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Sacred Heart sponsors Bethsaida dig in Holy Land

Sacred Heart School of Theology has joined the Bethsaida Excavations Project, making Sacred Heart the only Roman Catholic seminary in the United States sponsoring an archeological dig in the Holy Land.

Bethsaida patMembership in the project consortium means Sacred Heart’s Scripture professors are part of a community of scholars working to interpret the significance of the dig’s findings, as they both contribute their own insights and learn from the work of peers across the United States and internationally. The seminary’s Scripture faculty will have first access to data from the dig, prior to publication.

Bethsaida is a key site in Jesus’ ministry. It is the most frequently mentioned city in the Gospels after Jerusalem and Capernaum. Bethsaida was the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip, in the Gospel according to John.

Msgr. Ross A. Shecterle, SHST’s president-rector, said, “We are honored to have been accepted among this elite group of nine institutions of higher learning to participate in this excavation. Our involvement will bring significant benefits to the seminary’s Scripture Department, while the expertise of our faculty will contribute to the project’s goals. Moreover, Seminarians on the dig will experience the thrill of seeing new knowledge about biblical times literally uncovered before their eyes.”

Dr. Patrick Russell, Sacred Heart’s vice president for academic affairs, participated in the dig during the early summer of 2012, alongside Dr. Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), the consortium’s director of excavations and research. Russell said, “The opportunity to be at this site and place our hands on the soil trod 2,000 years ago is as spiritually inspiring as it is academically satisfying. The dirt under our fingernails may be the very dirt that clung to Jesus’ sandals.”

Sacred Heart School of Theology Scripture professor, Rev. Charles Brown, SCJ, who will be joining the dig this summer, noted, “It’s been said that the land of Jesus itself is like a fifth Gospel. For us to provide our seminarians the opportunity to ‘read’ that gospel, by touching that land, will be a grace and a blessing for their future priestly ministry pastoring the people of God.”

Sacred Heart seminarians and other graduate students will participate in the dig starting in June of 2013. Alumni and other volunteers may apply to join the dig team by contacting Kate McConville, the Bethsaida administrative assistant, at  414-425-8300, extension 6997.

For many years biblical scholars referred to the dig site as et-Tell. In 1987, largely through the work of noted archaeologist and author Rev. Bargil Pixner, OSB, scholars reached a consensus establishing the site as the Bethsaida mentioned in the Gospels. The site also has Old Testament significance as it is connected to the story of King David. Its 8th century B.C. gate complex is the largest in the region.

The Golan Research Institute and the University of Haifa sponsored the first four seasons of excavations from 1986 to 1990. The project consortium was organized in 1991 under the administration of UNO. The Israeli base of operations is Kibbutz Ginosar on the Sea of Galilee.

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