BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Where Is the House of Saint Peter the Apostle?

Biblical Capernaum vs. El-Araj (Biblical Bethsaida)

Archaeologists excavating the site of El-Araj (biblical Bethsaida) on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Archaeologists excavating the site of El-Araj (biblical Bethsaida) on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee claim this fifth-century basilica was likely built over the traditional house of Saint Peter the Apostle. Photo by Zachary Wong, courtesy El-Araj Excavation Project.

After seven seasons of excavation at El-Araj on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, archaeologists have found the remains of a house that they claim was venerated by early Christians as the original house of Saint Peter the Apostle. Over this first-century structure was later built a basilica in honor of the “chief of the apostles.” Although a more recent tradition identifies Peter’s hometown with nearby biblical Capernaum, researchers believe that the evidence of both archaeology and the Bible fits biblical Bethsaida much better.

Writing for the Winter 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Professor R. Steven Notley of Kinneret Academic College and Yeshiva University lays out his arguments why he thinks El-Araj is where Jesus first met Andrew and his brother Simon, whom he renamed Kefas, i.e. Peter. In his article “The House of Peter: Capernaum or Bethsaida?” Notley presents what evidence there is for biblical Capernaum, which annually welcomes thousands of pilgrims and tourists who come to see the small fifth-century octagonal church allegedly constructed over the remains of the house of Saint Peter the Apostle. A New Testament scholar and archaeologist, Notley compares this evidence with his reading of the Gospels, early pilgrims’ accounts, and the new archaeological discoveries at El-Araj. In his view, there is every reason to reconsider the current Christian tradition, which identifies Peter’s hometown with biblical Capernaum.

Map of The Sea of Galilee with major sites, including the two contenders for the House of Saint Peter the Apostle—Capernaum and Bethsaida (El-Araj).

The Sea of Galilee with major sites, including the two contenders for the House of Saint Peter the Apostle—Capernaum and Bethsaida (El-Araj). Map by Biblical Archaeology Society.


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It is a two-tier argument. Referring back to his previous BAR article (summarized in this interview), Notley first reaffirms his view that we need to look for biblical Bethsaida at modern El-Araj, not at nearby Et-Tell—both on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. “We believe the site’s archaeology as well as early Christian tradition and pilgrimage accounts confirm not only the site’s identification with Bethsaida but, perhaps more significantly, its location as the home of the apostle Peter.”

Notley points out that there is only one passage in the Christian Bible that explicitly mentions Peter’s hometown—the Gospel of John 1:44, which states “Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” All other passages that name Capernaum, including the healing of a woman referred to as the mother-in-law of one Simon (Luke 4:38–39), likely do not name Peter the Apostle or are a result of a later editorial work. “Given these literary developments, our only direct New Testament reference to the location of Peter’s house remains John’s Gospel, which placed it in Bethsaida, not Capernaum,” concludes Notley.

Moving to the material evidence excavated at El-Araj, Notley focuses on the large Byzantine basilica, which apparently grew over much earlier, Roman-era structures. Dating to the late fifth century and located next to a monastic complex, it measures around 70 by 60 feet, with an eastern apse that contained the main altar space. Archaeologists found fragments of a chancel screen, pottery stamped with crosses, and, on the last day of the summer 2023 excavation season, even a marble leg of the altar. “Clearly, the El-Araj basilica and its associated bath and monastery, like many contemporary Byzantine sacred sites, were built to commemorate places of importance to Christian pilgrims.” Notley then cites several church fathers and early European pilgrims who describe Bethsaida as the hometown of Saint Peter the Apostle.

The “chief of the apostles” invoked in a mosaic inscription from biblical Bethsaida

The “chief of the apostles” invoked in this mosaic inscription from biblical Bethsaida—being cleaned by Professor Notley and his wife, Sunya—must refer to Saint Peter the Apostle, indicating a special connection between the site and the saint. Photo courtesy El-Araj Excavation Project.


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Archaeologists will certainly never find a doorbell plate inscribed with Peter’s name—at either Capernaum or Bethsaida. But one particular find gets them as close as possible to such a confirmation. A large mosaic inscription, written in Greek, was unearthed in the basilica’s diaconicon, naming a local benefactor and imploring “the chief of the apostles and the keeper of the keys of heaven.” This apostle cannot be anyone but Peter. “A request for the apostle’s intercession intimates his close identification with the church. Peter’s association with churches in Byzantine Palestine is rare, typically occurring only at places with a connection to his appearances in the Gospels. The discovery of a petition to St. Peter in the basilica at El-Araj should remove any doubt that the church recalls the testimony of John 1:44—that the home of Peter, Andrew, and Philip was in Bethsaida,” summarized Notley in BAR.

Excavations in late 2023, following the publication of Notley’s BAR article, concentrated on the church’s eastern apse. Their goal was to fully expose the layers beneath the fifth-century floor. As reported in Haaretz and confirmed by Bible History Daily, archaeologists revealed two walls under the mosaic floor of the apse—one from the second or third century, and an earlier one that can be dated to the first century. In Notley’s view, this attests to the early Christian tradition that preserved older structures because the builders thought they had belonged to the house of Peter.

Walls exposed underneath the apse of the El-Araj basilica

Walls exposed underneath the apse of the El-Araj basilica date to the first century, the time of Jesus and the apostles. Early Christians may have remembered this spot as the original house of Saint Peter the Apostle. Photo by Rotem Taasa, courtesy El-Araj Excavation Project

This is not to claim that the first-century wall once belonged to the actual house of Saint Peter the Apostle. It is very likely, however, that Christian worshipers at the site of Bethsaida had a living memory of where the house of Peter and Andrew once stood. And they materialized that early tradition in the building of a church that preserved the original house.

To explore the biblical and archaeological clues in detail, read R. Steven Notley’s article “The House of Peter: Capernaum or Bethsaida?” published in the Winter 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Subscribers: Read the full article “The House of Peter: Capernaum or Bethsaida?” by R. Steven Notley in the Winter 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Where Is Biblical Bethsaida?

Archaeologists Say They May Have Found the Church of the Apostles at el-Araj

Bethsaida and the Church of the Apostles

Excavating El-Araj—a Candidate for Biblical Bethsaida

The Apostle Peter in Rome

The House of Peter: The Home of Jesus in Capernaum?

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

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5 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    The author cites Matthew 8:14-17 as referring to “the mother-in-law of one Simon…” Please do read those verses. Peter (Πέτρου), not “one Simon,” is specifically named there. This does not, I think, prove that this took place in Capernaum, but what is the author’s point in falsely citing the passage?

    1. R. Steven Notley says:

      Thank you, Paul, for bringing this to my attention. I am afraid that there has been a mistake made by the editors of the electronic summation of my article. You are correct that Matthew (and only Matthew) uses the name “Peter” in connection with the house in Capernaum in Matt 8:14-17. On the other hand, Luke 4:38-39 speaks only of Simon and Mark 1:29-31 (likely under the influence of the earlier appearance of “Simon and Andrew” in Mark 1:16-20) speaks of “Simon and Andrew with James and John.” In a longer treatment of this subject in Novum Testamentum 64 (2022) 532-551, I explained that it is a common feature in developing literary traditions to supply specific identity to those who in earlier traditions may be ambiguous or unnamed. The clearest example of this in the NT is the naming of the high priest’s servant whose ear was cut off. In Matt 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50 he is not named, but in John 18:10 he is specified as Malchus. My suggestion here is that we are witnessing a similar literary development in the Gospel tradition from the ambiguous “Simon” in Luke 4:38-39 to “Simon and Andrew” in Mark 1:29-31, and as we find elsewhere under Markan influence, Matthew specifies “Peter” in his account. I hope this corrects and clarifies matters just a bit.

  2. Theo Trost says:

    If Bethsaida is beloved in the imagination of the early Christian community, why do Matthew (11.21) and Luke (10.13) offer up a chilling condemnation of the town from the lips of Jesus? As for the suggestion that Simon might be a different Simon than the one called Peter in Mark’s gospel, we meet this Simon in relation to his brother Andrew in Mark 1.16. Thirteen verses later and with no intervening Simons, we again meet Simon in the company of Andrew at Capernaum in the house of Simon’s mother-in-law. Narratively speaking, it makes sense that a fisherman who can’t afford a boat would live at his mother-in-law’s place when he is passing through town. Would an itinerant shoreline fisherman such as Simon Peter even have his own house in 30 CE?

    1. R. Steven Notley says:

      Theo, thank you for your observations. Of course, Jesus pronounces a malediction not just against Bethsaida but also Capernaum and Chorazin (Matt 11:21-4; Luke 10:13-15). The meaning of these critiques, to my mind, is that these Galilean cities served as the focal point for his Galilean ministry. Regarding Mark’s identification of Luke’s ambiguous “Simon” with “Simon and Andrew” Mark 1:29-31 under the influence of Mark 1:16-20, see my reply to Paul above (and the full BAR article). As for fishermen and their homes, I can attest that in our excavations at el Araj (Bethsaida) we are finding homes with hundreds of fishing weights, suggesting that they were the dwellings of fishermen. So, Peter’s profession by no means would preclude a private home in Bethsaida.

      1. Theo Trost says:

        Thank you for this reply. I would not be surprised to learn that fishers like the Zebedee offspring, whose father owned boats, would have a house in town. But fishers like Andrew and Peter who cast their nets from the shore? What do the excavations say about the relative wealth and social status of those fishers who lived in houses? Were different weights employed on the nets of those who fished from the shore as opposed to those who fished from boats, for example? And if so, which type of weights do you find in the dwellings at el Araj? I am not sure I understand your point about how clarification works as time goes by — so I will check out the NT article.
        It seems to me, though, that Mark’s more specific reference to Simon and Andrew comes at an earlier stage of transmission than Luke’s more ambiguous Simon. Thanks for your work and the questions it provokes.

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5 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    The author cites Matthew 8:14-17 as referring to “the mother-in-law of one Simon…” Please do read those verses. Peter (Πέτρου), not “one Simon,” is specifically named there. This does not, I think, prove that this took place in Capernaum, but what is the author’s point in falsely citing the passage?

    1. R. Steven Notley says:

      Thank you, Paul, for bringing this to my attention. I am afraid that there has been a mistake made by the editors of the electronic summation of my article. You are correct that Matthew (and only Matthew) uses the name “Peter” in connection with the house in Capernaum in Matt 8:14-17. On the other hand, Luke 4:38-39 speaks only of Simon and Mark 1:29-31 (likely under the influence of the earlier appearance of “Simon and Andrew” in Mark 1:16-20) speaks of “Simon and Andrew with James and John.” In a longer treatment of this subject in Novum Testamentum 64 (2022) 532-551, I explained that it is a common feature in developing literary traditions to supply specific identity to those who in earlier traditions may be ambiguous or unnamed. The clearest example of this in the NT is the naming of the high priest’s servant whose ear was cut off. In Matt 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50 he is not named, but in John 18:10 he is specified as Malchus. My suggestion here is that we are witnessing a similar literary development in the Gospel tradition from the ambiguous “Simon” in Luke 4:38-39 to “Simon and Andrew” in Mark 1:29-31, and as we find elsewhere under Markan influence, Matthew specifies “Peter” in his account. I hope this corrects and clarifies matters just a bit.

  2. Theo Trost says:

    If Bethsaida is beloved in the imagination of the early Christian community, why do Matthew (11.21) and Luke (10.13) offer up a chilling condemnation of the town from the lips of Jesus? As for the suggestion that Simon might be a different Simon than the one called Peter in Mark’s gospel, we meet this Simon in relation to his brother Andrew in Mark 1.16. Thirteen verses later and with no intervening Simons, we again meet Simon in the company of Andrew at Capernaum in the house of Simon’s mother-in-law. Narratively speaking, it makes sense that a fisherman who can’t afford a boat would live at his mother-in-law’s place when he is passing through town. Would an itinerant shoreline fisherman such as Simon Peter even have his own house in 30 CE?

    1. R. Steven Notley says:

      Theo, thank you for your observations. Of course, Jesus pronounces a malediction not just against Bethsaida but also Capernaum and Chorazin (Matt 11:21-4; Luke 10:13-15). The meaning of these critiques, to my mind, is that these Galilean cities served as the focal point for his Galilean ministry. Regarding Mark’s identification of Luke’s ambiguous “Simon” with “Simon and Andrew” Mark 1:29-31 under the influence of Mark 1:16-20, see my reply to Paul above (and the full BAR article). As for fishermen and their homes, I can attest that in our excavations at el Araj (Bethsaida) we are finding homes with hundreds of fishing weights, suggesting that they were the dwellings of fishermen. So, Peter’s profession by no means would preclude a private home in Bethsaida.

      1. Theo Trost says:

        Thank you for this reply. I would not be surprised to learn that fishers like the Zebedee offspring, whose father owned boats, would have a house in town. But fishers like Andrew and Peter who cast their nets from the shore? What do the excavations say about the relative wealth and social status of those fishers who lived in houses? Were different weights employed on the nets of those who fished from the shore as opposed to those who fished from boats, for example? And if so, which type of weights do you find in the dwellings at el Araj? I am not sure I understand your point about how clarification works as time goes by — so I will check out the NT article.
        It seems to me, though, that Mark’s more specific reference to Simon and Andrew comes at an earlier stage of transmission than Luke’s more ambiguous Simon. Thanks for your work and the questions it provokes.

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