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After Years of Searching, Early Christian “Church of the Apostles” Found

Ian Harvey

For archaeologists who seek religious artifacts and evidence from centuries ago, the Church of the Apostles is a Holy Grail of sorts; its precise location has been argued over and speculated about for decades. Now, a joint team of Israeli and American researchers have found it and, unsurprisingly, it is located just off the coast of the Sea of Galilee, at a site called el-Araj.

Church of the Apostles

Aerial view of the excavation site at el-Araj. Photo credit: Zachary Wong

They have been digging at the site for several years now, and at the end of July announced their discovery. The experts hail from Nyack College in New York, and Kinneret College in Israel. Previously the team unearthed chunks of marble, and small, gold-edged glass blocks that were commonly used in the construction of churches all those centuries ago. These tipped off the team that they were closing in on their target.

Professor Steven Notley, of Nyack College, one of the people on the dig, told Fox News Network at the end of July that, “these discoveries…informed us that the church was waiting to be found somewhere nearby.” And like the true detectives they are, they followed their clues, and their instincts, and soon found mosaic floors, which were another common component of church construction so many years ago. Notley was genuinely moved by how lovely – and ancient the floors are. He told Fox, “It is always remarkable to bring these beautifully decorated floors to light after being buried for almost 1,500 years.”

Church of the Apostles

The uncovered mosaic floor of the church at el-Araj. Photo credit: Zachary Wong

The church is a vital touchstone in Christianity for several reasons. It is written about by Christian pilgrims as far back as 725 A.D., and was thought to be built on top of the home that belonged to two of Christ’s disciples, Andrew and Peter. However, many experts did not even believe the church existed; it had taken on an air of myth in many academic Christian circles. Now, because these archaeologists and researchers have discovered solid evidence that it did, that argument has been put to rest. Notley explained, “First, until its recent discovery, many scholars questioned its existence. Although it is mentioned in Byzantine pilgrimage itineraries, many thought these reports (were) mistaken. Of equal importance, the church indicates that there exists a living memory in the Christian community about the location of Bethsaida, home of Peter, Andrew and Philip.”

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Bethsaida is not just important because it is the site of those men’s home. According to some passages in the New Testament, it is the village where Christ restored vision to a blind men, and performed a miracle that enabled 5,000 people to be fed.

Bethsaida Israel

Ruins of fishing village Bethsaida mentioned in New Testament of Bible, north of Sea of Galilee. Photo by Chmee2 CC by 3.0

Notley asserted to Fox, “the discovery of the church strengthens our position that el-Araj should be considered the leading candidate for New Testament Bethsaida – Julias.” The latter refers to the site of an ancient Roman city that followed in the 1st century, A.D.

Many more photos of the site at el-Araj can be found HERE.

This is not the first time el-Araj has given up treasures to archaeologists. In 2017, researchers discovered a Roman bathhouse at the site, and officials at Kinneret College decided to begin a wider dig only 100 yards from the chief site, and the team found shards of pottery, and even some Roman houses from those years. The significance of it is that scientists and historians now can understand precisely when the area began to grow, become more heavily populated, and march on toward progress and urbanity.

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But is el-Araj the actual site of the home of three of Christ’s apostles? Other archaeologists have not weighed in as yet, but perhaps the Israeli and American team truly have found a key site to a crucial piece of Christian history.