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Center for Holy Lands Studies to Conduct Archaeological Dig in Israel

The Center for Holy Lands Studies will begin an "open to the public" excavation to uncover what may be the ancient city of Bethsaida.

The Center for Holy Lands Studies (CHLS), an Assemblies of God ministry, will conduct an archaeological dig in Khirbet el-Araj, Israel, a possible location for the New Testament site of Bethsaida.

The dig will occur this summer, July 9-30, 2016, and will be the Assemblies of God’s first archaeological excavation. Led by premier Galilee archaeologist Dr. Mordechai Aviam, the excavation is a continuation of a 2014 shovel testing survey of Khirbet el-Araj, which uncovered pottery, architectural fragments, and pieces of mosaic tiles.

“El-Araj is indeed a possible site for New Testament Bethsaida, but we will only know with a full excavation,” says Marc Turnage, CHLS director.

Pastors, students, and Christian laity are encouraged to participate in the trip.

Turnage explains that Bethsaida (House of the Fisherman), with Chorazin and Capernaum, was the location for the majority of Jesus’ ministry. Several of His disciples came from Bethsaida (John 1:44), and it was one of the cities that Jesus severely chastised for their lack of repentance (Matthew 11:20-24).

What makes this excavation so exciting is that for the past 20 years, an excavation at the site of Et-Tell, which is 1.5 miles north of the Lake of Galilee, has been identified as Bethsaida. However, there are a number of difficulties both with the location and with archaeological finds. Distance from the lake makes it improbable that Et-Tell would have been a fishing village. However, El-Araj is located on the shores of the lake, and its elevation is consistent with Capernaum and other fishing villages.

Participants in the CHLS dig will stay in Migdal and have the opportunity to tour several additional sites, including Chorazin, Tiberias, Capernaum, Masada, Qumran, the City of David in Jerusalem, and more. College and university students may work with their institutions to earn credit for their participation.

“We are eager to explore the site further this summer and anticipate some exciting discoveries,” says Turnage.

Pictured: Leaders of the 2014 shovel testing survey in Khirbet el-Araj included archaeologist Eli Shukron; Professor R. Steven Notley, Nyack College; Marc Turnage, director of the Center for Holy Lands Studies; Professor Robert Stallman, Northwest University; and Professor Buzz Brookman, North Central University.

Anna Evans

Anna Evans serves as the internal communications coordinator for the Assemblies of God National Leadership Resource Center. She is a graduate of Evangel University with a degree in communication studies. Anna and her husband Dustin live in Springfield, Missouri.