Bethsaida Excavations Reveal Possible Royal Escape Tunnel

Bible and archaeology news

bethsaida tunnel

Aerial view of the Iron Age palace at Bethsaida. The red arrow indicates the path of a possible escape tunnel leading from the palace to the city wall. Photo: Courtesy Bethsaida Biblical Archaeology via Popular Archaeology.

An escape tunnel may have been identified underneath the Iron Age palace at Bethsaida, Popular Archaeology reports. The tunnel would have served the royal elites living in the palace.

Located on a basalt hill overlooking the northeast coast of the Sea of Galilee, the city identified as Bethsaida was founded in the 10th century B.C.E. Excavations conducted at the site have uncovered evidence of Iron Age fortifications, a palace and a massive gate complex, suggesting that the city was the capital of the Biblical kingdom of Geshur. In 732 B.C.E., Geshur was destroyed by the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser III. According to the New Testament, Jesus healed the blind man (Mark 8:22–25) and fed the multitude (Luke 9:10–17) at Bethsaida, which in the early first century C.E. was a fishing village.

The Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised and where many of the Apostles came from. Our free eBook The Galilee Jesus Knew focuses on several aspects of Galilee: how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.

According to Bethsaida Biblical Archaeology project director Rami Arav, while excavating a room in the Iron Age palace, the ground suddenly collapsed, exposing an entrance to a tunnel.

“Ground Penetrating Radar revealed that the tunnel leads to the space in between the outer and inner city walls,” Arav told Bible History Daily. “It looks like an escape tunnel and recalls to mind a similar escape way mentioned in 2 Kings 25:4:”

Then a breach was made in the city wall; the king [Zedekiah] with all the soldiers fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city.

“Due to safety and technical reasons, the tunnel was not excavated thus far. This year we plan to solve the problems and excavate the tunnel,” Arav said.

Watch the Bethsaida Biblical Archaeology project’s video presentation of the evidence of the tunnel:


Interested in joining the 2015 excavation season at Bethsaida? Learn more here.


Learn more about Bethsaida in Bible History Daily:

Judaea Capta Coin Uncovered in Bethsaida Excavations

Bethsaida Excavations Reveal Path of the Apostles

Life as an Archaeology Volunteer at Bethsaida, Israel


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  • Kurt says

    A powerful king of Assyria (whose name is also spelled Tilgath-pilneser) and the first such to be mentioned by name in the Bible record. Though some consider Tiglath-pileser III to have been of royal blood and others classify him as a usurper of the throne, his origin and the manner of his attaining the kingship are in reality unknown. His reign, however, marked an era of reorganization, growing expansion and strength that brought the Assyrian Empire to new heights. He is considered to have been the first Assyrian monarch to establish as a definite policy the mass deportation and transplantation of conquered peoples. As many as 154,000 persons are stated to have been forcibly shifted around within the realm of conquered lands in one year. The apparent purpose behind such harsh policy was to break the spirit of the national groups and weaken or eliminate any unity of action in attempts to throw off the Assyrian yoke.
    The identification of “the village” (Mr 8:22, 23) or “city” (Lu 9:10) of Bethsaida has been a subject of some discussion. The Scriptural references point to a place on the N shores of the Sea of Galilee. The name is connected by Josephus with a populous village lying a short distance to the E of the point where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee. This village was rebuilt by Philip the tetrarch and was named Julias in honor of the daughter of Caesar Augustus. (Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 28 [ii, 1]) The ancient ruins of the site of Julias itself are at et-Tell, about 3 km (2 mi) from the sea; however, remains of a smaller fishing settlement are located at el-ʽAraj right on the shore. Here a natural harbor was used by fishermen up until recent times, so the place geographically fits the meaning of the name Bethsaida.

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