El Araj artifacts include parts of Roman bathhouse
Under the direction of archaeologist, Dr. Mordechai Aviam, the second season of excavations at El Araj (Bet Habek) has concluded. It is believed the findings by American and Hong Kong participants during the 2017 season will likely shed new light on the location of the biblical town of Bethsaida (aka Julias).
Work in a new area of the site revealed ruins of a sugar factory from the Crusader period and further down pottery and a coin from the Byzantine era. According to the EAEP (El Araj Excavation Project) the final days of the dig focused on areas which had reached beneath the Byzantine artifacts. After continued digging past this layer Roman era pottery was uncovered, including a complete rim of a jug, handles and pieces of white plaster. Most significantly in this layer were portions of bricks as well.
One of the most impressive finds from this season’s EAEP include over 20 tesserae (small tiles used in mosaics) still joined together by plaster. Once cleaned, the mosaic revealed a black and white pattern like the mosaic uncovered at the first-century synagogue in Magdala. Broken clay tubules or pipes accompanying the rest of the artifacts have led archaeologists to conclude they have found an opulent Roman period bathhouse. These pipes were part of the Roman hypocaust heating system, like the one discovered at Herod’s Masada palace, which sends warm air up through the walls and under the floor tiles so that when water hits the tiles it causes warm steam, like a sauna.
Based on the initial evidence, archaeologists familiar with the site theorize El Araj may be the site of biblical Bethsaida. Moreover, the revelation of Roman pottery at 700 feet below current sea level has changed experts’ opinions of what the level of the Sea of Galilee was during the Roman period.
This project may hold some very significant developments in the future and it will be worthwhile to follow along as the excavation continues next season. It’s exciting to think the true location of the biblical city of Bethsaida, the hometown of apostles, Peter, Andrew and Philip and where Jesus fed the 5,000, may have been found!
Bethsaida in the Bible links
Read more about the 2017 El Araj excavation from The Center for the study of Ancient Judaism and Christian origins.
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Featured photo credit: Herod’s Bathhouse by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany via Wikimedia Commons