A team of Israeli and American archaeologists has uncovered a 1,500-year-old inscription on a centuries-old basilica near the Sea of Galilee that strongly suggests the building was constructed over the home of the Apostle Peter.
The Greek inscription references the donor, "Constantine, the servant of Christ" – Constantine was a fourth-century Roman emperor who converted to Christianity – and then includes a petition for intercession from the "chief and commander of the heavenly apostles." That latter phrase references Peter, archaeologists say.
"The title' chief and commander of the apostles' is routinely used by Byzantine Christian writers to refer to the Apostle Peter," a news release said.
The expedition was led by Kinneret College in Israel and Nyack College in New York. Last year, the same team announced they likely had found the famed "Church of the Apostles," a Byzantine-period basilica at the same location that was believed to be built over the homes of Peter and his brother, Andrew.
"This discovery is our strongest indicator that Peter had a special association with the basilica, and it was likely dedicated to him," said Steven Notley, academic director of the dig.
"Since Byzantine Christian tradition routinely identified Peter's home in Bethsaida, and not in Capernaum as is often thought today, it seems likely that the basilica commemorates his house."
The inscription – part of a mosaic floor in the church – was translated by Leah Di Segni (Hebrew University) and Yaakov Ashkenazi (Kinneret College), according to the news release. The mosaic is decorated with floral patterns.
The basilica is located at el Araj/Beit haBek, Israel, on the Sea of Galilee.
The team believes the location is likely the biblical village of Bethsaida.
"One of the goals of this dig was to check whether we have at the site a layer from the first century, which will allow us to suggest a better candidate for the identification of Biblical Bethsaida," said archaeologist Mordechai Aviam, archaeological director of the excavation. "Not only did we find significant remains from this period, but we also found this important church and the monastery around it."
An eighth-century book about the travels of bishop Willibald of Eichstätt in Bavaria references the site: "And thence they went to Bethsaida, the residence of Peter and Andrew, where there is now a church on the site of their house. They remained there that night, and the next morning went to Chorazin, where our Lord healed the demoniacs, and sent the devil into a herd of swine."
The excavation is sponsored by the Museum of the Bible, the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins, the Lanier Theological Library Foundation and HaDavar Yeshiva.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.