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The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by James Tissot, Brooklyn Mueum.

Archaeologists Uncover the Gate of Jesus’ Feeding Miracle City

According to local authorities in Israel, archaeologists have made an important discovery in the Golan Heights in recent weeks.  During scheduled digs, a group of experts found the remains of a brick gate that was once part of the Biblical city of Zer, which is closely associated with the life and miracles of Jesus Christ. The find could help to resolve a long-running dispute over the exact location of Zer and could even reveal important insights into the city and its development.

The Ancient City of Zer

Zer was a significant urban center that was located near the Sea of Galilee and it was, by tradition, found by one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Zer was known as Bethsaida during the period when the New Testament was being written and it is referred by that name in the Gospels.  Here, according to the Bible, Jesus lived for some time with his disciples and performed the miracle of the five loaves and the two fish.

Scholars have long since tried to identify the location of the settlement. The Jerusalem Post reports that Dr. Rami Arav of the  University of Nebraska, “is convinced that Bethsaida should be identified with Et-tell” in the Golan Heights. The identification of Zer with the Et-tell site is disputed. The urban center was associated with fishing, but the site is located two miles away from the Sea of Galilee. Two millennia ago, the Sea covered much of the area near Et-tell and this lends support to the theory that it is the site of Zer.

Ruins of fishing village Bethsaida mentioned in New Testament of Bible, north of Sea of Galilee, Israel. (CC BY 3.0)

Ruins of fishing village Bethsaida mentioned in New Testament of Bible, north of Sea of Galilee, Israel. ( CC BY 3.0 )

The City Gate of Zer

A team of archaeologists led by Rami Avar and part of the Bethsaida Project conducted digs at two locations in the Bethsaida Valley, in a nature reserve, north-east of the Sea of Galilee.  At one of these, they discovered brickworks that they believe are the remains of one of the city gates of Zer. The find was an important one as there are so few city-gates from the Biblical period and it is has been provisionally dated to the period from 1000 to 550 BC.  The most important aspect of the find was that the gate is of a considerable size, indicating that it was part of extensive fortifications. The Jerusalem Post reports that this would ‘’indicate that Zer was a major city’’ during the First Temple period.

Site on the Sea of Galilee once thought to be in the area of ancient Bethsaida.  (OSU Special Collections)

Site on the Sea of Galilee once thought to be in the area of ancient Bethsaida.  ( OSU Special Collections )

The city-gate was found in an archaeologically rich area, the Bethsaida Valley.  Among the finds made in this region include the discovery of a rare gold coin issued by Cleopatra and Mark Anthony and another coin from the reign of Emperor Antonius Pius.  Fish-hooks, amphora, jugs and a Roman-era a shield have also been unearthed in the area.  Not far from Zer, archaeologists believe that they have also may have found the lost Roman city of Julias, where a mosaic has been unearthed.

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Lambert Lombard. (Public Domain)

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Lambert Lombard. ( Public Domain )

The local authorities are very pleased with the discovery of the gate as it could boost tourism in the locality. The apparent discovery of the gate of Zer will increase the already plentiful numbers of people who come to see the rich archaeological heritage of the Bethsaida Valley. It is expected that Christian pilgrims will come to see Zer, “as the place holds a great importance in Christianity,” according to the International Business Times .

The Importance of the Discovery

The identification of the gate of Zer means that the city’s importance in the early history of Israel can be further established. It also will allow experts to better understand the nature of fortifications from the Biblical period and is helping to demonstrate the exact location of Zer and later Bethsaida. It is expected that the discovery will lead to more excavations and even further discoveries in the future. Of course, it also will be used as evidence to support the truth of certain Biblical accounts.

Top image: The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by James Tissot, Brooklyn Mueum. Source: Public Domain

By Ed Whelan

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