The Quiet Capernaum Shoreline

One of the many special places in Israel to experience is the Capernaum shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. Today Capernaum is a well-maintained archaeological site, with its property belonging to the Franciscan Catholics. Back in the days of Jesus, it was the main Galilean town located right on the northwest corner of the lake. It was a busy place. Yet, it was also a special place! A Special Place There are several reasons why this is such a special place still today: Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John here (Matthew 4). They were fishermen who were asked to leave their profession in order to follow the Master! Matthew (Levi) also lived here in Capernaum. He was a port tax collector … Continue reading

Our Easter Joy & Hope

The centerpiece of our Christian faith is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter serves as the bedrock of our spiritual and eternal joy and hope. The wonderful words of the angel at the tomb says it all – “He is not here!  He is risen! (Matthew 28:6).”  

Ossuary

Jewish ossuaries

Display of Jewish ossuaries in the Hecht Museum. (Credit: Photo by Ferrell Jenkins)

An ossuary is a small stone box containing the bones of the deceased person. These were used in the days of Jesus. 100s have been found in Jerusalem alone. Some ossuaries were quite ornate, decorated with rosettes. Others had the name of the deceased scratched on the outside of them, identifying whose bones they were. Archaeologists actually found an ossuary with the following name written in Aramaic – Yeshua bar Yoseph” (e.g. “Jesus, son of Joseph”). Of course this ossuary wasn’t our Yeshua’s ossuary. To be very clear, He didn’t need an ossuary! Rather, the tomb of Jesus was empty, not because of the body of the Savior was stolen nor because His followers hallucinated or made up the story. The tomb was empty because Jesus was literally raised to life!

Tombs

In Israel, 100s of Second Temple Tomb (tombs dating to the 1st century) have been found. About two dozen tombs have actually been found in and around the Holy Sepulcher Church, one of there three oldest churches in the world (4th century AD). But whether this is the place of Jesus’ tomb or not, we honor not merely the traditional place but rather the historical truth and reality of Christ’s resurrection. We worship the Person, Jesus, raised from the grave! It is what brings us the joy and certainty of our faith!

3 Tomb Reconstruction copy

A model of an “arcasolium” tomb

The most likely type of Second Temple Tomb Jesus was laid in on Friday afternoon was an arcasolium tomb.  The most common type of tomb during the period of the New Testament was the koch (kochim, plural) or niche tomb.  However, it seems as if they angels in the resurrection story couldn’t sit at the feet and head of Christ (John 20:12) within a narrow and elongated niche tomb. Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was a newly-hewn tomb (Matthew 27:60), and must have been a tomb of prominence. What a dramatic event it must have been for the women at the tomb who were told by the angels of Christ’s resurrection! What an amazing experience also for Peter and John who ran to the tomb shortly after!

Flowers at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

Flowers at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Empty Grave

So this weekend, all the Christian world rejoices in the resurrection of Jesus! Easter lilies stand tall in celebration! Easter flowers bloom brilliantly as a sign of life! May our hearts rejoice in Christ’s resurrection!

Enjoy this song that celebrates the beautiful and powerful name of Jesus!

 

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March 2018 Israel-Jordan Tour Update – Day 6

DAY 6 – FRIDAY, MARCH 16: KINNERET CEMETERY, JORDAN NORTHERN BORDER CROSSING, JERASH, MT. NEBO, MEDEBA, PETRA

This morning we left the Sea of Galilee area. We were once again greeted with sun, with eventual high temps in the 70s. Perfect once again!

Kinneret Cemetery

Rachel the Poet

“Rachel the Poet’s” grave – Kinneret Cemetery

Leaving at 7:15 following breakfast, we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to the Kinneret Cemetery. This was a cemetery used by early Jewish pioneers to the land. We stood around the grave of a certain Rachel (Bluwstein). She immigrated from Ukraine to Israel in 1909 and died in 1931. She is known for her poetry. She even appears on the new 20 shekel bill.

Jordan Border Crossing/Jerash

Jerash Jordan

Jerash Jordan

Driving south about 20 miles through the Jordan Valley, we made our crossing into Jordan at the Sheik Border Crossing. With a little patience, we crossed without any issues. We we met on the Jordan side by our Jordanian guide, Sammy, and our driver.

After loading the bus, we drove about an hour and half to Jeresh. This was a huge Decopolis city of the Romans. Here we saw many things, including the hippodrome, the massive theater, and Temple of Athena, the many other ancient ruins.

Mt. Nebo

Mt. Nebo

The view of Israel from Mt. Nebo

Driving south through the edge of Amman we arrived at Mt. Nebo. Here we looked westward into back into Israel (the Promised Land) as Moses did before he died on this mountain. We read from Deuteronomy 34 and Joshua 1. We were encouraged to be “strong and courageous” in our walk of faith. Before leaving, we also saw the newly renovated chapel built over the ruins of a Byzantine church (4-5th century AD). The mosaics were beautiful! We also stopped briefly at a mosaic shop. Here we saw a replica of the Medeba Map, a 6th century AD map of the Holyland.

Drive to Petra

From here we continued through the city of Medeba and drove south on the Desert Highway to Petra. The drive took about 3.5 hours, with a short break on the way. Arriving at our hotel we enjoyed a late dinner together before retiring for the night. We are looking forward to visiting Petra early tomorrow!

DAY 7 – SATURDAY, MARCH 17: PETRA, WADI RUM

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March 2018 Israel-Jordan Tour Set to Begin!

Our Ministry

Biblical Israel Ministries & ToursBiblical Israel Ministries & Tours is all about teaching the Bible within the incredible context of the land of Israel! We enthusiastically teach the Bible through primarily two avenues – through the study & discipleship Israel tours and through what we call Bringing the Bible to Life (BBL) seminars designed for churches, groups, conferences, and retreats. Our next three BBL seminars are taking place in April (April 5-6 in Madison, WI; April 14-15 in Uppsala, MN; and April 20-21 in Iron Mountain, MI). If you are in the area, feel free to join us!

Our Next Trip

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

However before these three seminars, our next Israel tour I am leading begins this Sunday, March 11th. This tour will be a 14 day combined Israel & Jordan trip. We even built into the program a “service day” in Jerusalem with Bridges for Peace. A total of 38 will be in this group!  A life-changing experience awaits!

You can follow our day-to-day experiences HERE. The trip will be updated each evening, complete with sample pictures and a description of the sites we encounter!

For More Information

Mt. of Beatitudes

The view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mt. of Beatitudes

If you are interested in either an upcoming trip to Israel, please visit this page HERE. If your church would like to host a BBL seminar, please visit this page HERE.

We are here to serve you and help you grow in your faith walk with God!

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The Isaiah Seal Impression (& Video)

Excitement in the Archaeological World

Isaiah seal

Isaiah Bulla, a 2,700-year-old clay seal impression which potentially belonged to the biblical prophet Isaiah. (Ouria Tadmor/© Eilat Mazar)

The excitement about biblical archaeology is that one never knows what may be uncovered next! This is particularly true of archaeological discoveries in and around Jerusalem, for it seems as though significant finds are appearing in the news more and more! This is truly exciting.

The last discovery in Jerusalem was just made public last week. I’m sure many of you have seen the report already! It is a discovery that is potentially and directly links us to one of the major prophets who lived in the 7th century BC. This prophet’s name is Isaiah.

The Seal Impression

Isaiah seal and Ophel

The Ophel excavations where the Isaiah Seal was discovered (credit: Andrew Shiva)

In a recent Times of Israel article, Dr. Elat Mizar, archaeologist, reported the following, “We appear to have discovered a seal impression, which may have belonged to the prophet Isaiah, in a scientific, archaeological excavation…” Discovered in the Ophel excavations (just north of the City of David and just south of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), this “seal impression” (or bulla) is a remarkable find!

Mizar continues to describe both about discovery and the challenge of interpreting it, “Because the bulla has been slightly damaged at the end of the word nvy, it is not known if it originally ended with the Hebrew letter aleph, which would have resulted in the Hebrew word for ‘prophet’ and would have definitively identified the seal as the signature of the prophet Isaiah.” You can read the entire article HERE. If this discovery does indeed link us to the Isaiah of the Bible, this would be an incredible find!

A Video

Here is a recent video from last week featuring a personal interview with Elat Mizar.

For the sake of providing additional (yet somewhat similar) resources/articles about this discovery, follow these links:

National Geographic

CNET

Haaretz (an Israeli newspaper)

 

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The Geography of the Christmas Story

Biblical Stories

Nazareth to Bethlehem

Route from Nazareth to Bethlehem

The Bible is filled with stories. They are narratives that don’t take place in a vacuum. For each story of the Bible, there is a cultural context in which it takes place. Many Bible commentators consider the cultural contexts of these stories in order to extract an accurate meaning. There is also an historical-political context to each story. This means paying attention to what took place historically in the region surrounding the events of the story.

“Connecting the Dots”

Additionally, there is also a geographical context to each story. Understanding the geographical surroundings of the story helps the student of the Bible connect the dots between the regions or cities that are part of the narrative. “Connecting the dots” between regions and cities is an integral part of every Israel tour we lead. The Christmas story is one of those narratives where understanding the geographical context sheds light on the amazement of God’s redemptive story.

Nazareth, Israel

The city of Nazareth today

According to the Gospel text, Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. It is located in the Lower Galilee region (today Nazareth is a city of about 80,000 consisting of primarily Arabs who are citizens of Israel). The town of Nazareth was a small city, so insignificant that it is not even mentioned in the Jewish Talmud. The village consisted of perhaps as few as a dozen families. Located just 4-5 miles away was Sepporis, the primary city in the region.  So in this geographical region of Lower Galilee, Nazareth was insignificant in light of Sepporis.  Yet this was where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary (and later an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:18f). Isn’t that just like God, to call, use, and inspire common people from common places for His redemptive purpose!

When the Time Came

When the time came, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. The direct distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem is about 60 miles. However, most Jews traveling from the Galilee in the north to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the south took the Jordan River Valley route.  Intentionally avoiding the region of Samaria, this would have made the trip about 15 miles longer, for a total of about 75 miles.  This route would have taken the young couple through the eastern branch of the Jezreel Valley and past Bethshean before turing south in the Jordan River Valley. This means the journey to Bethlehem would have taken them a good 5-6 days. In regard to Mary’s condition, how about covering this distance while very pregnant? That’s quite impressive actually! Tradition places Mary riding on a donkey led by Joseph walking on foot. However, there is no reason not to believe that she would have walked most of this herself even in her pregnant condition. It was a difficult trip either way!

The Route

Ascent of Adummim

The Ascent of Adummim. This is the route taken by Jospeh and Mary from Jericho to Jerusalem & Bethlehem (credit: Bible Places)

The route would have continued from Jericho, located just north of the Dead Sea, to Jerusalem. This was the ancient “Jericho Road” that ascended about 4,000 feet in elevation up the Ascent of Adummim (the most difficult section of the route) through the Judean Desert to Judea’s capital city in the Judean Hill Country. Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph’s final destination, is located about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. While Bethlehem was probably not as small as Nazareth, it, too, was overshadowed by the awe and glory of Jerusalem. Additionally, located just about 4 miles east of Bethlehem was Herodium, one of Herod the Great’s “palace-fortresses.”  While we can’t specifically place this wicked king residing at Herodium at the precise time of the birth of Christ (he was most likely in his palace in Jerusalem though just 5 miles north), this towering fortress represented something “grand and mighty” in comparison to the humble birth of Jesus.

Now enter the “wise men or Magi. Whoever they were, they traveled from the east quite a distance, crossing the desert region. They must have traveled for months before finally first arriving in Jerusalem and staying there for some time before eventually finding the “house” of Joseph and Mary (Matthew 2:11). The geographical distance these Mede / Persian astronomers would have been at least hundreds of miles, up to 500 miles, depending on where they were from.

Real Places with a Real Reason

Jesus light of the worldWhat does knowing a little about the geography of Christmas do for us?  It helps put into context the remarkable ways that God prepared the scene for the coming of His Son. It places the narrative of Christmas in various and unique geographical regions. Some of these regions are hilly (Lower Galilee), flat (Jezreel Valley, Jordan River Valley), and mountainous (Judean Desert, Hill Country of Judah). Most of all, it places the birth narrative of Jesus in real places with a real reason!

Jesus came “just at the right time” (Gal. 4:4) to provide an answer to sin and its consequences. He came to bring light. He came to be the Light in a dark world!

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Christmas – A Bethlehem Shepherd’s View

Charlie Brown’s Christmas

shepherd in Bethlehem

A shepherd in Bethlehem

Once again this Christmas Season I watched the Charlie Brown’s Christmas. It is an oldie from 1965. Watching it again takes me back not only to my childhood days when we watched the show on an old tube TV with a rabbit ear antenna drawing in the signal (my oh my, have days changed!). But this classic Charles M. Schulz cartoon also takes me back to Israel, specifically to the fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This is where the story of all stories took place 2,000 years ago! And shepherds were a big part of the story!

Bethlehem Shepherds

There are many shepherds who live in and around Bethlehem. Located about five miles south of Jerusalem in the Hill Country of Judah, Bethlehem is an historic place. Mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), this was the ancient town connected with people from the Bible (e.g. Rachel, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, as well as with David). In the words of the prophet Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2).” This ancient 8th century prophet continues (in 5:4) by mentioning the role of the shepherd. In fact, the one to be born in Bethlehem (Jesus) would be one who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”

Today, Bethlehem is inhabited by about 20,000 Arabs (not counting to two neighboring towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala). Of this population, only about 10-15% are Arab Christians. At the center of the city of Bethlehem is the Church of Nativity and Manger Square. Originally built by the order of Constantine’s mother Helena in the 4th century and later rebuilt by Emperor Justinian in the 530s, the church represents of the centerpieces of the Christian faith, namely, the location of the birth of Jesus!

A Shepherd named Mansour

The region of Bethlehem

The area of Bethlehem

About a year ago I came across this video about one particular Bethlehem shepherd named Mansour. With the help of the wonderful Arab Christian community in Bethlehem (e.g. Bethlehem Bible College, Rev. Danny Awad, and others), this video was produced to bridge the ancient with the present.

In the birth narrative, it were shepherds who were the first to greet the newborn Jesus. Going no doubt to a nearby cave where Jesus as born, these shepherds saw with their own eyes the fulfillment of what Micah the prophet of old mentioned 750 years prior.

In the video you will see modern day Bethlehem. Despite being surrounded with many religious and even political challenges that face them, the Bethlehem Christians you will see and hear in the video still speak of the hope and peace that Christ brings them. Especially powerful are the words spoken by one Arab Christian who says, “I think Jesus is knocking on the doors of the hearts of people. And he ask for anyone open to him to start a new Christmas with him…”

In the words of Mansour the Bethlehem shepherd, “Isa (Jesus) is the Prince of Peace!” This is the message of Christmas!

Is Jesus knocking on the door of your heart this Christmas Season? If so, be sure to let Him in and discover the true joy of Christmas!

 

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The Meaning of Sukkot

Sukkot / Feast of Tabernacles

Sukkot at western wall

Sukkot celebration at the Western Wall

The week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot (or the Feast of Tabernacles) is upon us! Coming just after Yom Kippur, the most solemn time in the Jewish calendar year, Succot is a time of joy and celebration. It just started just last night in Israel.

With permission, I am sharing an excellent article written by a Messianic ministry called One For IsraelThe article is called The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles. What I appreciated about the article is the Christocentric connections the author makes between Succot and the life and ministry of Yeshua/Jesus.

Here is the article:

The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles

sukkot celebration

Sukkot celebration

The Feast of Sukkot is one of my favourites. All of God’s feasts are full of creativity and wonder; treasures and promises. But in Jewish literature, Sukkot is often simply called “THE feast”. The biggie – no other clarification needed. Three times a year, all of Israel were supposed to make the trek to Jerusalem for Passover and Shavuot in the Spring, and then Sukkot in the fall. Sukkot means “shelters”, “booths”, or “tabernacles”. This is a feast in which God instructs his people to set about making a temporary shelter or booth to camp out in for a week. As a kid I loved making dens, and Sukkot is a bit like that. But why in the world did God want us to make dens?

Why build a booth?

In his creative genius, seen not only in the natural world around us but also in the law that God himself dictated, we can see that God also knew how effective building a shelter would be to provoke thought. He knew that this activity would help remind people of the journey that they had taken with him through the wilderness. That time of desert wandering was where the nation was forged once and for all as a community of faith, following the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their tents were only temporary – they were traveling towards a more permanent home, where they could live with their God.

The rabbinic prescription for these dens has become quite intricate, but in essence, there must be at least three walls (made of wood or material, usually) and the roof must be made from natural materials like palm fronds, so that you can see the night sky through the gaps. These shelters are to remind the people of Israel about the time they journeyed through the wilderness in temporary shelters, picking up and moving on as necessary. For the week, people are supposed to eat in their sukka, and even sleep in them, if they’re feeling crazy! They are usually decorated with seasonal fruits and produce, and it’s a fun family activity to build a sukka and decorate it together. Nowadays, of course, you can buy ready-to-build sukkot, like tents or portable cabins, and decorations are in the shops all ready made to add the finishing touches.

A time for sharing and fellowship

It is traditional to invite guests each night of the week long feast, to share and enjoy the sukka together – to extend hospitality, friendship and stories. It is a time to celebrate the fruits of the harvest, and to rejoice, giving thanks for all God has given us, and give back to God in return. Deuteronomy 16:13-17 says:

succa or booth

The Succa or “booth”

 

“You shall keep the Feast of Booths for seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your wine press. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose:
at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.
They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

The Lord outlines his instructions about this feast three times, in Leviticus 23, Numbers 29 and Deuteronomy 16. It is a time that he wants his people to recognise what they have by offering food from their harvest, and it is a time when he has commanded his people to REJOICE! God wants us to go through this process of remembering, gathering, thanking, giving, and rejoicing.

Can we be joyful on command?

Perhaps it seems strange to you to be commanded to rejoice, but the Bible does indeed command it many times. Can we just “switch on” this emotion? First of all, rejoicing is an act, rather than an emotion, but secondly, there are certainly things that we can do in order to position ourselves to be filled with joy.

Thankfulness

As we reflect upon all the good things in our lives, and count our blessings, we inevitably find we have much to rejoice about. I have a habit of writing a list of thanks every morning in a lined notepad, and make sure that I get to the bottom of the page before I stop! The notepads vary in size, but the discipline is a good one to get into. I have heard it said that recalling just 5 things that you’re grateful for each morning will have a signficant affect on your outlook. Another exercise is to go through the alphabet, one letter at a time, thinking of something to be grateful for beginning with each letter. You get the idea. Being thankful takes a bit of concerted effort at the beginning, but becomes more and more natural, the more we do it. And the more we maintain an attitude of gratitude, the more joyful we will inevitably become.

Be full of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit naturally produces the fruit of joy in our lives, and all the more so, when we are willing to let him fill us completely. God loves to give us his Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). In fact, we are commanded in Ephesians 5:18 to be full of the Holy Spirit. How do we do that? Yeshua’s answer in Luke 11 is simple: Ask! Yeshua assures us that the Father is eager and ready to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. However, when we are “full of ourselves”, we cannot be full of the Spirit. We must be willing to give the Spirit more space, control and authority in our lives. When we are full of sin, pride, fear and so on, our ego gets in the way, but we can come before God, confess our sins, receive his forgiveness, and invite him to take first place again by faith. Our prayer can be, “Less of me and more of you, Lord!”

Joy comes from obedience

It is said that if you are feeling grumpy, just the act of similing repeatedly can improve your mood. In a similar way, a rabbi’s advice to a man who was struggling to love his wife was to do the acts that he would do as if he did love her, and that in time, the feelings would inevitably follow. The famous Jewish sage, Rambam, said that if he had 1000 coins to give, he would rather give 1000 men one coin rather than 1000 coins to one man, because the repeated act of giving 1000 times would make him into a more generous man. Our actions can become habits, which can then influence our heart. In this same way, we can rejoice before God; thanking him, worshiping him and rejoicing even when we don’t feel like it, but if we continue to obey his command to rejoice, eventually our hearts will truly become filled with joy.

Fellowshipping with God

We have each come a long way, and been on an adventurous journey, like the Israelites. It’s a good time to reflect on God’s goodness and provision along the way, and to remember how he brought us through the difficult times, the deserts, in our lives. And the glorious thing about Sukkot is that it also points towards God’s desire to dwell with his people. His provision is not merely physical (although we have much to be grateful for on that account) but he has also not held back his only Son, just so that we can live together with him for eternity.

Sukkot celebrationWe can have fellowship with God because he came down to earth as a man, and tabernacled among us. He became flesh and blood, visible and touchable, God incarnate, living among his people on earth, and though his Spirit now lives, or tablernacles, in our lives if we will invite him in. Yeshua says; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  (Revelation 3:20) Here’s how Yeshua’s best friend put it:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)

And hundreds of years beforehand, Zechariah prophesied this very event:

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell [tabernacle] in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people.
And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” (Zech 2:10-11)

Sukkot also points prophetically towards Yeshua’s second coming, and the ultimate end of all things, when God will dwell among us, and we will live with him forever. What a reason to rejoice!

(Share with permission – October 4, 2017)

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Has Ancient Bethsaida Been Found?

HAS ANCIENT BETHSAIDA BEEN FOUND?

El Araj

The recent excavation at El Araj – possible “Bethsaida” of the Bible.

Biblical archaeologists continue to excavate ancient sites in Israel. The discovery of the ancient city of Bethsaida is another one of these sites being uncovered that connects us directly to the Bible.

The Site of El Araj

On the last Israel trip I led (September 4-17 2017), we visited the site of El Araj. Finding the location of this new excavation through the guidance of a few friends, we diverted from the main asphalt road on the NE corner of the Sea of Galilee to a small unmarked dirt lane that took us to the site. Let’s just say that going to “off-the-beaten-track” sites like this is something I like to do with groups and something that every “touristy” Israel tours do not do. For me, visiting this possible site for Bethsaida was the highlight of the trip!

El Araj team

The el Araj team, summer of 2017

About a month ago, the results of the 2nd year of excavation at El Araj were published. I must say that what was discovered at this point is quite exciting. Indeed, the search for the true site of Bethsaida has been ongoing since the 1800s. But it was not until the 1980s when Father Pixner, a Benedictine monk, excavated a site about 1.5 miles north of the water’s edge today (more recently, the University of Nebraska has been digging here). The site called et-Tell reveals an impressive 1st Temple four-chambered gate (9th century BC) and two large Hellenistic houses (2nd century BC). But that is about it. No 1st century ruins contemporary with the time of Jesus or the New Testament have been found. While what Dr. Bryant Wood (of Associates for Biblical Research) has said is important (e.g. “The lack of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence.”), the main leading issue is not just the archaeology but primarily the location of et-Tell. For it to be a fishing village (Bethsaida literally means “house of fishing”), you would expect it to be on the water’s edge. It is not even close. However, this new site, El Araj, precisely is!

silver coins - Nero found at El Araj

The two coins found in the summer of 2017. The left one depicts Nero – 66-67 AD (credit: National Geographic).

We know the El Araj (later re-named Julius by Herod Phillip in 30 AD when he “upgraded” the small Bethsaida to a polis or city) actually was on the water’s edge because of the 1st century Roman bathhouse and mosaic found this year. This one lone discovery tells us that the water of the Sea of Galilee did not come further north (as those who hold to the view that et Tell is Bethsaida contend) or else these uncovered structures would have been underwater. Topographically, el Araj’s location fits much better with the historical (and Gospel) records.

So what has been discovered so far?

map of el Araj

(credit: Biblical Resources)

While I will direct you to a few more detailed articles already highlighting this summer’s most recent finds (e.g. CBN, National Geographic, and Ha-Aretz), the discoveries include Roman structures, mosaics, two coins (one of them a silver coin of Nero – 66-67 AD), a Byzantine Church, and the ruins of a Crusader building. About the significance of the Byzantine Church, co-director Dr. Steve Notley said, “Willibald, the bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria, visited the Holy Land in 725 C.E., and in his itinerary, he describes his visit to a church at Bethsaida that was built over the house of Peter and Andrew. It may well be that the current excavations have unearthed evidence for that church.”  Only time will tell if this was that church!
About the findings this year, archaeologist Dr. Mordechai Avram stated, “[The discovery of] a bathhouse is something that leads us to understand that we are within some kind of a city, some kind of a sphere of people who are building communal structures, public structures and although the dig here is very small, it immediately hinted us that we are in a very good place to suggest that we discovered the city of Julias.” 

Mosaic floor at el Araj

Mosaic Roman floor (credit: Zachary Wong, 2017)

So visiting this new site was very exciting especially in light of the Gospels telling us this was the home of Peter, Andrew, and Phillip (John 1). It was also the home of the blind man healed by Jesus (Mark 8). Additionally, the Feeding of the 5,000 took place here too (Luke 9). Lastly, this may have been a small fishing village visited by Jesus Himself!

Stay tuned for further updates upon next year’s excavation! If I can work it in my touring and teaching schedule, I would love to dig here in 2018!
It goes without saying that el Araj will be a site we will visit on each and every upcoming trip I lead!
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Israel & The Dead Sea Area

Israel is an amazing country!

Dead Sea

Reflections upon the Dead Sea

Each region of the country is unique. Some areas are flat plains, while others are mountain ranges. The Dead Sea region is especially unique. At close to 1,400 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point on earth. The Dead Sea itself, about 35 miles long, is about 33% salt and minerals. This area receives only a few rain events all year, making it a very dry arid area.

Below is an amazing aerial video of the region of the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea-Israel by Amir Aloni from Amir Aloni on Vimeo.

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