From information in the Bible and in the works of Josephus, scholars were able to generally determine the location of Bethsaida as early as 1860. However, in recent years, rocky terrain and heated conflicts between Israel and Syria made it impossible for archeologists to examine the area.
After Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, archaeologists conducted a series of test digs at et-Tell----the presumed site of Bethsaida----and found a layer that dated back to the times of Jesus. Et-Tell is located just east of where the Jordan River emptied into the Sea of Galilee. The site covers a 20-acre mound some two miles from the sea.
While examining et-Tell, archaeologists discovered that biblical Bethsaida is only one of four cities that occupied the 80-foot-high tell. The first two settlements date back to the period from approximately 3100 B.C. to 2850 B.C. The third was the Israelite occupation in about 1000 B.C. The fourth, found 4 feet beneath the surface, lasted from the late Hellenistic period until A.D. 67.
Relevance of findings
Under the reign of Philip, governor under the Romans, Bethsaida was elevated to city status.This indicates there was a population of at least 15,000, comparable to the other lakeside cities of Capernaum and Tiberius. In A.D. 67, Roman soldiers around Bethsaida cut off the supply lines of Jewish town in Galilee that were in revolt against the Roman Empire. The defeat of these towns made possible the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the later capture of Masada, Palestine's last Jewish stronghold.
Galilean et-Tell provides evidence that Bethsaida was a large city complete with wall, aqueduct and fine buildings. During the next several years archeologists will make their way through the laborious process of uncovering the cities on the site of Bethsaida. Their findings will provide a more detailed view of the daily life of those who lived there.