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Bethsaida

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Coming to Light - Highlights of Bethsaida

 

Only in Israel can you talk about seeing a "new place" that's 3,000 years old! But that's the best way to describe Bethsaida, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And if ever there was a place where you can literally walk in the footsteps of Jesus, it's Bethsaida.

 

Jesus spoke repeatedly of three Galilee towns - Korazim, Bethsaida and Capernaum. He must have known all three well, having taught and healed in them (Matt. 11:20-23). But when Christian pilgrimage waned after its height in Byzantine times, all three were lost. The last to reemerge is Bethsaida, where the ruins and the unique opportunity for spiritual moments are wonderful reasons to put this fascinating site on your itinerary.  

 

Here you immerse yourself in the gospel stories about this town where Philip, Peter and Andrew were born (John 1:44) and where Jesus restored sight to a blind man (Mark 8:22-25), and taught and healed among the crowd (Luke 9:10-11).

 

Jesus spoke of Bethsaida as a "village" (Mark 8:25), but in earlier times it was a large fortified city. Sitting in the shade at the massive city gate, where once a shrine for the ritual of water libation to a deity stood, we see chambers, apparently a royal storehouse, where barley smoldered for such a long time after a great conflagration (presumably from the destruction of Tiglat Pileser in 732 BCE) that it turned the stones into a kind of glass. You'll be able to see a newly discovered road, some 13 feet wide, that led up to the gate and the square outside, which was probably the city's "market area" (1 Kings 20:34).

 

Bethsaida is also believed to be Geshur of the Hebrew Scriptures (Josh 12:5). Don't feel too badly if this town--whose huge walls Bethsaida's dig director, Prof. Rami Arav of the University of Omaha, and his team have brought to light--doesn't ring a bell right away--it isn't mentioned very often in the Bible. But I bet it will appear on your biblical radar if I remind you that in Old Testament times it was the hometown of a bride of David's youth, Maacah (2. Sam. 3:3), and the place to which their son Absalom fled to his grandfather, King Talmai (2 Sam. 13:37). You'll see ample evidence in the ongoing excavation of both the biblical period--with the city gate, the palace throne room where David may have asked for Maacah's hand in marriage, and a fisherman's and a vintner's house from the Roman period.

 

But I believe the most moving site for Christian visitors at Bethsaida is the Roman-era street on whose stones Prof. Arav says we can imagine Jesus probably walked with the disciples! I will never forget the first time I told this to visitors I was leading at the site. After doing so, I had begun to walk on to the next site, and when I reached my next "explanation point" I turned around to speak again. Lo and behold, there was no one following (not a good moment for a guide, usually)... I walked back to the ancient street, and there was everyone--my entire group-kneeling on the stones! One of the ladies said, "This is my doing, Miriam. My uncle, who had always wanted to come to Israel but is sick now and can't make the trip, said to me ‘When you find a place in Israel where you feel Jesus, kneel there for me.'" Tears filled her eyes. "And then I saw everyone was doing the same!"

 

It was that incident that led me to introduce Bethsaida to my dear friend Christian author and speaker Eva Marie Everson, co-author of our book, Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel. After our first visit, when it came time to travel the land together specifically to research our book, Eva put it at the top of the list of Galilee sites where she wanted us to spend time. And after our second visit, Eva wrote (more of) her inspiring words that showed me that she, like those kneeling visitors, had "gotten it." That when you come to Bethsaida, like other sites where Jesus walked, you bring past, present, and future together in the very depths of your soul. When you, too, visit to Bethsaida on your next trip to Israel, you'll see things anew, just like the blind man of long ago.

 

To learn more about Bethsaida :

Bethsaida Excavation , Eva Marie Everson and Nicolae Roddy's  articles.

 

AUTHOR : Miriam Feinberg Vamosh is a licensed Israeli tour guide, Christianity specialist and contributor to Travelujah. She is the co-author, with Christian author and speaker Eva Marie Everson, of Reflections of God's Holy Land: A Personal Journey Through Israel (Thomas Nelson 2008). She is also the author of the best selling Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, Food at the Time of the Bible, and  Women at the Time of the Bible, and a tour educator specializing in Christian pilgrimage.

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