Bethsaida (House of Hunting in Hebrew) is an archaeological site at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River pours into the lake. The site dates back thousands of years to when it held a strategic location at the crossroad of several ancient trade routes. Bethsaida has been identified as the Iron Age (10th-century) city of Geshur and with the Roman city of Julias. It was also one of the places where Jesus spent time during his ministry (Matthew 11:20-24) and the village is mentioned many times in the New Testament.
History of Bethsaida
During excavations, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a 10th-century BC settlement including a gatehouse, bricks, spearheads, and arrowheads. Experts believe the 10th-century remains may be the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Geshur, a city mentioned in the Old Testament (Joshua 13). It was here that David fled from Saul and where David’s son Absalom fled after killing his brother.
The village was probably destroyed by the Assyrians in the 8th century BC. Archaeological findings included two Hellenistic-Roman homes from 332 BC when the Greeks established a city here. In the houses were fishing nets, anchors, fishing hooks, and Roman coins. One of the houses had a wine cellar, where archaeologists found vineyard pruning tools and a gold earring.
In 30 AD, the Romans declared the village of Bethsaida to be a city and renamed it Bethsaida Julias. The city continued to be inhabited by both gentiles and Jews until the 3rd-century. In 363 AD the region was hit by an earthquake that destroyed the village. It was rebuilt but eventually abandoned. Experts are still unsure whether there may have been two historic villages called Bethsaida. The two possible sites are et-Tell on the eastern side and el-Araj on the northeastern side of the delta where the River Jordan enters the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).
Bethsaida in the Bible
According to Mark 6:33-51, 8:1-26, and Luke 10:13-15, the villagers of Bethsaida witnessed Jesus’ miracles but were not believers, and Jesus criticized them for their lack of faith. It was here that Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 followers (Luke 9:10-17). And just outside the village, Jesus restored the sight of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26). The apostles Peter, Philip, and Andrew were fishermen in Bethsaida, but they left the village to dedicate themselves to Jesus. They traveled with Him to Tabgha, Korazim, and Capernaum during His ministry.
Visiting Bethsaida Today
Bethsaida is a unique archaeological site in Northern Israel that will take you back in time. Visitors to Bethsaida can see the excavated remains dating back thousands of years including the 10th-century BC gate, paved roads, and ruins of a palace. Also see the excavated Winemaker’s House, Fisherman’s House, Temple, and Roman city wall.