This Ancient Relic Has Long Been Linked To Jesus’ Tomb – And Now Experts Finally Know The Truth

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For many years now, the Nazareth Inscription has been a source of historical fascination. It is believed to date back some 2,000 years – to the time when Jesus of Nazareth’s tomb had apparently been found empty after his resurrection. And it bears a stern warning from a Roman emperor, urging people to leave graves undisturbed. It has long been suggested, you see, that this warning related specifically to the Messiah’s death – and recent research has shed more light on whether this interpretation is true.

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The warning on this slab of marble – which is known as the Nazareth Inscription – makes sense when you look at the Christian scripture on Jesus’ death. After all, the Bible tells us that Jesus rose from the dead, effectively disturbing his own tomb in the process. And according to the emperor’s engraving, grave defilement was punishable by death.

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The documented history of the Nazareth tablet starts in 1878, as that was when it came into the possession of Wilhelm Froehner. Born in the German city of Karlsruhe in 1834, Froehner had taken French citizenship and was living in Paris by the 1870s. What’s more, he was a curator in the Department of Greco-Roman Antiquities at the French capital’s Louvre Museum.

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Froehner apparently secured the tablet from a source in Nazareth, as he himself recorded in his inventory. Unfortunately, he did so with only a brief note which read, “Marble slab sent from Nazareth in 1878.” After this, it seems he kept the piece in his own collection. And that is all we know about the provenance of the marble tablet, which is 24 inches tall, 15 inches in width, and two inches thick.

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Indeed, Froehner’s note leaves us none the wiser as to whether the slab was discovered in Nazareth or if it was merely sent from there by an unknown dealer. This would make sense, as in the mid-19th century Nazareth was home to a thriving antique market. In a paper called “The Burial of Jesus,” which was published in 1955 in the Journal of Biblical Literature, J. Spencer Kennard wondered if Nazareth had been “nothing more than… a shipping center” for the tablet.

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And Kyle Harper, a Roman historian at the University of Oklahoma, told Science News in March 2020, “How exactly Froehner acquired the stone will probably always remain obscure.” So, a frustrating lack of knowledge is an immediate obstacle to properly understanding the Nazareth Inscription. And that has meant that the artifact has been a source of controversy for many years.

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However, despite the fact that the research on the provenance of the tablet is something of a blind alley, we can gain a wealth of information just by analyzing the text that is inscribed on it. Today, the slab is kept at the French National Library in Paris – where it has been since Froehner’s passing in 1925. The language is ancient Greek, and the inscription on the somewhat battered slab runs to 22 lines.

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So, let’s take a closer look at the message on the tablet. In a translation by Clyde E. Billington, which was published in a 2005 edition of Artifax, the text is titled “Edict of Caesar.” The trouble is, however, we don’t know for sure which Caesar is being referenced. Yes, it seems anyone who became the Roman Emperor would take this moniker. It follows from the original Caesar – Julius Caesar – and probably came into use from around 68 A.D. or 69 A.D.

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The tablet goes on to describe the sanctity of tombs, ordering “that these remain undisturbed forever.” It then explains what people of the period wouldn’t have been allowed to do to graves, saying if anyone has “extracted those who have been buried,” or “has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places,” then they have committed a serious offense.

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The tablet then declares that “moving sepulcher-sealing stones,” is also a grievous crime. But what was the punishment for such actions? The message is clear that anyone convicted of these crimes should “suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker.” So, as you can see, interfering with a grave was a highly reprehensible offense that was punishable by death.

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You may be wondering, then, how this slab came to be intrinsically linked to the death of Jesus. Well, it was in fact a combination of the message and the tablet’s assumed origin – Nazareth in ancient Galilee, which is now in modern Israel – that led to this idea. Jerusalem, you see, is where Jesus was crucified by the Romans, and it is also in the area.

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So, the theory is that the tablet was created as a reaction from Imperial Rome to the fact that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty. It seems that eminent French archaeologist Franz Cumont was the first to formally put forward this theory in 1930. And if his hypothesis is accurate, it would mean that the tablet is the oldest known artifact connected with the New Testament story of Christ.

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Other later writers also promoted the idea that this tablet was directly linked to Jesus. Michael Green, for instance, discusses the tablet in his 1967 book Man Alive. He writes, “[The tablet] is an imperial edict, belonging either to the reign of Tiberius (14 A.D. to 37 A.D.) or of Claudius (41 A.D. to 54 A.D.).”

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Describing the tablet’s message, Green continued “It is an invective, backed with heavy sanctions against meddling around with tombs and graves! It looks very much as if the news of the empty tomb had got back to Rome in a garbled form… This edict, it seems, is the imperial reaction.”

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Even though some people have firmly accepted the idea that this 2,000-year-old tablet was created as a direct response to Jesus’ resurrection, the exact date and time that the inscription was made cannot be obtained. Consequently, researchers had to depend on analyzing the text.

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Frances de Zulueta was one of the scholars who hoped to shed more light on the inscribed text. Born in 1878, de Zulueta was a law professor at the U.K.’s Oxford University from 1919 to 1948. And his examination of the writing style led him to the conclusion that the tablet dated from between 50 B.C and 50 A.D. So, those dates still supported the idea that the tablet had a connection with Jesus’ death.

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De Zulueta, you see, believed the lettering was likely created in a region called Decapolis, which was heavily influenced by Greek culture. Decapolis was a collection of 10 cities not far from Jerusalem and Nazareth, on the far eastern border of the Roman Empire. So, if the tablet had been made in Decapolis, this would again support the idea that the message was referring to the events that unfolded in nearby Galilee.

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How likely is it, then, that a Roman emperor would go to the trouble of issuing an edict against grave violation? Well, the looting and destroying of tombs was something that often concerned peoples through the ages. And it seems that some ancient societies – including the Romans – were especially scandalized by the idea of tomb violation.

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The Roman philosopher and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero – who lived from 106 B.C. to 43 B.C. – wrote about an Ancient Greek law that expressly forbade the destruction of any tomb. So, it seems it’s entirely possible that Roman rulers may have also shared this concern.

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And this theory is further supported in 2007’s Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook in which Valerie Hope quotes some of the relevant Roman laws. One read, “Those guilty of violating tombs, if they remove the bodies or scatter the bones, will suffer the ultimate penalty if they are of the lower orders. If they are more reputable, they will be deported to an island.”

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Similarly, Hope quotes some epitaphs attached to Roman tombs. One such message from the first or second century A.D. begins by stating, “Gaius Tullius Hesper had this tomb built for himself, as a place where his bones will be laid.” And the epitaph continues with a dire warning for any would-be grave desecrators.

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Hesper’s gravestone inscription goes on to proclaim, “If anyone damages them [the bones] or removes them from here, I wish for him that he will live in physical pain for a long time and that the gods of the underworld will not accept him when he dies.” So, punishment for grave violation would continue even after death – or, at least, Hesper hoped it would.

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In the light of this evidence about Roman attitudes to tomb violation, then, it seems reasonably plausible that a Roman emperor would issue an edict forbidding interference with graves. And presumably, it might have been all the more likely if an emperor believed he was dealing with the grave of a troublesome religious leader who’d been executed by the authorities. Like, for example, a man such as Jesus Christ.

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As we’ve seen, there is a lot of evidence pointing to the authenticity of the Nazareth Inscription. It had an apparent connection with Nazareth – not far from Jerusalem where Jesus was buried – and scholars had testified to the fact that the ancient Greek script seemed to be authentic. The Romans appear to have taken a keen interest in discouraging tomb violations, too.

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It’s understandable, therefore, that people throughout the 20th century promoted the belief that the inscription was a genuine artifact linked to Jesus. But there are doubters. Take the University of Oklahoma’s Kyle Harper, for instance, who expressed his skepticism to Newsweek in April 2020.

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Harper pointed out, “The marble was long linked with Christianity because Nazareth is known for literally nothing else but Jesus of Nazareth.” So from his perspective, that’s hardly a scientific basis for the claims of links with Christ. Harper, who is a professor of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma, has been fascinated by this slab of marble and the controversy it’s generated since his student days.

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Writing on his personal website, Harper says, “The inscription has a curious modern history that obscures its real origins and meaning.” He also paints the tablet’s German owner Wilhelm Froehner in a somewhat less than flattering light. Froehner, according to Harper, was “an enigmatic person.”

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The professor continues on the subject of Froehner, “He had owned the artifact for nearly 50 years at the time of his death, and he apparently took an odd satisfaction from secluding important antiquities in his private collection.” And Harper also considers the 1878 note that Froehner appended to the tablet. As mentioned earlier, it recorded that the tablet was “sent from Nazareth.”

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Harper believes that the tablet probably did come from Nazareth. He notes that a close friend of Froehner’s – Count Mical Tyszkiewicz – traveled to Paris in 1878 to visit the World Fair that was held in the French capital that year. This has led the scholar to assume that the tablet may have been one of the items contained in a small collection of antiquities that the Count presented to Froehner at that time.

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And in his investigation, Harper also considers the work of Franz Cumont, the first man to suggest that the tablet may have had a direct connection to the death of Jesus. Indeed, the professor points out that although Cumont did air that theory, he also had a second line of thought. He believed, you see, that the tablet may simply have been a generalized appeal for law and order by Emperor Augustus at a time when there was instability in the eastern Roman Empire.

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What’s more, Froehner – and perhaps Tyszkiewicz – may have been given false information about the marble slab by an unscrupulous antiquities dealer in Nazareth who perhaps would have been anxious to boost his prices. But as Harper points out, the controversy over the provenance and true meaning of the Nazareth Inscription had dragged on for decades in academia. And to add to the confusion, it now seems as though Cumont supported two theories at once.

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When embarking on his research, then, Harper was probably hoping to find a way to break this seemingly intractable deadlock of conflicting opinions. It was one of his old teachers – a man named Christopher Jones – who suggested that modern science might offer a method of solving the mystery of the Nazareth Inscription. And so Harper began to search for such a method.

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Recalling on his website, Harper said “I wrote to the director of our School of Geosciences at the University of Oklahoma and asked if there were anyone on the faculty interested in stable isotope geochemistry.” Analyzing the marble tablet with this modern technique could potentially provide a breakthrough in the debate. After all, it could pinpoint the true origin of the marble itself.

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Eventually, Harper got the necessary permissions to take two tiny samples of the marble from the tablet, and they amounted to around one milligram of material. To put that in context, there are more than 28,000 milligrams in an ounce. As it turned out, though, this was all that was needed for analysis. And when the results were revealed, they were truly astonishing.

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Yes, the results of the chemical analysis showed high levels of carbon-13 and uncommonly small amounts of oxygen-18 in the marble. This profile closely matched material from a quarry on the Greek island of Kos. It was now almost certain that the Nazareth Inscription had been carved into marble that had been extracted from that island.

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But there was more. As Harper points out, in the first half of the first century B.C., Kos was led by Nikias, a man who was apparently deeply unpopular. And after Nikias died, his tomb was violated and his remains were abused. A Greek poet of the time known as Crinagoras of Mytilene composed lines about this incident.

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According to Crinagoras, “For the people of the city pried open the bars of his tomb, and dragged out the wretch for the punishment of a second death.” And it was this event, Harper asserts, that the Nazareth Inscription was actually addressing – not the death of Christ. Others have drawn different conclusions, though, and they’re arguably much less interesting.

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Some have claimed, you see, that the Nazareth Inscription may simply be an outright forgery dating from the 19th century. Take Robert Tykot, an archaeologist at the University of South Florida, for instance. He does concur with the idea that the inscription was likely carved on marble from Kos. But he also believes that the piece could be nothing more than a fake.

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As Tykot said to Science News in March 2020, the piece could have been created by a “well-informed forger in the 19th century.” And he pointed out that such a piece – purportedly from the earliest Christian era – would have been highly desirable to an avid antiquities collector. And as we’ve seen, Wilhelm Froehner seems to have been just such a man.

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Harper hasn’t gone so far as to claim that the Nazareth Inscription is a forgery, though. His favored theory, in fact, is that the tablet is linked to the tyrant Nikias. The chemical analysis shows that the marble was from Kos, ensuring that the tablet’s purported link to events on the island is at least plausible. On the other hand, it turns out that the evidence supposedly associating the marble slab to Jesus of Nazareth is tenuous at best.

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But this isn’t the first time people have drawn links between an ancient artifact and the figure of Jesus Christ, with some being arguably less tenuous than others. Indeed, archaeologists working near Israel’s Sea of Galilee think they may have uncovered a key site where Jesus fed the 5,000 two millennia ago.

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In Israel’s Jordan Park, a team of archaeologists are hard at work. The sounds of tools sparking against stone fills the air as they continue painstakingly investigating the area in Golan Heights. And the researchers are a relatively common sight for any locals passing by, too, as they’ve been excavating this particular site – called et-Tell – for decades. On this particular day, however, the group unearth a truly incredible find. Furthermore, they will come to realize that the approximately 3,000-year-old artifact may have formed part of the backdrop for one of Jesus Christ’s most iconic miracles.

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The archaeologists found this astonishing object on the banks of the Jordan River, to the north of the Sea of Galilee. And according to the New Testament’s Book of John, three of Jesus’ disciples actually hailed from a fishing village called Bethsaida, which is said to have been located by this very seashore. Experts believe, moreover, that they have identified the site of this ancient settlement in the et-Tell area.

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In fact, the 20-strong international team of archaeologists – led by the University of Nebraska’s Professor Rami Arav – have claimed that the site’s history long precedes the appearance of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Arav believes, for example, that the location existed at the time of the Old Testament’s King David – so, around 3,000 years ago or so.

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And in Arav’s view, Bethsaida may be the same place as the city of Zer that’s mentioned in the Old Testament. He explained the situation in a July 2019 interview with The Jerusalem Post, saying, “Bethsaida was the name of the city during the Second Temple period, but during the First Temple period it was the city of Zer.” And to lend further weight to his words, he pointed out that the Old Testament’s Book of Joshua mentions that very settlement.

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So, if the site that Arav and his colleagues have been exploring is indeed the New Testament’s Bethsaida – as well as the Old Testament’s Zer – then it’s a location of great significance to those who belong to both the Christian and Jewish faiths. But there’s a problem. You see, another team of archaeologists has been excavating a different site nearby – and claim that they have discovered Bethsaida.

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We’ll come back to that controversy about the true location of Bethsaida later, but for now, let’s find out more about the famous biblical city. As we’ve seen, Arav’s team believes that the location they’ve identified could be the same site upon which Zer once stood. And the archaeological remains that they’ve found so far indicate that substantial fortifications once protected this earlier city from potential invaders.

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What’s more, Arav believes that Zer was standing at the time of King David, who the Old Testament claims was Israel’s second king after Saul. The future ruler started from humble beginnings, although he transformed from a simple shepherd into a hero when he slayed the giant Philistine Goliath. Then, according to the Bible, after Saul had passed away, David ascended to the throne some 3,000 years ago.

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In fact, Arav theorizes that Zer may not even have been an Israeli city at all when David was Israel’s ruler. Instead, the scholar – along with others – has put forward the idea that the settlement was in fact Aramean. And perhaps this notion isn’t too far-fetched. After all, the Arameans were a successful people who ruled various kingdoms in the Middle East while David was on the throne. A piece of evidence found at et-Tell seemingly supports this theory, too. Specifically, a pair of tombstones that are believed to be Aramean in origin have been unearthed there.

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These gravestones – or stele – are each carved with a moon deity in the shape of a bull. Similar stones have been found in other parts of the ancient world, too, including Egypt and modern-day Turkey. But the two uncovered in Bethsaida likely date from around 3,100 years ago. And this in turn may mean that the city was part of Geshur – an Aramean kingdom also mentioned in the Old Testament.

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Yet we still don’t know for sure whether Zer was Israelite or Aramean territory. Whoever controlled the city, though, seemingly lost power over the settlement at some point over the next millennia. According to the New Testament, by 2,000 B.C. the city had a new name: Bethsaida. And Bethsaida is described in the Bible as a place where Jesus lived, recruited disciples and even performed one of of his most famous miracles.

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According to the New Testament, Jesus journeyed to the shores of Galilee and found three of his 12 disciples: Philip, Andrew and Peter. The Gospel of John says, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” And while this fact alone would have no doubt been enough to establish Bethsaida as an important part of the messiah’s story, the city actually takes on a far more central role.

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You see, Bethsaida was not only a fertile recruiting ground for Jesus, but it was also the scene of some of his most startling miracles. First of all, there is the parable of the Blind Man of Bethsaida, although an account of this episode only appears in the Gospel of Mark. The relevant passages set the scene by first describing how the messiah arrived in town with some of his followers.

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The text continues, “Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’” The blind man replies, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

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Mark’s gospel goes on, “Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t even go into the village.’” And while this last phrase is somewhat enigmatic, Mark’s words nevertheless make an astonishing claim: the messiah had miraculously restored the blind man’s sight.

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But Bethsaida is also said to be the site of one of Jesus’ better-known miracles: the feeding of the 5,000. All four gospels – Matthew, Mark, John and Luke – mention this episode. A second miraculous meal – the feeding of the 4,000 – was also recorded by Mark and Matthew, but this apparently took place somewhere close to Gerasenes.

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When it comes to the feeding of the 5,000, though, the Gospel of Luke specifies that Bethsaida was the backdrop. This version of the story starts off by saying, “Then [Jesus] took [the disciples] with him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida.” At this point, a throng of people apparently followed the messiah and the disciples. Jesus then addressed the crowd, it’s said, and told them all about God’s kingdom.

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Luke’s gospel continues by describing how the disciples subsequently asked Jesus to send his audience home, as there was neither food nor shelter for them at the spot where they’d gathered. And Jesus’ reply puzzled his 12 disciples. “You give them something to eat,” he said. As there were around 5,000 people in attendance, this response quite understandably flummoxed the 12 at first.

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The dozen disciples then protested to Jesus, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish – unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” The gospel claims that the messiah seemed unfazed by this, however, and he went on to instruct his followers to organize the crowd into separate groups of around 50. And then, or so the story goes, the miracle happened. According to Luke’s gospel, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, [Jesus] gave thanks and broke them.”

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Next, Jesus gave the loaves and fishes to the disciples to share among the people. And although you would expect these scant supplies to leave thousands hungry, that was apparently far from the case. “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up 12 basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over,” Luke’s gospel states. Somehow, two fish and five loaves of bread had been enough to sate a crowd of 5,000 people.

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So, as three of Jesus’ disciples hailed from Bethsaida and two of his miracles also reportedly happened there, it’s easy to see why Christians regard the city as a key Holy Land location. And, in fact, today the purported site of Bethsaida has become something of a pilgrimage destination, with thousands apparently flocking daily to et-Tell in the Golan Heights to see it for themselves.

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In light of Arav’s 2019 discovery at et-Tell, then, the city may perhaps become an even more appealing destination for pilgrims. You see, at the location, the archaeological team unearthed an ancient city gate – a rare find indeed. “There are not many gates from capital cities in this country from this period,” Arav told The Jerusalem Post in July 2019. And this was the second historic gate that the team had discovered, as it turns out.

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Arav and his colleagues had uncovered the first gate in 2018, and he believes that this artifact may date from the time known as the First Temple Period. That era is named for the Temple of Solomon and is generally said to have lasted from around 1,000 B.C. to 586 B.C. This was succeeded by the Second Temple era, which is generally believed to have been heralded by the destruction by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II of King Solomon’s Temple in 587 B.C.

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And Arav told The Jerusalem Post that the second gate may have been constructed during the time of the Old Testament’s King David. If this is true, then this ancient object would come from the Second Temple Period. By this point, of course, the city would no longer have been called Zer. Instead, it would have gone by the moniker of Bethsaida – the city that Jesus knew so well.

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Arav’s assertion that this et-Tell site is indeed the biblical city of Bethsaida has had a dramatic impact in the last few years, too, as hordes of visitors have subsequently flocked to the site in Jordan Park. Even the park’s director, Avi Lieberman, was stunned by this turn of events. According to a 2018 article by The Jerusalem Post, he said, “I am amazed each time by the arrival of thousands of Evangelical visitors to Bethsaida.”

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But, as we mentioned earlier, there is one key problem with Arav’s discovery: not everyone agrees that the archaeologist has really found the site of Bethsaida. In fact, there are two other experts who believe that honor actually belongs to them. The competing sites also lie to the north of the Sea of Galilee, with each boasting their own archaeological discoveries. One is at el-Araj; the other can be found at el-Mesydiah. And out of the two locations, the former appears to have the more convincing claim.

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A team of archaeologists has been working at the el-Araj site – located in the Bethsaida Valley Nature Reserve – since 2014. And the researchers have seemingly convinced at least one news outlet that they’ve discovered the true Bethsaida. Yes, in 2017 the Israeli newspaper Haaretz headlined an article with “The Lost City of Jesus’ Apostles Has Just Been Found, Archaeologists Say.” But the piece in question referred to the dig at el-Araj – not et-Tell.

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The team at el-Araj was led by Dina Shalem, Mordechai Aviam and Dr. Steven Notley – with Notley hailing from Nyack College in New York. In 2016 they uncovered a bathhouse and other evidence of a Roman settlement that’s believed to have spanned from the first century A.D. to the third. Other finds at el-Araj include a coin made of silver and imprinted with the head of the emperor Nero.

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And this assorted evidence of a Roman presence at the site proved enough to prompt the researchers to declare that the settlement at el-Araj was a possible site for Bethsaida; after all, the biblical city was believed to have been Roman. Archaeologists have made this assumption after studying the works of a Jewish historian known as Josephus, who was writing as the first century A.D came to an end.

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You see, Josephus related how Philip the Tetrarch – Herod the Great’s son – awarded Bethsaida the status of “polis” in 30 A.D. This classification then meant that the settlement was officially recognized as a Greco-Roman city. And it stands to reason that any archaeologist who believes that they could have uncovered the site of Bethsaida would need evidence of Roman occupation from the early first century A.D. – if they want their claim to be taken seriously, that is.

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Taking these conditions into consideration, then, the respective sites at el-Araj and et-Tell seem to be prime contenders for the ruins of Bethsaida. Yes, archaeologists have also found evidence of Roman influence at the et-Tell dig. Researchers there discovered a coin from the era of the aforementioned ruler, Phillip the Tetrarch – as well as even further treasures.

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Indeed, in 2018 Arav’s team discovered what seemed to be the remains of the floor of a Roman-era temple that may have been built by Phillip the Tetrarch. And the researchers also found further materials from the same period beneath this floor, including keys, beads and even a Roman centurion’s shield. They also came across an extremely rare coin that had been struck to honor the Roman Emperor Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.

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However, a year before this discovery was announced, Dr. Mordechai Aviam – a scholar of Israel’s Kinneret College – was quoted by Haaretz about the Roman bathhouse find at el-Araj. “Josephus reported that the king had upgraded Bethsaida from a village into a polis – a proper city. He didn’t say [that the bathhouse] had been built on or beside or underneath it. And indeed, all this time, we have not known where it was. But [it] attests to the existence of urban culture,” he said.

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So it seems that both sites have convincing evidence of a Roman presence dating from the first century A.D and beyond. But Notley – one of those working at the el-Araj site – has cast doubt over the et-Tell site on the grounds that Bethsaida was supposed to have been a fishing village. As he points out, the et-Tell site lies more than a mile away from the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Consequently, then, the location is hardly ideal for a settlement dependent on marine life.

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Another archaeologist, Jodi Magness, told National Geographic in 2017, “While the Iron Age remains at [et-Tell] are monumental and impressive, the Roman-period remains are very poor, and therefore the site does not look like an urban center.” But Arav has not been dissuaded by these criticisms; he still seemingly remains convinced that the site he’s been excavating is indeed Bethsaida.

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However, it’s probably fair to say that Arav has a vested interest in defending the et-Tell site as the true location of the biblical city. After all, the Bethsaida Excavations Project – of which Arav is in charge – has been operating there since 1987. But the archaeologist isn’t alone in asserting that et-Tell is a viable site, mind you. In fact, it was first identified as a possible location of Bethsaida as long ago as 1839.

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What’s more, Arav has also pointed out that his team has discovered evidence showing both a Greek and Roman presence at et-Tell – exactly as you would expect at the genuine Bethsaida location. And perhaps more tellingly still, researchers working at the site have also found ship’s anchors and fishing hooks. These items lend credence to the idea that, before the Romans expanded it into a city, the settlement was once a humble fishing village.

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And Arav seemed unconvinced by the discoveries at the rival dig site. When interviewed by The Times of Israel in August 2017, he said that the discovery of some Roman artifacts at el-Araj “is not enough to identify a place with Bethsaida. There are some more requirements which the dig [there] thus far failed to provide.” The researcher had his own idea, too, of what the finds at that site may represent.

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Image: Facebook/Bethsaida Excavations

“I suggested long ago that el-Araj became Bethsaida in the first to fourth centuries A.D., after a geological disaster pushed the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee further south,” Arav continued. “In this period, the fishermen at et-Tell abandoned their site because it became too far from the lake and moved further south to the sea shore.”

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Image: El Araj Excavations

“So the great-great-grandchildren of the first-century Bethsaida moved 300 years later to their new location at el-Araj. Perhaps they called it New Bethsaida,” Arav concluded. So, it seems that the archaeologist favors an interesting solution to the conundrum of the biblical city’s location: it simply existed in two places at different times.

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Image: Twitter/Angelica Mixon Michael

Regardless of wherever Bethsaida once stood, then, there is no doubt that the two excavations at et-Tell and el-Araj are unearthing important historical artifacts and evidence. That said, we still don’t know which site is truly where Jesus both recruited some of his disciples and performed one of his most well-known miracles. And we can only hope that, with further research, new finds will continue to be uncovered. One day, the truth may even finally come to light.

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