Update on Nyack College El-Araj Excavation in Holy Land

Dr. R. Steven Notley, director and professor of Nyack College’s Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins (AJCO) graduate degree program and Dr. Jeffrey P. García, AJCO professor submitted their first weekly update recently on the progress with the El-Araj Excavation in Israel led by head archaeologist, Dr. Mordechai Aviam from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology. Ms. Constance Diggs, AJCO program manager, shared the report from the professors.

Participants from the United States and Hong Kong have joined to continue the archaeological investigations of a site that is considered by many to be the first-century CE Jewish fishing village of Bethsaida (cf. Luke 9:10). Generous donations from the Assembly of God’s Center for the Holy Lands Studies, The Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins (CSAJCO), Nyack College, and HaDavar Yeshiva (Hong Kong) have made this season possible.


Day One. We opened our season on July 1, 2017 with a four-hour jeep trek through the Bethsaida Valley to give the participants an understanding of the broader geographical setting for El Araj’s location. The day ended with an overlook of the Galilee region and a short swim in the Zakki Stream, one of two major tributaries (with the Jordan River) that feed into the Lake of Galilee. The site of our excavation is located between these two important sources to the lake.

Day Two. Preparations for the site began with the staging of three 5×5 meter squares that had been excavated last season, and the opening of a new fourth square. Last year’s efforts reached the level of a Byzantine period floor (4th-7th century CE) and demonstrated that large public buildings existed at El Araj in this period.

Day Three. Excavating began. Five full days of excavation have resulted in a number of important finds. The new fourth square quickly uncovered a wall, two limestone columns in secondary use, and sugar pots from a Crusader period (12th CE) sugar factory. Gilded gold and stone tesserae from what was perhaps a mosaic wall decoration were discovered and Byzantine period coins were also found in another square. As the work continued, the Byzantine floor composed of large ashlar stones in two squares were removed, along with two limestone columns and other cut stone.

Numerous exciting finds under and near the floor include a metal hook that Dr. Aviam suggests was used to hold a candle steady within the chandelier of a Byzantine period structure. As a result of the sifting of dirt from these squares, an unprecedented number of coins, 30 in total, were found in a single morning in two spaces that are no larger than a meter and half squared. The archaeologists were surprised to have such a concentration of coins in a small locus and suggest that it is indicative of the importance of where we are currently excavating. Along with the coins, participants have uncovered pottery dating from the Byzantine period to the Early Bronze period, that is between the 4th century CE and 3rd millennium BCE (before the time of the patriarch Abraham).

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