ford at its mouth, which is used by foot travelers to this day. The "desert" of the narrative is just the barrīyeh of the Arabs, where the animals are driven out for pasture. The "green grass" of Mark 6:39, and the "much grass" of John 6:10, point to some place in the plain of el-Baṭeiḥah, on the rich soil of which the grass is green and plentiful, compared to the scanty herbage on the higher slopes. Excavation In 2017, archaeologists announced the discovery of a Roman bathhouse at el-Araj, which is taken as proof that the site was a polis in the Roman Empire period. The bathhouse was located in a layer below the Byzantine layer, with an intervening layer of mud and clay that indicated a break in occupation between 250 and 350 CE. They also found what might be the remains of a Byzantine church building, matching the description of a traveller in 750 CE. On account of these discoveries, the archaeologists believe that el-Araj is now the most likely candidate for the location of Bethsaida. In 2019, what some describe as the Church of Apostles was unearthed by the El-Araj excavations team during the fourth season at the site of Bethsaida-Julias / Beithabbak (El-Araj), on the north shore of Sea of Galilee near where the Jordan river enters the lake. The excavation was carried out by Prof. Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret College and Prof. R. Steven Notley of Nyack College. This Byzantine period church is believed by some to have been built over the house of the apostle brothers, Peter and Andrew. Only the southern rooms of the church were excavated. A well-protected ornamental mosaic floor, gilded glass tesserae, and a marble chancel decorated with a wreath have been found in some of the excavated rooms. According to Professor Notley: We have a Roman village, in the village we have pottery, coins, also stone vessels which are typical of first century Jewish life, so now we strengthen our suggestion and identification that El-Araj is a much better candidate for Bethsaida than e-Tell.

See on map »