11C Wall at Bethsaida

11C Iron Age Wall. Photograph: Hanan Shafir 2022

A small expedition led by Dr. Rami Arav (University of Nebraska at Omaha, Religious Studies) and Dr. Carl Savage (Northwind Seminary, Professor of Archaeology and Biblical Studies), and included master’s student Ann Haverkost (University of Nebraska at Omaha, History) and undergraduate Itai Savage (Princeton University), discovered an 11th – 10th century BCE city wall during the 2022 season at Bethsaida, a biblical city on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.  The wall enclosed a large, paved courtyard of the city gate uncovered in 2019.  That same year excavators also found a stepped high place and an iconic stele with the image of the moon god.  

The city gate courtyard was the most important part of the city during the Iron Age.  Mentioned over one thousand times in the Bible, it served as the center of worship, rituals, and other religious activities and public gatherings.  The king and city elders also oversaw court cases and transactions, such as treaties, here.  During the time of King David, the city was known as Geshur, the capital of an Aramaean kingdom known by the same name.  According to 1 Samuel 3, David’s wife Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur, gave birth to his third son Absolom as well as his sister Tamar.  After Absolom killed his brother Amnon, David’s favorite, he fled to Geshur (1 Sam. 3). 

An unknown army destroyed Geshur sometime around 925 BCE.  The city was rebuilt in the middle of the 9thcentury BCE but destroyed again by Tiglath Pileser III in 732 BCE.   The Phoenicians built a colony during the 3rd or 2nd century BCE to grow flax.  The Hasmoneans then gained control of the village around 100 BCE, expelling a majority of the population.  It became a Jewish village known as Bethsaida during the 1st century BCE.  Although the city was Jewish, the Romans built a temple to Julia in 30 CE.  The town was finally abandoned in the 4th century.  

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