The “Desert” of Bethsaida

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The Feeding of the Five Thousand could not have taken place, as some English translations suggest, in a “desert place” because the text tells us there were villages nearby. By analyzing the meaning of the word translated “desert,” the topography at the scene of this miracle can be clarified.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand could not have taken place, as some English translations suggest, in a “desert place” because the text tells us there were villages nearby. By analyzing the meaning of the word translated “desert,” the topography at the scene of this miracle can be clarified.

The miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand as described in the gospels (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13) raises an interesting question regarding the location of the miracle. Mark and Matthew both refer to it as a “desert place,” but also note that it was green. John does not mention a “desert place,” stating instead that there was “much grass in the place.” In Luke we are told that Jesus went into “a desert place belonging to Bethsaida.”

Fertile Bethsaida

Map of the Bethsaida Valley showing its streams and aqueducts. (Courtesy of Yoel Ben-Yosef, Beit Ha-Oganim, Kibbutz Ein Gev.)

Map of the Bethsaida Valley showing its streams and aqueducts. (Courtesy of Yoel Ben-Yosef, Beit Ha-Oganim, Kibbutz Ein Gev.)

The idea of a “desert place” near Bethsaida seems strange. Bethsaida (modern el-Araj) was a first-century fishing village on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The village was located in a small (approx. 12 sq. km., or 4.63 sq. mi.) but fertile plain or valley, the Valley of Bethsaida. This valley is crisscrossed by streams, aqueducts and irrigation canals. The area is not at all what we think of as a “desert.”

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Issue53

To download a free PDF version of the Jerusalem Perspective issue in which this article originally appeared, click here.

 

 

 


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  1. Pingback: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The duality of the Holy Spirit | Our Daily Bread

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