Aug 16, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Archeologists Find Evidence of Apostle Peter's House and the Grave of Hannah, Mother of Prophet Samuel

Biblical archeologists suffer from high expectations – they haven’t found the holy grails of Old and New Testament artifacts like the Ten Commandments tablets, the Ark of the Covenant, the ark of Noak or the Holy Grail itself. However, they often discover relics that prove or at least strongly support many of the famous people and locations mentioned in the various books. Two such biblical artifacts were discovered recently and lend credence to the historical existence of people famous biblical characters -- Hannah, the mother of King Solomon, and Peter, the apostle and first pope. The second finding may also verify the location of the lost city of Bethsaida.

“I would say yes on both. I think this is clear evidence that the site we’re excavating is the church referred to by St. Willibald [in the eighth century] as the church built over the house of St. Peter and Andrew.”

German painting depicting The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew

Dr. R. Steven Notley, Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins on the New York City campus of Nyack College, certainly thinks he and his excavation team have uncovered a church said to have been built over the location of the house of Peter and Andrew, brothers and two of the biblical apostles. If that is true, it will add to the case that this is the location of the lost city of Bethsaida, which is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament (it is said to be the location of the miracle known as the feeding of the multitudes) but whose location has been difficult to pinpoint because of conflicting accounts and names. Historian Pliny the Elder put Bethsaida on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, while Flavius Josephus, another ancient historian, placed it near the Jordan River as it passes into the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Modern scholars put Bethsaida on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, within the Bethsaida Valley, either in the Bedouin village of Messadiye, the deserted settlement of El-Araj or the archaeological site Et-Tell. In 2019, excavators of El-Araj Excavation Project (EAEP) – Notley is its Academic Directo -- announced they unearthed a Byzantine structure, which they identified as the Church of the Apostles, written about by the Bavarian bishop, Willibald, in 725 CE, as being the location of the house of Peter and Andrew.

“Constantinos the Servant of the Messiah”

 “Head and Leader of the Heavenly Messengers.”

This summer, Notley and archaeologist Prof. Mordechai Aviam found and cleaned a mosaic at the location of the possible Church of the Apostles. Two inscriptions on the mosaics caught their eyes. (Photos here.) The first refers to a Constantinos, but not the Emperor Constantine. According to Haaretz, there was a tradition in building early churches (this one dates back to the fifth century) to name wealthy donors in a mosaic – in this case, a rich early Christian named Constantine. While there are no other hints to Constantine’s identify, there is no question who the second inscription refers to. “Chief and commander of the heavenly apostles” is how the Byzantine Christians referred to Peter, according to Aviam and Notley.

“This discovery is our strongest indicator that the basilica had a special association with St. Peter, and it was likely dedicated to him. Since Byzantine Christian tradition routinely identified Peter and Andrew’s home in Bethsaida, it seems likely that the basilica commemorates their home.”

While Dr. Notley carefully worded his statement about the discovery of the mosaic, there is little doubt it strengthens the case that this location is the lost city of Bethsaida and the location of a major church built there because of a strong local belief that it was where the home of Peter and Andrew once stood. As Willibald, an early pilgrim who traveled the area known as the Holy Land, wrote in his itinerary, “And [from Capernaum] they went to Bethsaida, from which came Peter and Andrew. There is now a church where previously was their house.” Notley and Avium plan to continue their digging in El-Araj or Bethsaida during the next excavation season.

“As often in the ancient world, the convent was erected here, commemorating an ancient tradition, possibly of the burial place of Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel.”

Samuel is a popular character in the texts of a number of religions. He’s mentioned in the Hebrew bible, the New Testament, in rabbinical literature, in the Qur'an and in the writings of the first century historian Flavius Josephus. His mother in the texts is Hannah, but historians agree on little else when attempting to confirm the existence of Hannah or her 11th century BCE son, Samuel. That may have changed in Hannah’s case last month when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) accidentally damaged an area in Horbat Hani, near the town of Shoham in Central Israel. When they began excavating in order to repair the damage, they found the remains of a 1,500-year-old convent which had been discovered in the early 2000s but quicky reburied to protect the buildings and relics there.

Picture depicting three year old Samuel, the High Priest Eli and Hannah, the mother of Samuel. 

“(It) preserved a tradition related to women.”

Issy Kornfeld, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), tells The Algemeiner that the soldier performing the recover found a church with a mosaic floor showing animals and plants (photos here) and a convent with an entry hall, dormitories for nuns, hermit quarters, a tower, an inn for pilgrims, a dining hall, a crypt, and a burial area underground. Kornfeld states the evidence strongly suggests the buildings were there to honor the biblical Hannah. The crypt and the underground burial area contained female skeletons which he says are evidence the nuns wanted to be buried there in order to be close to Hannah. The buildings plus the crypt strongly suggest the remains of Hannah may be somewhere on the premises. The site is now visible and open for restricted visits. However, it is not known whether it will stay open of be buried once again for safety reasons. With the increase in interest in biblical tourism, that seems unlikely.

An ancient church and convent and mosaics referring to their purpose aren’t the Holy Grail or one of the other famous lost biblical relics, but they reinforce the idea that many people, locations and incidents in the ancient religious texts were real and are worth studying for their historical value independent of one’s religious beliefs.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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