Since 1991 Dr. Rami Arav is conducting excavations in Bethsaida, a tell on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida is mentioned in the Gospels more often than any other city, except Capernaum and Jerusalem. Bethsaida was the home of Peter, Andrew and Phillip (John 1:44, 12:21). It is near the place where Jesus fed the five thousand (Mark 6:45, Luke 9:10) and healed a blind man (Mark 8:22). Later Jesus denounced Bethsaida, together with Capernaum and Chorazim for its unbelief (Luke 10: 13; Matt 11:21-23).
Arav’s expedition has revealed traces of the 1st century CE city, but underneath they also exposed a biblical town. The latest find made at Bethsaida seems to suggest thatBethsaida may have been a non-Israelite city in Biblical times. The find is a 1.15m high basalt stele. Its front depicts in a low relief a stylized figure with concave limbs, equipped with a dagger. A strip down the middle of the figure’s body connects it to the dressed frame of the stele. A bull’s head is placed on the top of the figure. Large horns, possibly referring to the moon crescent, adorn the head. This presentation is interpreted by the excavator as the moon god in an Aramean manifestation. This stele seems to be the best indication that the dwellers of Bethsaida in the 10th-8th centuries BCE were Canaanites. The city is within the region of Geshur and indeed the Bible indicates that Geshur was never conquered by Joshua (Joshua 12:5).
During the Iron Age Bethsaida was one of the largest sites in Israel boasting massive fortifications comprising a basalt defensive wall and glacis. Archaeologists found also a collapsed chambered gate complex with towers. Next to the city gate a massebah, a sacred standing stone, was recovered. In the destruction layer in which the stele was found were a charred wooden beam and Assyrian arrow heads, indicating the fate of the city was no different from neighboring Israelite sites. They were all burned to ashes by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III in 734-732 BC, the fate of the Geshurites is then unknown, as well as the ten tribes of Israel, which were exiled toAssyria, and latere disappeared.