Bethsaida in Old Testament Times - Archaeology
Biblical Period. The excavations revealed that the settlement at Bethsaida was founded in the 10th century BCE, in the biblical period. By that time the areas north and east of the Sea of Galilee were part of the Aramaean kingdom of Geshur. Its royal family, which ruled for several generations, was connected by marriage to tDavidic dynasty. King David married Maacha, daughter of the King of Geshur; she was the mother of Absalom, who later found refuge in the Land of Geshur. (II Samuel 3:3; 14:32) Archeological excavations conducted at the site revealed impressive structures and fortifications, and the excavator therefore surmises that during this period Bethsaida was the capital city of the Kingdom of Geshur and the seat of its monarchs.
The city was divided into two parts: a lower city, extending over most of the mound; and an upper city the acropolis on the higher, northeastern part of the mound. During the 9th century BCE, the acropolis was surrounded by a massive, fortified wall with a gate, constructed of large basalt stones. The 6-m.-wide wall, together with buttresses projecting from both sides, reached a width of 8 m.
The city gate complex discovered on the eastern side of the tel consisted of an outer and an inner gateway. The outer gateway included a passageway between two massive towers; thus far, only the western tower, measuring 10 x 8 m., has been excavated. In the outer gateway, a 30-m.-long walkway paved with flat basalt stones led to the "four-room" inner gatehouse, typical of this period and measuring 35 x 17.5 m. It is preserved to an impressive height of 3 m. This is the largest city gate of the biblical period excavated in Israel. It is constructed of large basalt stones, some slightly trimmed, laid in courses. Above the stone structure stood a brick superstructure, both entirely coated with light plaster. Two huge projecting towers, 10 x 6 m. each, protected the entrance to the gate. The threshold of the gate consisted of large basalt stones with depressions that served as door-hinge sockets.
Vivid evidence of the battle that took place here at the time of the citys conquest and the conflagration which destroyed the gatehouse, is found in the fired bricks, the pile of carbonized wood and the arrowheads.
A unique feature of the Bethsaida gate is the variety of cultic installations in front of the inner gate. An entire "gate altar" (bama) measuring 2.1 x 1.6 m. and constructed of basalt stones covered with light plaster was found there. Two steps led to the top of the bama which had a recessed, 35 cm. deep stone basin, measuring 60 x 50 cm. A basalt stele that once stood at the back of the bama was found, broken, on it. The stele, 1.15 m. high, 59 cm. wide and 31 cm. thick, was carefully shaped with a rounded top. On its front was carved the stylized figure of a horned bull, armed with a dagger. In the Mesopotamian pantheon, the bull represents the moon god. It was adopted by the Arameans as the symbol of their main deity, Haddad, identified as the figure represented on this stele.
Inside the gatehouse was a broad, paved plaza. On its northern side stood the palace of the kings which measured 28 x 15 m. with 1.4 m. thick basalt walls. The palace of Bethsaida is a typical example of the palaces of the Aramean kingdoms during the biblical period; it included a central hall which served as the throne room, surrounded by eight rooms.
The Aramean city of Bethsaida was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrian king Tiglath Pileser III during his campaign in the region in 734 BCE. (II Kings 15:29-30; 16:7-9)
From the time of that destruction, and until the Hellenistic period, the site was only sparsely inhabited.
[ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES] [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs]