Πέμπτη, 16 Μαρτίου 2017

René Salm : Why the Truth About Nazareth Is Important

Why the Truth About Nazareth Is Important
by René Salm
(American Atheist Nov.–Dec. 2006, pp. 14–19)

Introduction by Frank Zindler

Proving the non-existence of gods is usually a futile endeavor, generally involving the nearly impossible task of proving a universal negative. Indeed, when the ‘god ’in question is undefined, such proof is impossible. It is impossible because the exercise is scientifically meaningless. In science, unless a claim of the existence of anything—be it a god or a subatomic particle—leads to predictions which can be tested, it can't even be proven false: it is merely meaningless. The worst part of all this is that no one takes seriously the testing of such claims—nor should he.
Recently, when I argued that Jesus didn’t want me to be like the hypocrites and pray in public [Matthew 6:5–6], no one took my ‘proof’ seriously. Speaking to the ceiling, I had ‘tested’ my own claim by exclaiming “Jesus! If you agree that we should not be hypocrites and should not pray in public, give us absolutely no sign in the next ten seconds!”
Similarly, millions of people in TV audiences have been unimpressed by my ‘demonstration’ of the nonexistence of the Christian god when I have exclaimed “Jehovah! If you exist, strike me dead in the next ten minutes!” Even the fact that I am always still alive ten minutes later seems not to move the world one bit.
As I said, effectively proving the nonexistence of a god can be frustrating—and usually futile.
In the following article [“The Myth Of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus”], René Salm has, however, found and struck the Achilles’ heel of a very popular god—Jesus of Nazareth. While almost nothing in this god’s definition is agreed upon by scholars and believers, one thing must be true. If he ever existed, he must have been from ‘Nazareth’—just as Dorothy’s Wizard was from ‘Oz.’ We know quite certainly that there never was a Wizard of Oz because exhaustive LandSat photo searches of Missouri and Kansas conclusively fail to find remains of Emerald City and Munchkin burial mounds. Absolute proof is possible because an exhaustive search is possible.
If it could be shown conclusively that ‘Nazareth’ did not exist at the time that Jesus and his family are supposed to have lived there… You get my intended point.
As I have said, René Salm has found the Achilles’ heel of a god—Jesus of Nazareth. His exhaustive study and critique of what has passed for archaeological excavations of Jesus’ home town make it absolutely certain—or at least as certain as any scientific argument can be—that the place now called Nazareth was not inhabited from around 712 BCE until sometime after 70 CE. This nasty fact is more than a mere inconvenience for those who seek historical facts in the Gospels.
By demonstrating the fictive nature of Jesus of Nazareth, Mr. Salm has done a great service for science and civilization in general. Of course, there are those who now might argue that Jesus was actually ‘Jesus of Bethlehem of Judaea.’ Alas, the Israeli archaeologist Aviram Oshri has removed that base from the ball park too. He has shown by his own excavations that although Bethlehem in Galilee was inhabited during the Herodian period, Bethlehem in Judaea was not.
Of course, a Jesus of Kalamazoo or a Jesus of Cucamonga cannot yet be ruled out. Even so, Franciscan ‘archaeologists’ have not yet realized they need to start building a case for possible gods in ZIP-code areas 49001 and 91729. The Jesus they have been riding all these years has been shot out from under them so suddenly, they don’t yet realize they’re being supported only by (hot) air.
—Frank R. Zindler was (at the time of writing this article) managing editor of American Atheist Press and has authored The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, a book which argues that the ancient Jews never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. (As we see from the following, they had never heard of Nazareth either.) Formerly a professor of biology and geology, Zindler has worked for many years now as a linguist and science writer.

Why the Truth About Nazareth Is Important
by René Salm

Did Nazareth exist when Jesus was alive? Did Jesus even live at all? These unsettling questions remind me of the proverbial mad uncle in the cellar—he’s there, but the household doesn’t want others to know he’s there, so when the guests come to dinner the hostess’s smile covers a perpetual fear and an unvoiced prayer: “Please uncle Jack, please don’t scream tonight!”
The trouble with a mad uncle in the cellar is that he can spoil the party upstairs. The same problem exists with questions like “Did Nazareth exist when Jesus was alive?” and its bigger sibling, “Did Jesus even live at all?” They can spoil the party because if Jesus didn’t exist, then the main excuse the Western world has used for feeling good (“I’m saved”) is suddenly gone. Party’s over.
Now, we can argue until the Second Coming whether Jesus actually lived in the flesh, and he’ll appear on the clouds before we ever decide the matter, because there is no possible empirical proof for his life in the flesh. Even were someone to present a document written by him (say, from the Dead Sea Scrolls), or a garment he touched (e.g., the Shroud of Turin), we could easily say: “That’s somebody else! That’s not him!” A “fact,” you see, is only that which is provable.
This is what gives the Nazareth issue such great potency. Unlike aspects of the gospel story that are quite beyond verification—the miracles of Jesus, his bodily resurrection, his virgin birth, or even his human nature—the existence of Nazareth two thousand years ago can be proved or disproved by digging in the ground. Because the archaeology of any site is empirically demonstrable, “Nazareth” is in a category apart. To this day, it preserves the explosive potential to either prove or disprove the gospel accounts. It is potentially a very loud scream from the cellar.
If Nazareth didn’t exist, that means the evangelists lied in a pretty significant way. After all, the place is mentioned at least ten times in the canonical gospels and Acts of the Apostles. (The rest of the occurrences “Jesus of Nazareth” in the New Testament may be better translated “Jesus the Nazarene” or “Nazorean”—whatever that was). In other words, this is not a one-time error, but a calculated and recurrent invention in the gospels. If the evangelists were spinning a yarn, then conservatives who have been touting scriptural inerrancy for so many years suddenly all have egg on their faces.
No one likes to be duped. What hurts more, though, is to be duped and shown a fool for telling a false story to one’s children for two thousand years. And we must be clear on this…when it comes to the gospels, we’re talking about all the testosterone and bragging rights in the world, what Crusaders killed Moslems for, what inquisitors burned heretics for, and what the Church still evangelizes saints for. We’re talking about being right, by God, about strutting down main street, and about having the blessing to shoot anybody who gets in your way. In other words, we’re talking about conservative Christianity.
It is the conservative wing of Christianity that has so much to lose from the empirical investigation of Christian origins. The archaeologist’s spade, at Nazareth as at other places in Palestine, has engendered fear because it might show that things did not happen as the scriptures say, that is, that the Bible is not the word of God.
Partially for this reason, already in the Renaissance period the Roman Catholic Church resolved to buy the most sacred places in the Holy Land. In this way, it would not only monopolize the revenues from pilgrims, but would also shape the story told about those sites and would control any investigation that took place on its property. The Custodia di Terra Santa, an arm of the Franciscan Order, was formed for the purpose of acquiring and managing the venues deemed most sacred to Christians. In 1620 CE the Custodian of the Holy Land, Fr. Tommaso Obicini, acquired the present venerated area in Nazareth from the Druse emir, Fakr ed-Din. Today, that area is the premiere destination of Christian pilgrimage outside of Jerusalem. It includes three structures: (1) the Church of the Annunciation (the largest Christian edifice in the Middle East, which I will refer to as the CA), the Church of St. Joseph (CJ) 100m to the north, and the Franciscan convent (between the two churches). Though the venerated area is modest in size (about 120m by 60m) it is the venue of virtually all the Roman Catholic excavations in Nazareth. As a result, the traditional history of Nazareth is based on a very limited plot of land, one which I have verified was never where the villagers lived, but where they carried out agricultural work and buried their dead.

Illus. 1. The Nazareth basin with Bronze-Iron Age sites.
The present venerated area is marked by CA (Church of the Annunciation) and CJ (Church of St. Joseph).

The Bronze-Iron Age settlement

In the 1920s it became clear that there was a settlement in the Nazareth basin already in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Catholic scholarship proposes that the early settlement began c. 1200 BCE, but my research shows that it began a millennium later. Furthermore it was not called Nazareth. That name does not appear in Jewish scripture (nor in the prolix writings of the I CE general Josephus, nor even in the Talmud of later centuries). What was it called?
There was a Roman town 3km SW of Nazareth called Japhia. It was destroyed in 67 CE, during the First Jewish Revolt. Though Japhia is mentioned in the Bible (Jos 19:12), as well as in the Egyptian Amarna letters of XIV BCE, no remains of this significant biblical town were found at the known Roman site. However, my research has revealed a considerable settlement in the Nazareth basin beginning c. 2000 BCE and continuing to about 700 BCE (from the Middle Bronze Age to the Middle Iron Age). Five Bronze Age tombs have been excavated (not all on Franciscan property), and scores of artefacts recovered. A substantial—though lesser—number of Iron Age artefacts have also come to light. All this evidence shows that a settlement of considerable size existed in the Nazareth basin in biblical times. Thus, by synoptically viewing the evidence from Japhia together with that from the neighboring Nazareth basin, one arrives at the probable solution: “Japhia” was located in the basin in the Bronze and Iron Ages, and it moved in the course of centuries to the eventual Roman location three kilometers away. Such village movement was not uncommon, and occurred for a variety of reasons. In the case of Japhia we are provided with a very good reason: Assyria conquered Israel in 732 BCE and destroyed all the major towns in northern Palestine. It is entirely likely that Japhia was a casualty of the general destruction. Thus, the most ancient town of Nazareth was not “Nazareth” at all, but Japhia.

The Catholic position

The first stage of “Nazareth” history comes to an end towards the end of the eighth century BCE with the destruction of Japhia. Thereafter, according to surveys conducted by Zvi Gal [1], there was a general depopulation of Galilee. Japhia was abandoned along with many other sites, and the Nazareth basin lay empty of human settlement for centuries. Though denied by the Church, the lack of evidence clearly shows what I call a “Great Hiatus” in habitation. Evidence comes to an end either at the time of the Assyrian conquest or by c. 600 BCE at the latest.
There is no evidence in the ground whatsoever from the Babylonian and Persian Periods (c. 612–c. 312 BCE), and even the Church has not claimed any evidence from those times. It is remarkable, then, that the Church officially maintains a doctrine of continuous habitation as regards Nazareth. In other words, it believes that Nazareth was inhabited from the Bronze Age to the present. Thus Father Belarmino Bagatti [2]: “…life did not begin in the place in a recent epoch, but already existed in the Bronze Period, to continue down to our own days” (Exc. 319). The Church’s position essentially is one of denial as regards the evidence, and the reason is clear: Christian doctrine requires that Nazareth existed in Jesus’ time. This in turn means that the settlement had to have already existed for some time. Only two possibilities can fulfill this requirement: (1) Nazareth has existed continuously since the Bronze Age; or (2) there was a hiatus in settlement, but the town was reestabished before Jesus’ time (e.g., in the Hellenistic Age). The Church opted for the simpler solution: Nazareth has existed since 2000 BCE.
This is a truly remarkable position. According to the official Catholic doctrine of continuous habitation, the hamlet of Nazareth has been settled uninterruptedly since the time of Abraham. Presumably, Nazareth is in the company of Jerusalem and only a handful of the world’s settlements to have enjoyed such outstanding longevity. Hardly any Canaanite towns can make a similar claim. Many ancient and venerable Biblical settlements do not go back to patriarchal times (Gerasa, Hebron). Others ceased long ago (Gezer, Shechem). Yet others were abandoned or destroyed in the course of time, and then re-established at a different location (Gaza, Jericho, Japhia). In short, the tradition’s shrill assertion that people continuously lived in the Nazareth basin for the last four thousand years would be, if true, most impressive. Quite apart from any Christian considerations, it would raise the site inestimably in archaeological value. The stratigraphy of the venerated area (for that is where habitation is claimed) would be of the greatest interest. Archaeologists would be able to systematically follow the levels of habitation downwards—as they can at Megiddo only 17 km away—beginning with the upper stratum and progressively exposing older and older settlements. Megiddo offers thirty strata encompassing approximately three millennia. The claim at Nazareth is even more ambitious: four thousand years of settlement (2000 BCE to the present). Thus, at the venerated sites we should be able to follow the history of human presence all the way back to the Bronze Age. From top to bottom, the strata would sequentially reveal the Medieval village, the Byzantine, then the Roman, Hellenistic, Persian, Iron, and finally the lowest Bronze Age settlement. In each stratum, the archaeologist’s spade would reveal evidence such as pottery, wall foundations, coins, seals, ostracae, ornaments, weapons, and so on. The objection has been raised that little of the Nazareth basin has in fact been excavated. But this excuse does not hold—the venerated area has been extensively excavated over the years. If the doctrine of continuous habitation were correct, some material evidence would surely have been found to corroborate it. Some evidence would be in the ground to tell the tale that the tradition wishes so desperately be told.
But it isn’«t. For approximately eight hundred years—from the Assyrian conquest to the First Jewish War—the ground is mute. Perhaps recognizing this irritating dilemma, in 1955 Father Bagatti had a special trench cut a few meters to the East of the Church of the Annunciation. Its purpose was to determine the stratigraphic profile of the venerated area, to once and for all find evidence of settlement in the various periods, and to provide some much-needed vindication of Church doctrine. The trench was dug 5.6 meters (18.4 ft.) down to solid bedrock, and was continued for a length of 12.9 meters (42.3 ft.). Bagatti’s description of it (with photo) is on page 236 of his compendious Excavations in Nazareth (1969), the primary source for Nazareth archaeology. But the results of the trench disappointed the archaeologist. He writes: “at least where excavated, there were no habitations.” He found only a few Byzantine sherds, similar to many others in the vicinity. Otherwise, no evidence of human presence was revealed. “All the fill,” Bagatti admits simply, “follows normally the declivity of the hill.” That is to say, no man-made strata were revealed at all—only virgin earth and rock.

The Hellenistic period

The midtwentieth century witnessed the birth of the State of Israel and a huge advancement in technology, largely as a result of World War II. With the passing decades archaeological data and methods became even more precise, and theories held in the prewar years regarding many Palestinian sites had to be discarded. As regards Nazareth, some scholars realized that a hiatus in settlement could not be denied—there simply was no evidence for settlement there in the centuries following the Iron Age. However, the doctrinal requirement for a settlement at and before the time of Jesus was still as real as ever. To solve this dilemma, some (mostly Protestant) scholars proposed that Nazareth was resettled in Hellenistic times (312–63 BCE). This I term the “Hellenistic renaissance” doctrine.

Illus. 2. Typical Palestinian oil lamps.
(1) Bronze-Iron Age (2) Hellenistic (3) “Herodian” (4) Roman (5) Byzantine
The problem, however, is that there is no Hellenistic evidence from Nazareth. My careful examination of the literature shows that the tiny bit of evidence claimed as Hellenistic is bogus. For example, below is a photo of six oil lamps discovered in a Nazareth tomb and curtly labeled “Hellenistic” in the original 1931 report, signed by E. Richmond. A few years later a Catholic writer, Father C. Kopp, wrote a series of articles on Nazareth in which he further characterizes the lamps: “R. classifies the era very generally as ‘Hellenistic’ based on 6 lamps; according to the accompanying photos of the finds [they] must surely go back at least as far as 200 BCE.” In fact, the six lamps date from the Middle Roman to the Late Roman periods, long after the turn of the era. Gross misdatings of the primary evidence, sometimes involving discrepancies of up to 500 years (as in this case), are frequently encountered in the Nazareth literature.
Father Bagatti, the principle Roman Catholic archaeologist at the site, corrected the above misdating in his Excavations in Nazareth (p. 242) and accepted that these lamps dated to the second–third centuries after Christ rather than the second–third centuries before Christ. A similar error is made in an influential article entitled “Nazareth” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), today the premiere American biblical encyclopedia. There, we read the astonishing statement that “The general archaeological picture is of a small village, devoted wholly to agriculture, that came into being in the course of the 3d century B.C.” I did a double-take when I first read this, assuming a typo. Surely, I thought, the author (James Strange) means “A.D.” instead of “B.C.” But no, he is deadly serious. He has precisely described the Hellenistic renaissance doctrine, which is largely held in Protestant circles.

Illus. 3. Middle to Late Roman oil lamps found in a Nazareth tomb.
These lamps have all been labeled “Hellenistic” in the scholarly literature.
The word “Hellenistic” is peppered throughout Bagatti’s 325-page book, occuring at least a dozen times. But the Hellenistic claims are invariably tentative and vague, and the pieces of evidence tiny. Bagatti’s ultimate summation (p. 319) is worded as follows: “We have met with only few traces of the Hellenistic period, but there are many elements of the Roman period…” On p. 272 we read that “some sherds belong to the Hellenistic period,” while on p. 185 Bagatti offers the following gem of imprecision: “The black varnish given to No. 8 reminds us of the custom in such products during Hellenistic-Roman times.” Hellenistic-Roman times span a period of almost seven centuries, and black varnish is found on objects of a great many eras. However, such vague statements do allow the author to once again use the word “Hellenistic.”
On two pages of his tome (136–37), Bagatti actually offers evidence from “Hellenic times.” Or does he? We’re talking of a couple of tiny pieces of pottery, none larger than one inch square. But even these are not clearly Hellenistic according to Bagatti’s own descriptions. One shard is from “Hellenic times or earlier” (my italics. The “or earlier” signifies, no doubt, a small Bronze or Iron Age shard). Another example: “Well known as appertaining to the Hellenistic period is the foot of the little vase, like a spindle (No. 15) although these little vases remain in use until the 3rd cent. A.D., as we can see from Jerash.” (Emphasis added.) The shard is again tiny, and is no doubt the foot of a Roman-period vase, of which there are many examples from Nazareth.
The search for Hellenistic evidence turns decidedly into a quagmire of deception with the following statement of Bagatti:
The only pieces which seem to indicate the Hellenistic period is the nozzle No. 26 of fig. 233 and 2 of fig. 235, a bit short for the ordinary lamps, but not completely unusual. (Exc. 129–310)
One would suppose from use of the plural (“pieces”), and the two examples given, that Bagatti is describing two specimens. However, crosschecking shows that both examples refer to one and the same nozzle: once in a photo (Fig. 233 no. 26), and once in a diagram (Fig. 235 no. 2). The caption to the diagram proclaims: “Pottery lamps of the Bronze, Hellenistic and Roman periods found in various places.”
So, the sum total of Hellenistic evidence from Nazareth devolves upon a single broken oil lamp nozzle, about one inch long and the same in width, that is, about the size of the extremity of an adult person’s thumb. I have dubbed it the “infamous Hellenistic nozzle,” for reasons that will soon become clear. But is this shard really Hellenistic? The typical Greek oil lamp had a long nozzle (Illus. 2), considerably longer than Bagatti’s example which the Italian freely admits is “a bit short for the ordinary lamps, but not completely unusual.” Well, we are apparently dealing with an atypical Hellenistic oil lamp. (Like the disappearing Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, the evidence gets smaller and smaller…) In a footnote, Father Bagatti offers several “Hellenistic” parallels to his example. I looked them up, and with them we come to the end of this path leading into the brambles: the parallels do not resemble Bagatti’s example at all. They have a different length and entirely different profile, with sloping as opposed to parallel sides. We have reached a dead end, and can be assured that there is no Hellenistic evidence at all from Nazareth.[4] We can also be assured that considerable effort has been expended to produce such evidence out of thin air.

The Roman period

When the Hellenistic period is added to the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian periods, then the hiatus in settlement at Nazareth extends from four to almost seven centuries (732 BCE–63 BCE). Yet we have still not reached the epoch when people reentered the basin. The first evidence of that begins in I CE, and consists of several oil lamps of the “Herodian” type. It is a misnomer, for the Herodian lamp was both made and used until c. 150 CE, long after the time of Herod the Great and even after the end of his last reigning descendant (died c. 100 CE). Thus, like “Roman”, “Herodian” is a word which has been misused by the tradition to characterize later evidence as earlier, namely, to the time of Herod the Great (37–4 BCE). In such ways, the Nazareth literature is full of pitfalls for the unwary reader. This is especially true of short reference articles on the site, which is all that even most scholars consult on the subject.
Oil lamps are particularly valuable for dating purposes because there are many types, and they have been very well studied. An expert studies the composition, color, form, method of manufacture (by hand or wheel), decoration, and other features of the artefact, and all these data can furnish a very good approximation of the date (and sometimes the place) of manufacture. In the case of Palestinian oil lamps of Greco-Roman times, a lamp can in certain instances be pinpointed to the quarter century. Herodian oil lamps were characterized by a spatulate nozzle, as seen in the lamps at the bottom left and bottom right of Illus. 3. The Herodian lamp to the left is earlier, having very little decoration, no handle or volutes (the collars at the neck), while the other has all these features. The Herodian oil lamps are the earliest firmly datable evidence we have from Nazareth, and we have seen that they can be quite late, as late as II CE. The more burning question is: how early can they be? That determination will tell us how early people started coming into the basin.
A number of Herodian oil lamps were found in a complex of tombs excavated in 1981 by Ms. Nurit Feig.[5] The tombs are 2.6 km east of the CA. The oil lamps are identical or similar to those discovered by Bagatti in the venerated area, which makes Feig’s observations very pertinent to our study. She concludes: “From these facts and from the findings it is possible to relate the use of these tombs to a period of time between the middle of the first century [CE] to the third century CE. It is also possible to assume that the other tombs on the ridge are from the same time as well” (p.79). Feig dates the Herodian lamps c. 50 CE–c. 150 CE. This dating is confirmed by F. Fernandez, who published a study on Roman pottery in the Galilee.[6] He redates a good deal of evidence first reviewed by Bagatti and others. Regarding artefacts from the most important tomb, that which furnished the lion’s share of Roman evidence, he concludes that it is “certainly not before the second third of the first century after Christ” (p.63).
Mind you, we are not speaking of a great deal of evidence here, but only of about a dozen artefacts that could be dated as early as I CE. They also could date to II CE, along with a good deal of other Nazareth evidence. These dozen artefacts are outliers, not typical of the village’s heyday. They represent the first evidence of settlement, while most of the artefacts from the basin date III–IV CE.
From the above discussion, understandably simplified due to the brevity of this article, it is evident that people started to come into the Nazareth basin in the generations between the First and Second Jewish Revolts (70 CE–130 CE). This stands to reason: Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE, and a number of Jews fled northwards. Nazareth was very Jewish and did not have anything to do with minim, a Hebrew word for “heretics,” including Jewish-Christians. We know this because there is evidence that after 135 CE a family of Jewish priests moved to Nazareth. They would not have moved to a town of compromised religious character.
Chronologically, then, it is clear that the village of Nazareth did not yet exist in the time of Jesus, that is, at the turn of the era. It came into existence about the time that the evangelists were writing their gospels. Perhaps they heard of the new village, and decided to make it the hometown of Jesus. I do not know this for sure, but note that the Greek name for the village does not perfectly correspond with the Semitic name.[7] Thus, the Greek name is artificial and not linked to any known place.

The tomb in Mary’s bedroom

The tradition, of course, claims that Mary lived at the site of the present Church of the Annunciation, and that Joseph lived close by where the boy Jesus was raised. Today (in peaceful times, that is) the venerated sites receive a steady stream of Christian visitors from all over the world. However, when the village of Nazareth became a reality in II CE, it was located on the valley floor, not on the steep and rocky hillside where the church property lies. That area was devoted to agriculture: storage of grain, wine, and oil in silos and cisterns; the pressing of oil and wine; and the threshing of wheat, barley, etc. The hillside was also used as a cemetery in Roman and Byzantine times. For Jews, contact with the dead was a source of ritual impurity (Lev 21:11), and for this reason graves were always located outside the town or village perimeter. The Talmud (m. Bava Bathra 2:9) specifies the required minimum distance (“fifty ells”) from the nearest habitation. This fact is of course fatal to the Catholic conception of the venerated area.
This Jewish prohibition was not generally appreciated until the 1950s, and so earlier Catholic archaeologists innocently pointed out tombs in the venerated area, charted them, described them, and even opined that some of Jesus’ family may have been buried in one or another of them. Roman tombs have been found directly under the Church of the Annunciation, as well as close by in all directions. When it was realized that the Jewish prohibition against living in proximity to tombs could have a dire impact on the traditional view of the venerated sites, the presence of all these tombs under the CA and CJ was hushed up in the literature.
But it was too late. The earlier data tell us that a number of tombs surround the Chapel of the Angel (the precise spot where the archangel spoke to Mary). One grave adjoins the northern edge of the Chapel—are we to suppose that it was perhaps located in the Blessed Virgin’s bedroom? This tomb is completely ignored in Bagatti’s compendious Excavations in Nazareth. A few meters in another direction is a Roman tomb complex which contained four to twelve graves. The lame explanations for these interments are almost comical. Bagatti suggests (Exc. 50) that these graves are from Crusader times. Their design, however, is Roman, and if Bagatti were right, we would have to wonder at this macabre (and otherwise unknown) Crusader custom of burying their dead in the house of the Holy Mother!
There are other reasons why the so-called venerated area in Nazareth could not have been what the tradition claims. Located on the side of a steep and rocky hill called the Nebi Sa‘in, it is quite inconceivable that the ancient peasantry would have wished (or would have had the engineering skills) to construct dwellings in that area. The grade of the slope is 14%, with the result that today one end of the CA is about 10m higher than the other. This fact is, of course, masked by the architecture of the present mammoth CA, which includes internal flights of stairs and two churches one on top of the other. When the village of Nazareth became a reality in the second century CE, it was located on the valley floor, not on the steep and rocky hillside where the Church property lies. That slope was used as a necropolis and for agriculture: storage of grain, wine, and oil in silos and cisterns; the pressing of oil and wine; and the threshing of wheat, barley, etc.

From the above brief review of the data, we are now able to reconstruct the true history of settlement in the Nazareth basin:

  • c. 2000–c. 712 BCE    Bronze-Iron Age settlement of “Japhia”

  • c. 712 BCE–c. 70 CE    Great Hiatus (no settlement)

  • c. 100 CE    Founding of “Nazareth” (Natsareth) 70 CE–132 CE

  • To present    Continued existence of settlement

From these facts, we can now draw a conclusion that will be shocking to the orthodox faithful: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ and his family could not possibly have lived at the site now called Nazareth. Archaeology shows quite plainly that the gospel accounts of Nazareth are fictive, not factual. This being the case, we may well ask: “Was Jesus of Nazareth himself a fiction?”



[1] Zvi Gal, “The Late Bronze Age in Galilee: A Reassessment,”in Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (1988) 272:79–84; Lower Galilee during the Iron Age. Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, Ind. (1992); “Iron I in Lower Galilee and the Margins of the Jezreel Valley,” in From Nomadism to Monarchy, ed. I. Finkelstein and N. Na‘aman, Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society (1994); “Israel in Exile.” Biblical Arcaheology Review 24:3 (1998).
[2] B. Bagatti, “Ritrovamenti nella Nazaret evangelica,” Liber Annuus 5:5–44 (1955); excavation in Nazareth. Vol I: From the Beginning till the XII Century. Jerusalem, Franciscan Printing House: Publications of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 17 (1969). xi + 320 pp., 240 figures, 11 plates, index. (Translation of the 1967 Italian work).
[3] E.T. Richmond, “A Rock-Cut Tomb at Nazareth,” in The Quarterly of the Department of Antiquities in Palestine, vol. I, No. 2, 1931, pl. xxxiv, no.2; and C. Kopp, “Beiträge zur Geschichte Nazareths,” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. XVIII (1938) nos. 1–2, p. 194.
[4] Bagatti’s ‘Hellenistic’ nozzle is probably the product of a local pottery tradition dating 50 CE–150 CE, similar to other oil lamps found in the Nazareth area. See N. Feig 1990:74 (Fig. 9:11); also Fernandez Type L1.
[5] N. Feig, “Burial Caves at Nazareth,” Atiqot 10 (1990) pp. 67–79 (Hebrew).
[6] F. Fernandez, Ceramica Comun Romana de la Galilea. Madrid, 1983.
[7] The Greek name has a zeta (a voiced sibilant) where the Semitic name has a tsade (unvoiced). Linguistically, these letters are not compatible. It has long been recognized as most unlikely that the Greek Nazareth derived from the Semitic Natsareth by any natural phonetic process.

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