The Search for Bethsaida: Is It Over?

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One of the challenging tasks for archaeologists and biblical historians alike is the identification of sites mentioned in the Bible — some of which were destroyed and disappeared in time without a trace. The first comprehensive attempt to locate these sites was that of Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian (ca. 265-339 A.D.).

One of the challenging tasks for archaeologists and biblical historians alike is the identification of sites mentioned in the Bible—some of which were destroyed and disappeared in time without a trace. The first comprehensive attempt to locate these sites was that of Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian (ca. 265-339 A.D.). In his Onomasticon Eusebius cataloged all of the cities and regions mentioned in the Old Testament and the Gospels.[1] Supplementing this list when possible, Eusebius provided detailed information concerning their locations, including their distances in Roman miles from other well-known cities and villages.

Although the scale of Eusebius’ compilation is impressive, the work’s most glaring failure is the historian’s unfamiliarity with the Hebrew of the Old Testament. On occasion he mistakes a Hebrew adverb, adjective or obscure noun for a proper name. In so doing, he (and/or the Greek translations he used) invented places that never existed. At other times, the brevity of his descriptions—with nothing more than details taken from the Bible itself and no additional information about the site—suggests that the location of the site was already lost by the beginning of the fourth century.

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*For Mendel Nun’s longest critique of archaeologist Dr. Rami Arav’s work at et-Tell, see “Has Bethsaida Finally Been Found?” Jerusalem Perspective 54 (Jul.-Sept. 1998): 12-31.

  • [1] R. Steven Notley and Ze’ev Safrai, Eusebius, Onomasticon: A Triglott Edition with Notes and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 2005).
  • R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley is professor of Biblical Studies at the New York City campus of Nyack College. A member and past director of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, Notley earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Religions at the Hebrew University (1993). He studied in Jerusalem…
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