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Archaeologists excavating the site of the Biblical miracle where Jesus Christ fed the 5,000 have been halted in their tracks by a freak flood.

The village of Bethsaida has been totally submerged by the sea of Galilee, forcing experts to abandon the site.

For centuries, its true location was lost, but archaeologists have been working to prove that the ancient town once stood at El-Araj, an excavation site on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

It was said to be the fishing village where Jesus fed the masses with just five loaves and two fish and the place Jesus helped a blind man see.

Bethsaida was also the hometown of the disciples Peter, Andrew and Philip.

Now efforts to explore the Biblical location have ground to a halt after heavy rains caused the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, to flood the site.

Lead archaeologist professor Moti Aviam of Kinneret College said there was no way digging could continue this year.

“During the past 30 years, the amount of the rain in Israel was not enough to bring the lake to its full capacity,” he said.

“This year it happened. All of our excavated squares, even the highest – the mosaic floor of the Byzantine church – were covered.

“The entire site is covered today with a large lagoon in which catfish are swimming.”

He continued: “We think that nothing will happen to the antiquities below the water and the water level will reduce slowly, but we will not be able to dig this year.

“All the excavated squares are full of water, so we can’t dig.

“Even if the level of the water drops 80cm, we will still have to walk and work in mud. It is impossible.”

After the rains, professor Aviam expected some flooding, but even he was surprised by the extent.

“I was thinking about the fact it would be flooded,” he said, “but when I came to see it with my own eyes I was astonished.

With every part of the excavations underwater, efforts to prove that El-Araj is the true site of the biblical Bethsaida have been stopped

“Especially when I got the photos from the drone.”

In the Bible, Bethsaida – a name which translates as “house of fishing/hunting” – is described as a “village” with “green grass” that can be reached by boat.

El-Araj is one of two sites usually identified by archaeologists as the ancient settlement – the other being Et-Tell.

But for professor Aviam, the former is clearly the better contender.

“El-Araj is on the lake shore, not like Et-Tell which is two kilometres inland. This is more appropriate for a fishing village,” he said.

Professor Aviam believes that the case for El-Araj is further helped by the Roman historian, Titus Flavius Josephus.

Josephus describes the village as being close to where the River Jordan enters the Sea of Galilee.

And he also describes how, under Herod Philip II, the village was “advanced unto the dignity of a city, both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and its other grandeur”.

Professor Aviam says El-Araj not only matches the location, but it even shows signs of the enlarged Roman settlement Josephus describes.

“The location of El-Araj is more appropriate according to the Josephus Flavius description,” said the professor.

“We also discovered evidence of a Roman-type bathhouse which is more typical to an urban sphere than a village. Nothing like that was found at Et-Tell.”

The place ‘where Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000’ has been totally submerged by flooding

There’s even a Byzantine church at the site, which professor Aviam and his team believe is the Church of the Apostles.

According to Christian tradition, such a church was built over the Bethsaida home of Jesus’ disciples Peter and Andrew.

Professor Aviam believes it was probably flooding which caused the site to be abandoned in the first place.

He said: “We can only assume that during the third century AD the level of the lake was slowly getting higher and the land, the floors, and the courtyards were wet, so people decided to leave.

“Floods came with the Jordan river and covered Bethsaida with two metres of silt.”

It wasn’t until the sixth century Christians identified the spot as Bethsaida, the home of the apostles, and built a church to commemorate them.

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