Archaeologists excavating the place of the biblical miracle where Jesus Christ fed the 5,000 have been stopped in their way by a strange flood.
The village of Bethsaida is completely immersed in the Sea of Galilee, forcing experts to leave the site.
For centuries, the true site had been lost, but archaeologists have worked to prove that the ancient city once stood at El-Araj, an excavation site on the north coast of the Sea of Galilee.
It was said to be the fishing village where Jesus fed the crowd with only five loaves and two fish and the place Jesus helped see a blind man.
Bethsaida was also the birthplace of the disciples Peter, Andrew and Philip.
Now efforts to explore the biblical site have stalled after torrential rainfall caused Lake Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, to flood the site.
Kinneret College chief archaeologist Professor Moti Aviam said there was no way to dig this year.
“In the past 30 years, the amount of rain in Israel has not been enough to bring the lake to its fullest advantage,” he said.
“It happened this year. All our excavated squares, even the highest – the mosaic floor of the Byzantine church – were covered.
“Today, the entire site is covered with a large lagoon in which catfish swim.”
He continued, “We don’t think anything will happen to the antiquities underwater and the water level will drop slowly, but we won’t be able to dig this year.
“All the dug out squares are full of water, so we can’t dig.
“Even if the water level drops 80 cm, we will still have to walk and work in mud. It’s impossible.”
After the rain, Professor Aviam expected some flooding, but even he was surprised by its size.
“I thought it was going to be flooded,” he said, “but when I saw it with my own eyes, I was amazed.
“Especially when I got the pictures from the drone.”
In the Bible, Bethsaida – a name that translates as “house of fishing / hunting” – is described as a “village” with “green grass” that can be reached by boat.
El-Araj is one of two sites commonly identified by archaeologists as the ancient settlement – the other being Et-Tell.
But for Professor Aviam, the first is clearly the better contender.
“El-Araj is on the shore of the lake, unlike Et-Tell, which is two kilometers inland. This is more suitable for a fishing village, ”he said.
Professor Aviam believes that the case of El-Araj is further aided by the Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus.
Josephus describes the village as close to where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee.
And he also describes how the village under Herod Philip II “was developed into the dignity of a city, both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and by its other greatness.”
Professor Aviam says that El-Araj not only matches the location, but even shows signs of the enlarged Roman settlement Josephus describes.
“The location of El-Araj is more suitable according to Josephus Flavius’ description,” said the professor.
“We also discovered evidence of a Roman bathhouse that is more typical of an urban atmosphere than a village. No such thing was found at Et-Tell. ‘
There is even a Byzantine church on the property, which Professor Aviam and his team believe is the Church of the Apostles.
According to Christian tradition, such a church was built above the Bethsaida house of Jesus’ disciples Peter and Andrew.
Professor Aviam believes the site was probably abandoned in the first place due to flooding.
He said, “We can only assume that in the third century AD the level of the lake slowly rose and the land, floors and courtyards got wet, so the people decided to leave.
“Floods came with the Jordan and covered Bethsaida with six feet of silt.”
Only in the sixth century did Christians identify the site as Bethsaida, the home of the apostles, and built a church to commemorate them.