Archaeologists Find Plea To St. Peter In Church By Sea of Galilee
An inscription with a plea to St. Peter found at the archaeological site of el-Araj strongly supports the case that this is the lost city of Bethsaida and that the basilica there is the Church of the Apostles, a discovery likely to further buoy Christian tourism at the Sea of Galilee, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Photo Insert: The mosaic was filthy, as is the case with inscriptions buried in silt for more than 1,500 years.
The mosaic was filthy, as is the case with inscriptions buried in silt for more than 1,500 years. Cleaning it off in the blistering heat of this summer’s excavation season at el-Araj – right by the Ottoman mansion Beit HaBek – was the season’s highlight, say archaeologists Prof. Mordechai Aviam and Prof. R. Steven Notley.
El-Araj is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and isn’t the only candidate for the biblical village of Bethsaida on which the Roman polis of Julias arose. The New Testament is inconsistent about the abode of Peter and his brother Andrew, but the evidence points to Bethsaida as their home, not the fishing village of Capernaum, many researchers say.
Among the highlights at el-Araj, the archaeologists found Roman-period ruins, homes from the Jewish village – and the ruins of a fifth-century Byzantine basilica. For years, since discovering an ancient church at el-Araj, the archaeologists had dearly hoped to find a dedicatory inscription, as was typical of Byzantine churches.
Now they have. The inscription starts with “Constantine, the servant of Christ.” This refers to the donor to the church, in keeping with Byzantine tradition of dedicatory mosaics. It isn’t a reference to Constantine, the first Holy Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, the archaeologists explain.
Then comes the exciting bit: The inscription goes on to petition the “chief and commander of the heavenly apostles” for intercession, according to Prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Jacob Ashkenazi of Kinneret College in the north.
Who is this chief and commander? Simon Peter was the first to declare that Jesus was the messiah (Matthew 16:16), and so was considered chief of the Apostles, according to tradition. His prominence is demonstrated by the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, which was put up over his grave.
Chief and commander of the heavenly apostles is how the Byzantine Christians referred to Peter and only to him, not to any other apostle, say Aviam, professor at Kinneret College, and Notley, professor at Nyack College in New York and the dig’s academic director.
So here we have an inscription, framed with a round medallion made of two lines of black tesserae in the Byzantine style, which all but explicitly mentions St. Peter – in an early church dating to the fifth century in a Roman-Jewish city on the banks of the northern Sea of Galilee.