Archeologists have been working virtually non-stop to excavate the city of Bethsaida, the small fishing village mentioned in the New Testament since the late 1980s. The recent discovery of the “Church of the Apostles,” a 1,400-year-old structure that was said to be the home of Peter and Andrew, the first disciples recruited by Jesus, has archaeologists believing they are on the verge of an earth-shaking discovery. 

According to Fox News, remnants of the Church of the Apostles were found near the Sea of Galilee, where Peter and Andrew fished for a living. The spot is reputed to be near the one where Jesus told them in the Gospel of Matthew, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-20).

The digs were led by a team of American and Israeli archeologists. The finding initially included pieces of marble and small gilded glass blocks called tesserae, used to make mosaics in the Greco-Roman world, made at the site of el-Araj (known as Beit Ebek in Hebrew) near the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. 

According to one of the leaders of the excavation, Professor Steven Notley of Nyack College in New York City, the discovery of the marble and tesserae led his team to believe that “the church was waiting to be found somewhere nearby.” The achievement marked the result of four years of concerted digging in the area. 

The Church of the Apostles and the city of Bethsaida

The Church of the Apostles was believed to be built above the house of the traditional home of Peter and Andrew, Jesus’s earliest followers. It has also been claimed to be associated with the city of Bethsaida. In the Middle Ages, the legendary city once again appeared in the writing of an Anglo-Saxon bishop named Willibald (700-787) who toured the Holy Land from around A.D. 723 to 726.

Ruins of City of Bethsaida (Your way to Israel/ Facebook)

According to the New Testament, the city of Bethsaida was the place where Jesus healed a blind man simply by touching his eyes (Mark 8:22-26). One of Jesus’s most spectacular miracles, the multiplication of five loaves of bread and two fish to feed over 5,000 people who had come to hear his message, was also supposed to have taken place in Bethsaida and Andrew is specifically mentioned as finding a boy with the provisions (John 6:1-14). 

What happened to Bethsaida in the post-Biblical period is unclear, though the city was said to be unoccupied in the late seventh century and even later in the Islamic period, all of which triggered doubts and speculation about its actual existence. 

This new discovery not only affirms the existence of the Church of the Apostles itself but also indicates a long history of urban settlement. 

More to be found

“We excavated only one-third of the church, a bit less, but we have a church and that’s for sure,” said Israeli archaeologist Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret Academic College, another member of the multi-national team. “The plan is of a church, the dates are Byzantine, the mosaic floors are typical… chancel screens, everything that is typical of a church.”

Experts are confident that future excavation seasons will reveal more elements of the church and the city, especially the inscription typical in a church that could fully identify its origin.