Thomsa King lecturer digs in Bethsaida

Josh Setchel

For the past 35 years, Washburn University’s philosophy department has hosted the “Thomas L. King Lecture in Religious Studies.”

This year, chairman Russell Jacobs and professor Barry Crawford, in what will be his final lecture as he’s set to retire this year, have brought to campus Rami Arav, professor at University of Nebraska Omaha.

With both BA and MA degrees from the Tel Aviv University and a PhD from New York University in Near Eastern Languages and Literature, Arav has directed the excavation of the biblical city Bethsaida for the past 30 years. His lecture held Tuesday night discussed at length his experience.

Located north of the Sea of Galilee, the city of Bethsaida is the location of several key moments in New Testament scripture including the feeding of the multitude, the healing of the blind man and Jesus’ walk on water. It’s also the birthplace of at least three of the apostles including Peter and second only to Jerusalem in terms of spiritual relevance.

Arav spoke at length about the history of the city, going as far back as the 8th Century BCE, as well as what drove him to begin the excavation itself.

“I looked at a map and I said, ‘What can I do that has not been done so far?’ There was one site with a big question mark next to it, and that was Bethsaida,” Arav said.

The primary focus of Arav’s presentation was a PowerPoint slideshow devoted to his many archeological finds over the years including, but not limited to, ancient pottery, a Francois Vase with a recovered shard used to fill in a hole, glass jewelry, coins and, most interestingly, a pair of ‘spooning skeletons’ as named by Arav himself. A couple were buried together within the ruins of the city and were found embraced in said ‘spooning’ position.

Arav also spent a great deal of time exploring the geography of the area which is primarily modern day Israel. His experience and travels truly shone through during this time as he moved from location to location with ease and authority. While his somewhat thick accent made a few details difficult to make out, his creative showmanship more than made up for it.

His crowning achievement was the revelation of Bethsaida’s city gate. Arav and his team from the Consortium of the Bethsaida Excavations project sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Omaha spent 10 years excavating the remains of the massive structure and discovered it to be the largest ever uncovered.

Arav ended his talk by announcing he is still taking names for those willing to join him on his next trip and to get in touch with the project via its official set-up at the University of Nebraska.

In addition to his work in Bethsaida, Arav has published extensively on the archeology and history of the city and much of Israel in general. His works include ‘Bethsaida, a City by the Northern Shore of the Sea of Galilee’ and ‘Jesus and His World, an Archeological and Cultural Dictionary’ which he co-authored with John Rousseau.