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Two sites near the north shore of the Sea of Galilee have claimed to be the biblical town of Bethsaida, which Josephus records was later made a Roman polis by Herod Philip and renamed Julias. Et-Tell has been proposed as Bethsaida, although critics have pointed out that it's too far (3km) and too high up from the shore for a fishing village, and it lacks Roman remains from the first century. Last year excavators at El-Araj, located right on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, declared it to be the site of Bethsaida/Julias, as they had discovered remains of a Roman bathhouse. Archaeologists from both sites have released information on this year's digs:

Et-Tell - This year the dig at Et-Tell focused on the gate and city wall that surrounded the site in the 10th-8th centuries BC. Guard towers were discovered along the wall at distances of 20 meters, the earliest examples of such features in Israel. Prof. Rami Arav, the co-director of the dig, hypothesizes that the site may have been the city called Tzer (which is mentioned only in Joshua 19:35) and that it may have been the capital of the region of Geshur. He further suggests that David may have visited the site when he married Maachah, the mother of Absalom, who was from Geshure. He also postulates that Tzer may have been pronounced Tzed, and that Beit-Tzaida may have been an early Hebrew name for Bethsaida.

Et-Tell News Reports:

El-Araj - This year's dig at el-Araj expanded the exploration of the site and examined various levels of occupation, from the Ottoman period back to the early Roman period. Many finds were unearthed, including coins, pottery sherds, and oil lamps, that date the site to the early Roman era, as well as limestone tesserae and marble floor tiles. The final dig report concludes, "We have uncovered multiple layers of human settlement and have brought to light a rich community in the Roman period. Their opulence is attested by the frescoes, bathhouses, beautifully ornamented oil lamps, and much, much more. This year we demonstrated that the settlement was widespread, and not limited to a small area. This was no mean city. What began around 30 CE as Herod Philip's transformation of a Jewish fishing village into a polis, evolved over the centuries into a wealthy community. The continuity of settlement reaching back into the Roman period continues to strengthen the claim that el-Araj is the best candidate for the historical site of Bethsaida-Julias."

El-Araj Excavation Reports:


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