Bethsai'da (Βηθσαϊδά, for the Aramaean צֵידָה בֵּית, fishing-town, Buxtorf, Lex. Talm. col. 1894), a name which nearly all writers on Palestinian geography since Reland have assigned to two places, not far from each other, on the opposite shores near the head of Lake Tiberias (see Raumer, Paldstina, p. 109), but which there appears to be no good reason for distinguishing from each other (see Thomson, Land and Book, 2, 31 sq.).
1. A town (πόλις, Joh 1:45) in Galilee (Joh 12:21), apparently on the western side of the sea of Tilcrias, being in "the land of Gennesareth" (q.v.), and yet toward the northern extremity of the lake (Mr 6:45). It was the native place of Peter, Andrew, and Philip, and the frequent resort of Jesus (Joh 1:44; Joh 12:21, etc.). It was evidently in near neighborhood to Capernaum and Chorazin (Mt 11:21; Lu 10:13; and comp. Mr 6:45 with Joh 6:16), and, if the interpretation of the name is to be trusted, close to the water's edge. By Jerome (Comm. in Esai. 9, 1) and Eusebius (Onom.) these towns and Tiberias are all mentioned together as lying on the shore of the lake. Epiphanius (adv. Haer. 2) says of Bethsaida and Capernaum that they were not far apart. Wilibald (A.D. 722) went from Magdalum to Capernaum, thence to Bethsaida, and then to Chorazin. These ancient notices, however, though they fix its general situation, none of them contain any indication of its. exact position, and as, like the other two towns just mentioned, its name and all memory of its site have perished, no positive identification can be made of it. It is true that Pococke (2, 99) finds Bethsaida at Irbid; Scetzen at Khan Minyeh (Zach's Montl. Corresp. 18, 248); Nau at Mejdel (Voyage, p. 578; Quaresmius, 2:866), apparently between Khan Minyeh and Mejdel; and others at Tabighah (so Robinson) — all different points on the western shore of the lake. The Christians of Nazareth and Tiberias are indeed acquainted with the name, as well as that of Capernaum, from the New Testament; and they have learned to apply them to different places according to the opinions of their monastic teachers, or as may best suit their own convenience in answering the inquiries of travelers. It is thus that Dr. Robinson (Bibl. Researches, 3, 295) accounts for the fact that travelers have sometimes heard the names along the lake. Whenever this has not been the consequence of direct leading questions, which an Arab would always answer affirmatively, the names have doubtless been heard from the monks of Nazareth, or from the Arabs in a greater or less degree dependent upon them. The position of this Bethsaida mainly depends upon that of Capernaum, from which it was not far distant, to the north, on the shore (Robinson, new ed. of Researches, 3, 358, 359). If Capernaum be fixed at Khan Minyeh, then Bethsaida was probably at 'Ain el-Tabighah; but if (as on some accounts is more likely) Capernaum is to be located at
'Ain el-Mudawarah, then Bethsaida itself must be placed at Khan el- Minyeh; and in that case it may have sprung up as a restoration of the more ancient CINNERETH, but nearer the shore. SEE CAPERNAUM.
2. Christ fed the 5000 "near to a city called Bethsaida" (Lu 9:10); but, it has been thought from the parallel passages (Mt 14:13; Mr 6:32-45) that this event took place, not in Galilee, but on the eastern side of the lake. This was held to be one of the greatest difficulties in sacred geography (Cellar. Notit. Orb. 2, 536) till the ingenious Reland seemed to have afforded materials for a satisfactory solution of it by distinguishing two Bethsaidas, one on the western and the other on the north-eastern border of the lake (Palaest. p. 653). The former was undoubtedly "the city of Andrew and Peter;" and, although Reland did not himself think that the other Bethsaida is mentioned in the New Testament, it has been thought by later writers to be more in agreement with the sacred text to conclude that it was the Bethsaida near which Christ fed the 5000, and also, probably, where the blind man was restored to sight. This appears also to have been the Bethsaida of Gaulonitis, afterward called Julias, which Pliny (Hist. Nat. 5, 15) places on the eastern side of the lake and of the Jordan, and which Josephus describes as situated in Lower Gaulonitis, just above the entrance of the Jordan into the lake (War, 2, 9, 1; 3, 10, 7). It was originally only a village, called Bethsaida (Βηθσαϊδά), but was rebuilt and enlarged by Philip the Tetrarch not long after the birth of Christ, and received the name of Julias in honor of Julia, the daughter of Augustus (Josephus, Ant. 18, 2, 1). Philip seems to have made it his occasional residence; and here he died, and was buried in a costly tomb (Ant. 18, 4, 6). At the northern end of the lake of Gennesareth the mountains which form the eastern wall of the valley through which the Jordan enters the lake, throw out a spur or promontory which extends for some distance southward along the river. This is known by the people on the spot by no other name than et-Tell (the hill). On it are some ruins, which were visited by the Rev. Eli Smith, and proved to be the most extensive of any in the plain. The place is regarded as a sort of capital by the Arabs of the valley (the Ghawarineh), although they have lost its ancient name, and now occupy only a few houses in it as magazines. The ruins cover a large portion of the tell, but consist entirely of unhewn volcanic stones, without any distinct trace of ancient architecture (Robinson, Bibl. Researches, 3, 308). M. De Saulcy, however, objects to this location of Bethsaida, that in et-Tell there are only what may be called ruins of a barbarous age, and not such as would mark the remains of the splendid structures of Julias; that it is situated too far from the lake to be properly called a "fishing-town," and that this position is inconsistent with Josephus's account of his military operations against Sylla (Life, § 72). He therefore thinks that Bethsaida was located at Tell-Houm, formerly regarded as the site of Capernaum (Narrative, 2, 377). But this position is inconsistent with his own identification of other neighboring localities, and fails also to meet the requirements of the scriptural texts.
Of this Bethsaida we have certainly one, and probably two mentions in the Gospels:
(1.) That named above, of the feeding of the 5000 (Lu 9:10). The miracle took place in a τόπος ἔρημος, a vacant, lonely spot, somewhere, up in the rising ground at the back of the town, covered with a profusion of green grass (Joh 6:3,10; Mr 6:39; Mt 14:19); and in the evening the disciples went down to the water and went home across the lake (εἰς τὸ πέραν) to Bethsaida (Mr 6:45), or, as John (Joh 6:17) and Matthew (Mt 14:34) more generally express it, toward Capernaum, and to the land of Gennesareth. The coincidence of the two Bethsaidas occurring in the one narrative, and that on the occasion of the only absolutely certain mention of the eastern one, is extraordinary. In the very ancient Syriac recension (the Nitrian) just published by Mr. Cureton, the words in Lu 9:10, "belonging to the city called Bethsaida" are omitted.
(2.) The other, highly probable, mention of this place is in Mr 8:22, where it is called a "village" (κώμη). If Dalmanutha (8, 10) or Magdala (Mt 15:39) was on the west side of the lake, then was Bethsaida on the east, because in the interval Christ had departed by ship to the other side (Mr 8:13). And with this well accords the mention immediately after of the villages of Caesarea-Philippi (ver. 27), and of the "high mountain" of the transfiguration (9:2), which was not the traditional spot (Matthew Tabor), but a part of the Hermon range somewhere above the source of the Jordan.
3. It is doubtful, however, whether, after all, there exists any real necessity for supposing two places of this name. As they could not have been very far from each other, the assumption is in itself a very improbable one, especially as the name nowhere occurs with any epithet or note of distinction, and neither Josephus nor any other ancient writer speaks of such a difference or duplication. In fact, all the circumstances under which every mention of the locality occurs, whether in Scripture or elsewhere, may be met by a location at the mouth of the Upper Jordan on the lake:
(1.) This corresponds to the only definite mention of the spot by Josephus (Ant. 18, 2, 1), as being "situate at Lake (πρὸς λίμνῃ) Gennesareth."
(2.) This would be popularly called a part of Galilee (Joh 12:21). and yet might very easily be reckoned as belonging to Lower Gaulonitis (Joseph. War, 2, 9, 1), since it was really on the border between these two districts.
(3.) It would thus lie directly on the route from the western shore of the lake to Caesarea-Philippi (Mr 8:22, comp. with 10 and 27).
(4.) Such a position readily reconciles the statements in the accounts of Christ recrossing the lake after both miracles of the loaves:
[1.] In Mr 6:32 (comp. Joh 6:1), the passage was directly across the northern end of the lake from Capernaum to a retired spot on the shore somewhat S.E. of Bethsaida; thence the disciples started to cross merely the N.E. corner of the lake to Bethsaida itself (Mr 6:56, but were driven by the head-wind during the night to a more southerly point, and thus reached Capernaum (Joh 6:17,21,24), after having traversed the plain of Gennesareth (Mt 14:34; Mr 6:53).
[2.] In Mr 8:10, the passage was likewise directly across the upper portion of the lake, but in an opposite direction, from the Decapolis (ver. 31) to the vicinity of Magdala (Mt 15:39), thence along the shore and around the N.W. head of the lake to Bethsaida (Mr 8:22), and so on northward to the scene of the transfiguration in the region of Caesarea-Philippi (Mt 16:13).
[3.] The position of et-Tell is too far from the shore to correspond with the notices of Bethsaida and Livias, which require a situation corresponding to that of the modern ruined village el-Araj, containing some vestiges of antiquity (Robinson, Researches, 3, 304), immediately east of the debouchure of the Upper Jordan. (See Forbiger, Situs desertorum Bethsaidae, Lips. 1742).