Archaeologists Discover Early Christian ‘Church Of The Apostles’ In Galilee

Published August 2, 2019

The Church of the Apostles, built atop the home of Jesus' first disciples, was believed by many to be merely a myth. But these researchers think they've finally found it after centuries.

Church Of The Apostles Dig Site

Zachary WongThe Beit Habek excavations in have uncovered a Byzantine-era church believed to have been built over the home of Jesus’ earliest disciples, Peter and Andrew.

Archaeologists digging along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee believe they’ve found the storied Church of the Apostles, supposedly built atop the former home of two of Jesus’ earliest disciples, Peter and Andrew.

According to Fox News, a joint research team from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology in Israel and Nyack College in New York uncovered the 1,500-year-old church at a site called el-Araj, believed to be the location of the ancient Jewish fishing village of Bethsaida. It’s there that Jesus was said to have healed a blind man and fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish before the area became the Roman city of Julias.

The Hunt For The Church Of The Apostles

For Professor Steven Notley of Nyack College, the trail of clues began last year when the research team found pieces of marble from what they correctly thought was a chancel screen as well as glass blocks (tesserae) used in ornate mosaics at the site.

“These discoveries already informed us that the church was waiting to be found somewhere nearby,” said Notley. “It is always remarkable to bring these beautifully decorated floors to light after being buried for almost 1,500 years.”

Site Of Bethsaida Village

Zachary WongProfessor Notley believes this church, situated by the Sea of Galilee, is evidence that the Biblical fishing village of Bethsaida existed here before the Roman city of Julias sprang up.

Notley and company were furthermore pleased with their discovery because some had believed that the Church of the Apostles didn’t exist in the first place.

“Until its recent discovery, many scholars questioned its existence,” said Notley. “Although it is mentioned in Byzantine pilgrimage itineraries, many thought these reports [were] mistaken. Of equal importance, the church indicates that there existed a living memory in the Christian community about the location of Bethsaida, home of Peter, Andrew and Philip (John 1:44).”

Notley explained that this Byzantine church was most notably mentioned by a German bishop and saint named Willibald in 725 A.D. It was his record that further supported the notion that the Church of the Apostles sat upon what was once the home of some of Jesus’ earliest followers.

“[Willibald] states that the church was in Bethsaida built over the house of Peter and Andrew, among the first disciples of Jesus,” said Notley.

Mosaic Floor At The Church Of The Apostles

Zachary WongA piece of a mosaic floor found at the excavation site.

According to Haaretz, this discovery is also important because it clears up the historical record, which has largely been cloudy until this point. Notley explained that because no church from this era had been found until now, that people usually “correct” records of the pilgrimage from Bethsaida to Capernaum accordingly.

“Now we have a church right where the pilgrims say was a church,” said Notley.

The Legendary Village Of Bethsaida

Artifact From Bethsaida

Zachary WongExcavations yieled pottery, foundations of houses, Roman-era coins, and pieces of stone with Christian crosses carved into them.

According to Romano-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, the Church of the Apostles wasn’t the only thing built over the home of Jesus’ earliest disciples in what was the village of Bethsaida: The Roman city of Julias sprang up there during the first century A.D.

The New Testament described disciples Peter, Andrew, and Philip calling Bethsaida home, and also mentioned Jesus healing a blind man there. Luke 9:10-17 describes Jesus feeding 5,000 people nearby with just five loaves of bread and two fish.

And while it’s not yet certain whether or not the el-Araj site is indeed the former home of Bethsaida and the Church of the Apostles, Notley and company are confident.

“The discovery of the church strengthens our position that el-Araj should be considered the leading candidate for New Testament Bethsaida-Julias,” he said. “We have only made that claim after three or four years of reservations,” Notley told LiveScience. “We have much more evidence to support our claim that this is Bethsaida.”

The researchers have likewise found evidence of the subsequent Roman takeover of the area as well. In 2017, for example, Kinneret’s Motti Aviram and his peers discovered a Roman bathhouse in el-Araj.

Otherwise, the researchers have found Roman houses, coins, and pottery as well as Jewish relics like stone vessels and oil lamps — all remnants of a historic settlement long gone by.

Future Excavations Around The Church Of The Apostles

Church Of The Apostles Mosaic

Zachary WongProfessor Notley remarked how cathartic it is to let the light shine on these mosaic floors after they’ve been buried for nearly 1,500 years.

Following the discovery of what they believe to be the Church of the Apostles, the researchers are highly confident that next year’s excavations at el-Araj will produce even more fruitful discoveries as they continue to excavate the Byzantine church in its entirety.

“Thus far, we have only uncovered some of the southern rooms of the church, likely the southern aisle,” said Notley. “At the end of this season, we were just beginning to uncover the mosaics of what is likely the nave, the center section of the church.”

Fortunately for Notley, this ancient dig has been made easier by modern-day technology like electromagnetic imaging. The data currently suggests that there are far more buildings and structures to be uncovered. The team will simply have to wait until next season to get their hands on them.

“At the end of next season we expect to be able to publish a preliminary report on our first five seasons and definitely answer the question of the location of New Testament Bethsaida-Julias.”

After learning about the discovery of the Christian Church of the Apostles, read about how archaeologists think the Egyptian pyramids were built. Then, learn about the “Portal to Hell” and the archaeological mystery behind it.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "Archaeologists Discover Early Christian ‘Church Of The Apostles’ In Galilee.", August 2, 2019, Accessed May 22, 2024.