A city gate from the time of King David was discovered after 32 years of excavation in the ancient city of Bethsaida in the Golan Heights’ Jordan Park, opening up a world of new possibilities, opinions and theories about the ancient landscape of the Land of Israel.
According to Professor Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska, chief archaeologist overseeing the excavations, told the Jerusalem Post
that the gate and further findings found within the ancient city give the notion that it was possible that Solomon and David might not have been the sole kings of the Israelite kingdom at their respective times, but instead chieftains of large tribes of Israelites.
The previously uncovered gate found in the area last year was cautiously identified to be a part of the biblical city of Zer, a name used during the First Temple period. However, the newly found gate dates back to the time and rule of King David, which is purportedly from the 11th to 10th centuries BCE.
“There are not many gates from capital cities in this country from this period,” said Arav. “Bethsaida was the name of the city during the Second Temple period, but during the First Temple period it was the city of Zer.” Arav cited Joshua 19:35, which says: “The fortified towns were Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Kinneret.”
The excavation and research, sponsored by the Hebrew Union College of Jerusalem, has brought together archaeologists from all over the world to help.
Findings presented by the researchers point to the possibility that Bethsaida was not an Israelite kingdom but instead an Aramaic one. Within the city limits of Bethsaida, there was a stone stele bearing the image of their bull-shaped moon god, which dates back to the 11th century BCE. This monument is one of seven other similar tombstones found from the ancient world, from southern Turkey to Egypt. Two have been found in Bethsaida alone.
Some of these monuments have been found in cities dating to later periods, such as the 9th-8th century BCE.
The rare stone stele dating back to the kingdom of Geshur was unearthed in the archaeological excavation.
THE KINGDOM of Geshur is mentioned in the Bible as having co-existed alongside the Kingdom of David. It was eventually annexed by King Hazael, who ruled what is today modern Syria. The biblical kingdom of Geshur existed in parts of what is now the Golan Heights.
Although the area of the Golan Heights is not thought to be an Israelite kingdom, the archaeologists on the dig presume that Jerusalem and David’s capital in Bethsaida were actually quite similar to one another.
Seven kingdoms are believed to have ruled the ancient Land of Israel
. However, according to Arav, the researchers know little about the archaeology of these capitals since they have been destroyed and rebuilt many times over.
Arav said that these types of excavations are difficult in places like Jerusalem, because researchers need to get permission from landowners as well as the government to excavate these sites. In addition, other ancient cities, such as Damascus, have been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times in the past, making it difficult to connect inferences in what actually happened there during these time periods. Bethsaida is an almost untouched archaeological heaven for getting the real story about what happened during the times of the Hebrew Bible and the Second Temple period.
“Bethsaida is a unique example of a capital city from the 11th-8th century BCE that is available for archaeological research, as there has been no disturbance to this site,” said Arav.
Excavations will continue on site as archaeologists attempt to discover everything dating from the 11th century BCE to the period of Roman rule following the end of the Common Era.
SINCE 1987, Arav has been spearheading the excavation efforts. Last year, archaeologists uncovered the entrance gate to the biblical city of Zer during excavations carried out in the Golan Heights over a two-week period in July, the Golan Regional Council said in a statement at the time.
A group of 20 archaeologists from all over the world, together with Arav, conducted excavations in two different areas of Bethsaida. The ancient fishing village is mentioned several times in the New Testament as a city where Jesus lived.
Archaeologists said the size, wealth and impressive fortifications indicate that Zer was a major city.
Arav began carrying out excavations of et-Tell on behalf of the University of Nebraska nearly 30 years ago. In these excavations, he identified the ancient Bethsaida, and following his excavations and discoveries, masses of Christian pilgrims visited the site because of its great importance to Christianity.
Over the years, excavators have discovered in Bethsaida many remains from various periods.
Avi Lieberman, director of the Jordan Park in which Bethsaida is located, said in a previous interview, “The staff at the Jordan Park and Golan Tourism are happy for the tens of thousands of visitors who visit the park every day. The wonderful park is also an impressive archaeological site. I am amazed each time by the arrival of thousands of Evangelical visitors to Bethsaida.”
Another finding made last year was discovered underneath what was apparently the floor of a Roman temple built by Herod’s son Philip that which he dedicated to Julia, the daughter of Augustus.
There, archaeologists found coins, beads, jugs and house keys as well as a shield that belonged to a Roman soldier. The most significant finding was a coin dated 35 BCE, which was minted in Acre on the occasion of the arrival of Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Only 12 such coins exist.
Over the years, various findings made in the area have made waves in the world of archaeology. Several years ago, a gold coin bearing the portrait of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, who reigned from 138 to 161 CE, was discovered by an excavator working with Arav.