Whoa, Bethsaida! Archaeologists May Have Found Peter’s Home Town
In Matthew 11, Jesus expresses his frustration with the people in his native region who, despite witnessing his mighty works, refused to repent and believe the Gospel.
He singled out the residents of Bethsaida, the home town of Peter, Andrew and Philip. “Woe to you, Bethsaida!” he declared. “For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.”
Other mentions of Bethsaida in the Gospels refer to those mighty works: Jesus healing a blind man in Mark 8 and, in Luke 9, feeding the 5,000.
As I never get tired of saying, Christianity is a historical faith. It tells the story of God’s actions in human history, not some mythical “once upon a time.” Thus, as I also never get tired of telling you, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when archaeologists discover evidence that confirms this fact.
That’s exactly what happened recently on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. There, archaeologists from Israel and from the United States found a “multi-layered site” that included “an advanced Roman-style bathhouse.”
This and other artifacts, including pottery and Roman coins dating from about 65 A.D., led them to conclude that they had discovered the ancient city of Julias. According to the historian Flavius Josephus, King Philip Herod, the first husband of the Herodias who told her daughter to ask for head of John the Baptist on a platter, turned a sleepy fishing village into a full-fledged Roman city. Then, in a brazen attempt to curry favor, he changed the name to Julias in honor of the Emperor’s mother.
That village, a you’ve probably guessed, was Bethsaida.
In addition to the Roman bathhouse, excavators also found what may be the remains of a “major missing church.” They “found walls with gilded glass tesserae [that is, small blocks] for a mosaic, an indication of a wealthy and important church.”
The significance of this find lies in the writings of Willibald, an eighth-century bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria. He traveled to the Holy Land around 725 A.D., and later wrote about visiting a church in Bethsaida that “was built over the house of Peter and Andrew.”
Until recently, these kinds of stories were dismissed as pious legends. That is, until archaeologists working in Capernaum, digging on the site of a Byzantine Church “supposedly” built over the remains of Peter’s home, discovered the remains of “a Roman-era home that had already evolved into a communal center of veneration by the end of the first century.”
Something similar might be happening in this latest discovery. As archaeologist Steven Notley told National Geographic, “[What Willibard’s account] tells us is that in the Byzantine period we have living memory of the site of Bethsaida and he identifies it with the Gospel tradition.”
Even if this possible connection to Peter does not pan out, what’s going on at the shores of the Sea of Galilee is yet another example of something else that I never tire of telling you: the Bible is the best-attested book of antiquity.
This is true whether you’re talking about manuscripts or archaeological evidence. It could hardly be otherwise since biblical revelation is, at its heart, a narrative about what God did in human history, culminating in the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
The same Jesus of Nazareth who walked in the city being excavated today near the Sea of Galilee.
Originally published on BreakPoint.org: BreakPoint Commentaries. Republished with permission of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.