The outlines of Bethsaida emerge after having been lost for more than 17 centuries. Though Bethsaida is prominent in the Gospels—the disciples Philip, Andrew and Peter hailed from Bethsaida, and Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, curing of the blind man, and walking on water occurred there—this fishing village literally disappeared from history. For millennia scores of pilgrims and explorers have searched the northern shore of the Galilee for the remains of Bethsaida—to no avail. Two sites near the water have been promoted as the remains of the New Testament village. The 19th-century American minister and Holy Land explorer Edward Robinson thought otherwise. Robinson declared that a large mound located more than a mile north of the shore, called simply et-Tell (the Mound), was ancient Bethsaida. But how could a fishing village be so far from the water?
The accompanying article provides an answer to this puzzle. After conducting the most extensive investigation ever undertaken on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, the authors contend that the Galilee shoreline has drifted significantly southward over the past millennia. This shift was exacerbated by a major earthquake and landslide that swept a massive amount of rock, gravel, soil and artifacts across the plain on which et-Tell sits, severing Bethsaida from the shore (see drawing). Recent excavations have also shown that of all the possible sites of ancient Bethsaida, only et-Tell was occupied in Jesus’ time.