Alumni and Seminarians Uncover Jesus' World in Bethsaida

Deborah (Malacky) Belonick

June–July 2014 • Off-campus • Reported by Dr. Nicholas Roddy

Fr. Aaron Warwick (SVOTS '09) discovers the homeland of the First-Called ApostlesFr. Aaron Warwick (SVOTS '09) discovers the homeland of the First-Called ApostlesImagine walking in the footsteps of Jesus and his followers. Now imagine uncovering firsthand the very buildings they would have seen and discovering objects they would have used in their daily lives, including domestic wares and implements for fishing.

"Such were the experiences of St. Vladimir's seminarian Elizabeth Siniscalchi and alumnus Priest Aaron Warwick [M.Div., '09], both of whom participated in the 2014 season of the Bethsaida Excavations Project," said Nicolae Roddy, Ph.D., associate professor of Old Testament at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, and co-director of the Bethsaida Project since 1996.

Seminarian Siniscalchi, from West Palm Beach, FL, and Fr. Aaron, pastor at St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church, Wichita, KS, along with Dr. Roddy, also a St. Vladimir's Seminary alumnus [M.A., '89], labored in sweltering 100-degree heat over a period of two-weeks in June and July. They participated in the archeological dig to help bring the world of Jesus to greater light.

While Dr. Roddy and Fr. Aaron worked in the "fishing" area, dubbed "Area C," Seminarian Siniscalchi worked in another section on Iron Age in "Area A,Seminarian Elizabeth Siniscalchi works in an Iron Age section in Bethsaida South and West," under the direct supervision of Dr. Sarah Kate Raphael during the first week and under Dr. Carl Savage of Drew University during the second week.

Mentioned more than any other city in the New Testament with the exception of Jerusalem and Capernaum, Bethsaida, which means "House of the Fishermen," is known from the Gospels as the hometown of the apostles Andrew, Peter, and Philip. St. John Chrysostom knew of a tradition that adds James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to that list of fishermen as well.Dr. Nicolae Roddy (left) in Bethsaida with Fr. Aaron Warwick and Elizabeth Siniscalchi

The Gospels relate that Jesus performed miracles in the environs of Bethsaida, most notably healing a blind man and feeding a multitude of people. Because its citizens failed to discern the meaning of Jesus' mighty works, the city was cursed, along with nearby Capernaum and Chorazin. Lost to history for roughly seventeen centuries, Bethsaida was rediscovered in 1987; it was found nestled at the foot of the Golan Heights near the northern shore of the large freshwater lake the Bible calls the Sea of Galilee, exactly where the first-century historian Josephus places it.

"A large courtyard-style house full of fishing implements was uncovered during the early years of the dig," related Dr. Roddy. "This season a wide pavement leading from the Fishermen's House down toward the mouth of the Jordan River and dating to the time of Jesus was exposed, and I've dubbed it the 'Avenue of the Apostles.' A large Iron Age city lies beneath, which is being excavated elsewhere on the 20-acre mound."

"I truly want to praise Elizabeth and Fr. Aaron for their contributions to this dig, not only for their hard work but also for the personal examples that they have set before other volunteers," Dr. Roddy concluded. "I welcome the participation of other SVOTS students and alumni in seasons to come."

At Creighton University, Dr. Roddy teaches courses in Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. He is past President of the joint Rocky Mountain / Great Plains Region of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), and American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR). He is also Senior Editor for the Journal for the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies. In addition, Dr. Roddy is a Faculty Associate for the Goren-Goldstein Center for Judaic Studies at the Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest, Romania. He has lectured at several universities in Romania and has made additional scholarly presentations in Israel, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam.

For more information about the Bethsaida Excavation Project, you may contact Dr. Roddy personally: