Church of the Apostles Found? Archaeologists Claim Byzantine-Era Church is Highly Significant
Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority have made what they claim to be a major discovery. They believe that they have found a Byzantine-era church that was built on the site of the home of two of Jesus Christ ’s earliest disciples, Peter and Andrew. If this is true then it could help to settle a long-running dispute over the location of the Biblical village of Bethsaida, later a city known as Julias.
A team of Israeli and American archaeologists, from the Kinneret Academic College and Nyack College, New York made the discovery, near Lake Galilee in Northern Israel. They found what they claim are the remains of a Byzantine-era church (330-700 AD) at Beit Habel, which is also known as el-Araj.
They have been working at this site for four years and in 2017, according to the I AM Nyack website, the archaeologists “uncovered evidence of the ancient city, Bethsaida-Julias”. El-Araj has been inhabited since the period of the Second Temple .
Mosaic tiles were discovered at the unearthed Byzantine church. Shown is a mosaic of Christ from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. (Dianelos / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
They have also found some evidence of floor mosaics , roof-tiles, and a carving in chalk with a Christian symbol . The building has a west-east axis, this and the presence of the outline of a nave indicates that it was a Christian place of worship.
A Lost Byzantine Church
The team believe that the structure is lost Church of the Apostles. According to Christian tradition, it was constructed on the home of the two apostles Peter and Andrew. The ruins have not been dated but they are believed to be from the 5th century AD, some five hundred years after Peter and Andrew became followers of Jesus.
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Painting of Saints Peter and Andrew, the Byzantine church was discovered at the site of their home. (Outriggr / Public Domain )
It appears that the site was abandoned in the 7th or 8th century after the Muslim conquest of the region. However, the ruins have not been definitively identified as the Church of the Apostles as no inscriptions have been found indicating that it was built to honor the two saints.
The experts believe that they found the church because of the writings of a southern German bishop from 725 AD. The prelate, who was named Willibald stated that he saw the church while traveling from Capernaum to Kursine, near the Lake of Galilee.
-The archaeologists believe that this is the only church ever found or documented in this location. This they claim means that they have discovered the church that marked the home of St. Andrew and St. Peter , the first Pope .
The Bethsaida-Julias Debate
Professor Mordechai Aviam from Kinneret Academic College and his colleague R. Steven Notley of Noyeck College, believe that the discovery of the Church of the Apostles provides further evidence that el-Araj was the location of ancient Bethsaida, which is mentioned in the New Testament . This was a small Galilean fishing village before one of the descendants of Herod the Great turned it into a city, known as Julias, in the 1st century AD.
But not everyone in the archaeological community accepts this and Haaretz reports that some believe that the nearby site of e-Tell, is the location of Bethsaida, which is argued by Professor Rami Arav of the Hebrew Union College. He believes that the probable church at el-Araj was not the same as that seen by the German bishop in the 8th century AD.
This pilgrim referred to it as a basilica, but the structure uncovered by the Israeli-America, archaeologists was an eight-sided building. There are those who argue that el-Araj was nothing but a Roman legionary camp . This is rejected by Notley who stated that it was built as “part of Hasmonean expansion into the Galilee” in the 2nd century BC and that it was transformed into a city in the 1st century AD reports Haaretz.
A Lost City
The controversy over the location of Bethsaida/Julias has arisen because it completely disappeared from history in the 3rd century AD. There are no written records of the city after a reference to it by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, the great Christian historian. It may have been abandoned because of the rising waters of the Sea of Galilee and was later reoccupied when the waters receded.
If it can be proved that the recent discovery is the Church of the Apostles, then the controversy over the location of Bethsaida-Julias could be settled. Moreover, it could also boost the number of visitors in the area.
By Ed Whelan