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Digging for Secrets

Photo of Aaron Gale

The ancient biblical city of Bethsaida, one of the most frequently mentioned cities in the New Testament, was believed by many for nearly 2,000 years to be a myth.

Since its discovery in 1987, archeologists have shown increased interest in the city’s origins. A new documentary goes behind the scenes of the Bethsaida Excavation Project, an annual expedition involving five universities from across the world.

Aaron Gale, associate professor and program coordinator for the Religious Studies Program at West Virginia University, is featured in The Secrets of Bethsaida. He has participated in the excavation project since 2005, taking students with him every year, and serves as a site supervisor. “There are many secrets still hidden in the ground at Bethsaida,” Gale said.

Filmed in 2012, the documentary is now available on DVD from and explores the shores and slopes of the Golan Heights. The excavation project is led by Rami Arav, director of excavations and professor of religion and philosophy, at the University of Nebraska Omaha. The book of John in the New Testament of the Bible mentions that the disciples Peter, Andrew, and Phillip were from the city of Bethsaida. “Perhaps even more interesting to tourists and pilgrims is Bethsaida’s link to Jesus and the founding of Christianity. The New Testament indicates that some of Jesus’ most famous miracles, including the feeding of the multitudes, took place in Bethsaida,” Gale said.

“I tell my students when I teach them about Christianity that in reality, you could say Christianity started in Galilee, not in Jerusalem. Bethsaida is vital to understanding the origins of Jesus’ mission as well as the history of early Christian traditions.”

Gale joined the WVU faculty in 2000. A biblical scholar by trade, he specializes in Matthew’s Gospel and its relationship to early Judaism.