Bethsaida on Galilee

Hometown of the disciples; Peter, Andrews and Philip
One of the cities cursed by Jesus.

Entrance to preserved excavation at Bethsaida

High point of the Tell with some exposed walls

The name Bethsaida is of Aramaic origin, meaning the "fishing house" or "the house of fishing". This town was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee east of the Jordan River.

Artist's rendering of the fisherman's house uncovered at Bethsaida
(See photo below of actual excavation)

Though we know that Peter later lived in Capernaum; Peter and his brother Andrew (fishermen), as well as Philip, were originally from Bethsaida.

Matthew 4:18-20 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. (NIV)

John 1:43-46 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida . 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip. (NIV)

John 12:20-22 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus." 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. (NIV)

The later passage, in John 12, showed that Greeks felt more comfortable approaching Philip, who was from this mixed town of both Gentiles and Jews. Some have speculated that there may have been two Bethsaidas, one west of the Jordan (perhaps at Ain et-Tabigha) and another east (the one we are certainly considering here), but it is not necessary from the text (and highly improbable because of their close proximity). The earlier reference, in John 1, ties all of these disciples to the same Bethsaida. Certainly, the later reference to "Bethsaida in Galilee", or literally "Bethsaida (of) Galilee", doesn't have to mean a Bethsaida in the Roman territory of Galilee (which was at that time only west of the Jordan), rather it can be solely a reference to Bethsaida close proximity to the Sea of Galilee - a geographic fact that would have been of interest to the immediate audience of John's gospel. Alternately, it should be noted that the Roman district of Galilee once encompassed the entirety of Galilee including this location of Bethsaida. Without question Bethsaida was in the historic Israelite area referenced as Galilee. To those from Judea, all Jews from this whole northern region were Galileans.

Ruins of the fisherman's house. Three signs mark...
Left: Residence. Center: Courtyard. Right: Kitchen.
The positioning of the eastern wall, as found, testifies that it was destroyed by an earthquake.

Bethsaida was singled out by Jesus for its unbelief, together with the other northern Galilee cities of Capernaum and Korazin (alt. Chorazin). This entire region had seen and heard more of Jesus' miracles and words than anywhere else, yet had (as a whole) rejected Jesus.

Matthew 11:20-24 Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (NIV) [Also Luke 10:13-14].

The Gospel of Mark notes that Jesus sent the disciples to Bethsaida immediately following the feeding of the five thousand.

Mark 6:39-46 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. 42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. 45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (NIV)

Artist's rendering of a courtyard style home in Bethsaida
(See below for photo of actual excavation)

It was Mark who also notes the amazing healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. This man was not from Bethsaida, as Jesus later sent him home, specifically telling him to not go into the village. It's significant that Jesus took him outside of the town to do the miracle, perhaps already an indictment on the unbelief of this place.

Mark 8:22-26 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?" 24 He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around." 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, "Don't go into the village." (NIV) (Note that the word here translated as "village" also means "small town", still a valid use in regards to a small city, perhaps as emphasis that it was smaller than neighboring cities such as Capernaum. Josephus refers to it as the village given the dignity of a city - See quote later in this article).

Luke's reference to Bethsaida showed that very early in Jesus' ministry it was being used (along with Capernaum) as a base of operations, especially when necessary to stay out of the reach of Herod. Herod ruled over the Roman province of Galilee, but Bethsaida (being across the Jordan) was in the territory of the tetrarch Philip. Note the sequence of events; (1) Jesus sends the twelve out (from Capernaum), (2) This attracts the attention of Herod, (3) They return to Jesus at Capernaum, (4) They leave for Bethsaida (outside the reach of Herod)...

Luke 9:1-11 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: "Take nothing for the journey - no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them." 6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. 7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8 others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9 But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see him. 10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida , 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. (NIV)

Having mentioned that Philip was ruler over the area of Bethsaida (Luke 3:1), Bethsaida was considered to be an important location in his rather insignificant territory. He had Bethsaida rebuilt in honor of Julia, the daughter of Caesar Augustus, and subsequently made it into his capital city. At his death, Philip is said to have been buried there.

When Philip also had built Paneas, a city at the fountains of Jordan, he named it Cesarea. He also advanced the village Bethsaids [Bathsaida], situate at the lake of Gennesareth [north side of the Sea of Galilee], unto the dignity of a city, both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and its other grandeur, and called it by the name of Julias, the same name with Caesar's daughter. (Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.1)

Now Jordan's visible stream arises from this cavern [at Panium or Caesarea Philippi], and divides the marshes and fens of the lake Semechonitis [Hula Lake]; when it hath run another hundred and twenty furlongs, it first passes by the city Julias [Bethsaida], and then passes through the middle of the lake Gennesareth [Galilee]; after which it runs a long way over a desert, and then makes its exit into the lake Asphaltitis [Dead Sea]. (Josephus: Wars of the Jews, 3.10.7)

Regardless of its former glory, as is fitting to a city cursed by Jesus, Bethsaida was completely destroyed and uninhabited.


This house (see artist's rendering above) was built during the late Hellenistic or early Roman period.
Still in use after the time of Christ, it is an example of "the courtyard style."
Four wine jars were found in the wine cellar.
A large shard incised with a cross was found in the doorway.
Posted Signs in the photo -- left: Kitchen. right: Wine Cellar


Looking south toward Galilee. Notice that Galilee is a couple miles away!
It is presumed that Galilee came closer in the time of Bethsaida

Looking down toward Galilee on the Jordan side of Bethsaida
(Notice Galilee a couple miles away!)


Another view of the fisherman's house
Shows monument on site with artist's rendering (as shown above)
The fisherman's house is also built in the courtyard style.
A number of items pertaining to fishing were found in the house.

Another view of the fisherman's house

Building next to fisherman's house

 Rooms in another unidentified and smaller house