See also Bethsaida
BETHSAIDA, BETH-SAIDA bĕth sā’ ə də (Βηθσαῖδα, house of hunting or fishing from the Heb. root צדה, or צוד). A town on the N shore of the Sea of Galilee.
1. The Biblical record. It is clearly stated in
Beth-saida was the scene of the feeding of the 5,000 (
After Jesus’ trip toward Tyre and Sidon He returned to the Galilee area where He healed a deaf mute, fed the 4,000, argued with the Pharisees, and then came to Beth-saida (
Apparently Jesus’ ministry was less than successful in Beth-saida in spite of the feeding of the 5,000 because that town and Chorazin were cursed (
The only other reference to Beth-saida in the Bible, which is clearly a text. aberration and not a reference to the town under consideration at all, is in
2. The problem of locating Beth-saida. The lack of clarity in the NT as to the location of Beth-saida, whether E or W of the Jordan, is compounded by the several references to the town (or towns) made by Josephus. Beth-saida, being a fitting description of a fishing village, could be the name of several towns on this productive lake. Josephus recorded that Herod Philip “advanced the village Beth-saida, situated at the lake of Gennesareth, unto the dignity of a city...and called it by the name of Julias, the same name with Caesar’s daughter” (Antiq. XVIII, ii. 1). Other references in Josephus indicate that it was E of the Jordan and N of the lake. In his Wars II. ix. 1 he locates it in Lower Gaulonitis, the political division N and E of the Sea of Galilee. In Wars IV. vii. 2 Josephus states that Julias was E of the Jordan and at the beginning of the mountains which extend S to Arabia. In his Life (72) he relates that Julias was c. a furlong from the Jordan.
Two cities may be considered as the most likely location of Beth-saida. El-’Araj is right on the lake and near the Jordan’s mouth. It has a harbor and thus meets most of the specifications. It is, however, very small and therefore does not fit the descriptions by Josephus of Julias as a city. He also records that Herod Philip chose it as his burial place (Antiq. XVIII, iv. 6). North of el-’Araj c. two m. and connected by what was a fine road is another site bearing the simple name of et-Tell (“the mound”). This is near the Jordan and has evidence of being a larger city complete with wall, aqueduct, and fine buildings. Perhaps the fishing settlement first occupied the shore position, whereas the city that Herod Philip built was located at a more advantageous site to the N. This identification would solve most of the questions presented in the gospel accounts as well as those of the ancient secular historians.
The expression “Beth-saida in Galilee” (
Finding a site for the feeding of the 5,000 still remains a problem, for the description of that event fits better with the more fertile area to the W, although there is nothing to rule out completely the possibility that the miracle took place somewhere in the vicinity of the now tentatively located Beth-saida.
Bibliography W. Ewing, “Bethsaida” in ISBE, I (1929); G. Dalman, Sacred Sites and Ways (1935), 161-168; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1935), 457; C. Kopp, “Christian Sites Around the Sea of Galilee,” Dominican Studies, III (1950), 10-40; E. G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas (1956), 376 f., 386ff.