Nazareth re-visited

August 25th, 2012

Nazareth house

A few months ago, I wrote about finds that establish, contrary to the views of some sceptics, that Nazareth did indeed exist in Jesus’ day – as a small agricultural village of (probably) just a few hundred inhabitants (Did Bethlehem and Nazareth exist in Jesus’ day?).

I obtained the information for that blog from searching the internet and reading news reports. I do not have good access to more academic libraries. So it seems that I understated the evidence.

Tim O’Neill is a fellow blogger (see Armarium Magnum), an atheist and a keen and well-read amateur historian. He and I have crossed swords many times on aspects of christian belief on which we disagree, but on historical assessment of the New Testament, we both agree that we must be guided by those who have done the research and published their results in peer-reviewed articles. In a recent posting on the Quodlibeta forum, Tim has outlined more of the evidence, using quotes from papers written by the archaeologists.

What the archaeologists have found

There are apparently three separate locations that have been investigated – agricultural terraces, tombs, and a house. In these locations they have found coins, pottery and a lamp.

These artefacts, including the tombs themselves, can all be dated, and the dates are consistent. The archaeologists conclude:

  • The artefacts can be dated from a century or more before Jesus through to several centuries after him. The greatest number of artefacts were late Roman – somewhere in the second to fourth centuries.
  • “The earliest occupation seems to have occurred in the late Hellenistic period of the first and second centuries BC.”
  • The village was apparently small and poor at the beginning, but began to grow in size and wealth after the middle of the first century – as shown by the types of graves as well as the coins and pottery.

The inescapable conclusion

Nazareth was indeed settled before, during and after the time of Jesus. He would have grown up in a very small rural village with probably only a small number of children his own age. There appears to be nothing in the Bible or archaeology that contradicts this.

Sadly, it seems that the sceptics will not accept the conclusions of the archaeologists working at the site.

Further reading

38 Comments

  1. good article, it seems you have done your research on this topic. I do think skeptics sometimes might make to much out of this. The scriptures themselves talk about how small and insignificant nazareth was, so its not much of a big deal, if the the archaeological evidence was minimal. I would actually expect it too be minimal.

  2. What evidence are you talking about?

    The IAA report clearly states the house is dated to the 1st or 2nd century. Any references to ‘1st century’ therefore means a time 50 CE or up.

    As you should know, the city of Yaphia, mere 2 km around the hill, had 17,000 inhabitants. This town was completely destroyed by the 10th legion during the 1st revolt. Hence, if there had been a house in Nazareth at that time, it had been destroyed, too. If so, they should have found signs of destruction and re-building – but they have not. This is a sign that the house was build after the first revolt. Taking in account that Yaphia was a large fortified town, it is not surprising that they built hiding pits one or two km around the town. Unfortunately, the Nazareth hype prevented reasearch of more important sites like Yaphia…

    According to what was published anywhere on the internet until now, the earliest coin found in the entire Nazareth basin dates to 238-244 CE (says Yardenna Alexandre, the archeologist who excavated those coins).

    It is a matter of reason to accept facts – as it is a matter of belief to ignore them.

  3. Hi Bernhard, thanks for visiting my blog. But I am a little mystified at a couple of your comments.

    “What evidence are you talking about?”

    The evidence is in the archaeologist reports in the literature, which I referred to. For example, a paper published in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society vol. 25 (2007) reports:

    “The earliest occupation seems to have occurred in the late Hellenistic period of the first and second centuries BC. Examples dating to this period were primarily the jar and jug sherds discovered in Area B-1. A single jug base of this period was also found in Area A-2 (Fig. 38.5). The horizontal handle of the krater (Fig. 38:6) may derive from this period as well. A small amount of material dated to the Early Roman period of the first century BC to first century AD was found in Areas A-1, A-2 and C-1.”

    “the earliest coin found in the entire Nazareth basin dates to 238-244 CE (says Yardenna Alexandre, the archeologist who excavated those coins)”

    This may have once been true, but the archaeological report also says (my emphasis):

    “In addition, 165 coins were uncovered by Yardenna Alexandre in the 1997–1998 excavations at Mary’s Well, Nazareth. The coins were overwhelmingly Mamluk, but also included a few Hellenistic, Hasmonaean, Early Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and Crusader coins.”

    “It is a matter of reason to accept facts – as it is a matter of belief to ignore them.”

    I’m not sure what you are referring to here, as I have not mentioned any beliefs, simply reported the facts uncovered by the archaeologists. Now that you have seen these quotes, do you accept these facts too?

    Best wishes.

  4. Is the BAIAS report freely available on the web?

    Where is the IAA report about those coins? Somewhere I’ve seen an e-mail written by Yardenna Alexandre where she stated that all of the 165 coins are Constantine or later. Can you provide an IAA link affirming your dating? As long the data are not published, we don’t have any evidence for your claim at all. (There was a note about the coins on the IAA server, but it is no longer accessible…)

    BTW: I mismatched the 238 CE coin with another one. That 238 – 244 CE coin was found at the NVF area (as mentioned in the NVF report).

    Did you check my Yafia hint?

    http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/yafia.html

    As you can read in the Flavius Josephus citation on that site, the Romans (1,000 horsemen and 2,000 foot soldiers) marched from Jotapata (straight North of Nazareth) down to Yaphia, which was the largest Galilean town at that time. On their way, they had to cross Nazareth which is mere 3 km around the next hill. If there had been a settlement, then no remains were found today. Moreover, Flavius Josephus was the jewish leader of the rebel army who fortified Yaphia with a double city wall. Do you really think he hadn’t mentioned that small hamlet mere 3 km away if there had been a hamlet? The first time Nazareth is mentioned anywhere was 300 CE.

    Again – archeology is science, not a belief system. Personally, I don’t care if there was a Nazareth between 732 BC and 70 CE or not, but I dislike if facts are misinterpreted or invented to match a goal. For me, the claims about the coins are inventions as long as there is no official IAA report (which is the only evidence I accept).

  5. The internet is a great place to find out things, but it isn’t always an easy place to find academic papers. The reports of the AAIS are not easily found, and I think require some form of subscription or membership. Here are two sources: AIIS and Trove. I would guess some university libraries would have paper copies.

    So the information is indeed published, and constitutes the evidence for the post.

    Presumably Tim (who I referenced) has access through one of these means, for he has quoted from the Pfann et al paper. The evidence is there.

    I have only briefly checked out Yafia. It is interesting information, but any argument about an alleged parallel between Yafia and Nazareth founders on the actual archaeological evidence.

    What do you think now?

  6. So your references are related to Pfann/Voss/Rapuano “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report”, it seems. Well, I got that paper last week to verify Salm’s paper, and evaluated the NVF report yesterday. First: I’ve never seen any excavation report where you cannot assign any found object to the map location it was found – seems, the authors messed the numbering up completely. Also to mention, there is no peer-review of the report, and the dating is not affirmed by other scholars, yet.

    Together with the uncatalogued objects, about 100 pottery sherds and one coin were excavated in an area of about three or four hectare (about 0.003 objects per square meter). Out of these 100 objects, three ‘dip’ through the 70 CE line – namely: [A1][L1](2)+(3), [A2][L1](3). However, two of these ([A1][L1](2)+(3)) are dated 50 BCE to 50 CE, almost ‘scratching’ the 70 CE marker, so this might be a dating error. As the distribution of 0.003 objects per square meter suggests, this was a pastoral area, so the single Herodian shard could have been lost by shepherds, a picnic party, Roman soldiers on patrol – there thousands of probable scenarios how pottery shards might have been distributed in pastoral areas like this. Putting it all together, Pfann/Voss/Rapuano’s report definitely proves there was no remarkable littering of pottery shards before 70 CE in the pastoral areas excavated by their team. At least, we have one out of one hundred finds probably dating below the 70 CE mark.

    Looking at the case with open eyes, it surely is no good idea to excavate pastoral areas while looking for evidence of rural use of a landscape. The excavated farm wasn’t necessarily a part of a settlement in the Nazareth basin, it also could have been an outpost of Yaphia, supplying the town with wine, fruits and other agricultural products. Evaluating the currently known facts, Japphia/Yaphia/Yafia, which is mentioned in biblical and Egyptian records as well as by Flavius Josephus and contemporary sources of his era, was a major town in this area – a constant population of at least five thousand residents can be assumed in the most conservative case. It is very likely that the Bronze/Iron Age and later Roman Nazareth was a small outpost of Yaphia, which became popular after the Gospels were established on a wider scale in the Roman Empire. Beginning with Constantine, Nazareth became one of the most important Christian ritual places and grew in size, while Yafia lost importance and faded away, finally becoming a satellite settlement of the growing Nazareth.

    Accepting the known town of Yaphia in this region as a given fact, the tombs cut into the hills around the later Nazareth are self-explanatory. There sure were some residents of Yaphia who wanted to be buried there because it was a nice place, or some religious traditions preferred this place – the mass of tombs suggests the latter thought is more plausible than the first.

    As long as there is no more evidence, because the entire area was not explored thoroughly, yet, all assumptions must be speculative, because there is no sufficient data to backup any hypothesis. It’s just a matter of reason if we assign everything we find to a small, unimportant and assumed place we call Nazareth today (but no one knew of it before 300 CE), or to remember there was a real town 3 km South-West of this place, using the fertile soil found in the Nazareth basin for agricultural purposes. I think, the latter assumption is more convincing, because all known data support it.

    If we separate beliefs from facts, we can keep history neutral – it is no good idea to pass biased opinion rather than a neutral record of events to our descendants. It is an alarming sign, that a major town of this region is almost unknown today, while one of its satellite outposts rules history and swallowed our remembrance of ancient reality.

    Did you notice that Yaphia is not mentioned a single time in the entire corpus of the New Testimony? If Jesus really came from a hamlet called Nazareth, why is Yaphia – the large town Nazareth probably belonged to – never mentioned? Were those stories true, then he probably had started his work in Japhia, where he could address 5,000 people or more…

  7. Hi, Bernhard,

    1. The evidence is not just in the Final Report by Pfann et al (2007), but also in ‘On the Nazareth Village Farm Report: A Reply to Salm’, Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society vol. 26 (2008) – Salm is apparently not an expert nor has he visited the site, yet for some reason he is defending a position against the evidence – plus Yardenna Alexandre’s press statements about the house, which have not yet been published (it took 5 years for Pfann et al‘s work to be published), plus the information on the tombs – earlier reports by Bagatti (1969) and Feig (2000), which also found artefacts from the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. You would need to read all of these.

    2. I still cannot see why events in Nazareth should be the same as in Yaphia – especially when we have archaeological information that apparently shows otherwise. All the parallel illustrates is that if, as you say, “Yaphia is not mentioned a single time in the entire corpus of the New Testimony” how much less likely is a small hamlet like Nazareth to be mentioned by anyone except if there is some special reason – which in the case of the NT is because the principal character came from there?

    3. You have commented several times about belief vs facts, but it seems your comments are based more on belief than on the facts discovered by the archaeologists, perhaps similar to Salm. I cannot see why you are unwilling to trust the expert archaeologists who have devoted years to the site. It seems to me that you are actually illustrating what I said in my post: “Sadly, it seems that the sceptics will not accept the conclusions of the archaeologists working at the site.” Is this unfair?

    Best wishes.

  8. Hi unclE,

    [About 1]

    Salm is as biased as the Pfann team. Because both try to load excavated objects with meanings they do (and can) not have, both parties should be handled with care. Neither Salm’s paper “The Invented Town of Jesus” nor the Pfann team papers ever were peer-reviewed by independent scholars, and none of both views was approved until today.

    (My personal opinion: I neither like Salm’s fanatic language nor the attitude of the “Reply to Salm” paper. Hiding behind titles is equivalent to stating “Sorry, but we have no real arguments…”. Everything I stated was based on my own research on the topic, and I found flaws in both parties publications.)

    Bagatti never claimed he found Hellenistic or Early Roman objects, all of his finds were 150 CE or later. He excavated the oldest coin ever found in the Nazareth basin, though – it was minted between 238 and 244 CE. All other mentioned excavations did not publish reports, yet. With no data available, their finds have to be treated as ‘not known’. Pointing to data which is not published anywhere is speculative (not based on knowledge).

    [About 2]

    Which “archaeological information that apparently shows otherwise” should that be? Was there any object with an inscription “I was made in Nazareth at the time of Herod the Great”? If not, we try to assign some kind of special meaning to the found objects. If we do that, our assignment is biased, because we do not have any evidence for our claim except the found objects themselves – which cannot complain about our assignments, because they just are dead objects. If they could speak, they might tell a very different story.

    What some archaeologists do in Nazareth is the same thing the archaeologist Auguste Mariette did in Tanis, but: There were masses of objects with Ramses II. cartouches on them. Nevertheless, his claim ‘Tanis is Pi-Ramesse’ finally turned out to be wrong, because Pi-Ramesse was somewhere else. He was convinced he found Pi-Ramesse, because he wanted Tanis to be Pi-Ramesse. Had he included the supplementary evidence into his considerations (all excavated objects were 21st, not 19th dynasty), he had realised that Tanis cannot be Pi-Ramesse. Same applies to Nazareth. Whatever is found is assigned to Nazareth immediately, because people want it to be from Nazareth – intentionally suppressing the existence of a town called Yaphia, which probably occupied the outer borders of todays Nazareth. This is not archaeology – it is the same biased thinking Auguste Mariette stumbled upon.

    As I told in my last reply, about 0.003 objects were found per square meter. If you compare it with rural sites, where many objects are excavated per square meter, it definitely shows that all excavations in the Nazareth basin took place in pastoral areas. Otherwise, we had several objects per square meter and could provide a more accurate dating of the excavated strata. All serious archaeologists know that finds in pastoral areas cannot give us a clue about settlements in those areas – found pottery shards could have been deposited by anyone passing that area at any time. Hence, even if Greek, Egyptian or Mittani pottery had been found in the Nazareth excavations, this did not tell us anything about nearby settlements. All found objects might have been lost or thrown away by caravans, nomads or soldiers marching through this area – there is no reason to assume any of those 100 objects could be connected to a nearby settlement (neither to Sepphoris nor to Yaphia nor to Nazareth).

    Getting to a point: Without large scale excavations of the entire area, there is no way to make claims about settlements. To ‘prove’ the existence of a settlement, you have to provide all buildings and supplementary objects like pottery for dating. Have a look at other excavation sites surrounding Nazareth (for example Meggido 17 km to the South) to get a clue how excavations of settlements look like.

    [About 3]

    “I cannot see why you are unwilling to trust the expert archaeologists who have devoted years to the site.”

    You ask me to -believe- in the words of someone you consider to be an ultimate authority? Come on… 😉

    I always try to be as neutral as possible – personal preferences should not ‘slip’ into objective reasoning. Science does not know ultimate authorities, and even if many scholars have profound knowledge in their special fields, this does not prevent them from making errors here and then. I might have accepted the one or other conclusion of the Pfann team if they had stated “this object, approximately from time X…Y, might have been deposited by a resident of Nazareth”, but their claims are presented with such a “more than hundred percent certainty” attitude that they cannot be taken serious. Their opponent Salm tries to ‘prove’ the ‘non-existence’ of Nazareth at time X, which is even worse…

    The purpose of archaeology is not to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the existence of something, and the purpose of excavations is not to provide evidence for something we want to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’. Serious archaeologists start excavations to get insights about ancient times, they do not dig holes into the ground to find something they want to find to ‘prove’ something. Have a look at the current Khirbet Qeiyafa or the ‘Large Stone Structure’ (LSS) controversies to see that archaeology is a living science where many different views are weighted against each other. Only the most plausible explanation will be accepted by a majority of archaeologists. For most of them, Nazareth is not worth to think about, because it does not provide any important insights regarding Jewish history prior to the 4th century CE.

    [What do we have?]

    1. About one hundred objects excavated in pastoral areas surrounding today’s Nazareth.

    2. A farm, one house and remains of two watchtowers distributed over those excavated areas.

    3. A multitude of buildings from the 4th century and later.

    4. Flavius Josephus “The Jewish War”.

    5. A Nazareth mentioned in a couple of Gospels written 70 CE or later.

    Now it is up to the reader to put all pieces together and evaluate if a farm, two watchtowers and a house, all dating 50 CE or up, can be considered as evidence that a nearby (unknown) settlement named Nazareth existed in this area between 47 and 4 BCE (the time Herod the Great ruled over Galilee) or that it is more plausible to assume the excavated buildings were outposts of the nearby (known) town of Yaphia.

    [Some basics about dating objects]

    Coins either bear the date when thy were minted or the counterfeit of a ruler who originated the minting of a specific type of coin. Like today, coins were minted at a few (or just one) central place(s). Being minted, it took some time to distribute these coins throughout the country. Like today, coins kept their value for a period of time. Even if new types of coins were originated, the old coins kept their value and were accepted as currency. Hence, the only safe statement we can make about a found coin is the date this special type of coin was originated. This is the earliest possible date the coin could occur anywhere. However, finding a coin minted in year X does not mean it was deposited at the place where it was found in the year X. Year X is just the earliest possible date, not the time when the coin was deposited.

    Same applies to pottery. We can assign a specific type of pottery – determined by shape, ornaments, colours, type of burning, used material, and so on – to a defined ‘band’ within our time scale. Finding a shard belonging to a specific band allows us to determine the time period when the vessel was manufactured. This time period generally spans a frame of 20, 30, 50 or more years. As with coins, this time frame marks the earliest occurrence of a specific type of pottery, it does not tell us anything about the date the vessel was deposited or broken. Because pottery was not cheap, it was passed from one generation to the next, until it was broken or completely unusable. When people moved from one place to another, they took all movable belongings with them, including pottery. Therefore, finding a pottery shard anywhere cannot provide much more than the coarse time frame when this type of vessels was manufactured. Depending on the type of vessel and how much care was taken while handling it, it might have been broken a hundred (or more) years after the time suggested by our reference frame. This always has to be considered before we start to operate with dates.

    [Epilogue]

    You surely remember that I never stated ‘there was no Nazareth at time X’ like Salm does. The excavations did not find any evidence for a Nazareth at any time – except the four buildings, which are no evidence for a settlement at the excavated areas – because Nazareth never was located at the excavated places. If you really want to find Nazareth, you have to excavate the valley, not the hills. This isn’t just a weird theory of mine, the IAA report regarding the excavated house and other independent sources state the same.

    The reason why I posted here was not to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ the existence of Nazareth – I just do not like how people like Mr. Pfann make claims with a non-scientific certainty. For lay readers, it suggests that the existence of Nazareth at Herod’s time was proven with water-proof facts. This is not the case, as I have shown throughout my replies. I have listed a lot of facts speaking against Pfann’s claims regarding the available evidence. If we put all arguments of both sides together, there’s not much weight left on the scales for Pfann’s position. I really doubt he ever considered to have a look into history books discussing the time between Herod the Great and the First Jewish Revolt. Had he consulted Flavius Josephus “The Jewish War” (the ‘operating manual’ for archaeologists…), he had known he’s on the wrong path. I also doubt he knows that a town of Yaphia exists next to his excavation site, because no Yaphia is mentioned in the New Testimony…

    Until the Nazareth valley was excavated, we have no evidence for its settling periods at all. I hope, the IAA will start some large scale exploration of Yaphia sooner or later, because it was an important town in the First Jewish War. GPR http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground-penetrating_radar is a non-destructive method to detect the shape of the old city without digging. Same could be done in Nazareth to find spots worth to dig up.

    P.S.: If there are good arguments, it would be foolish to deny them. If there is a lack of good arguments, it would be foolish to believe the story behind.

  9. Bernhard, I think it is useless our discussing any more – it seems we inhabit different universes.

    You say there has been no peer review of the Pfann team papers, which I have no way of knowing, but certainly Dark has reviewed the controversy between Salm and Pfann.

    You say Baggatti never found anything earlier than 150 CE, but Pfann & Rapuano say Bagatti found a late first century BCE jar.

    You say that “their claims are presented with such a “more than hundred percent certainty” attitude that they cannot be taken serious” when they make it clear they use standard methodologies, and their paper uses terms like “probably”, “mostly, and “fit comfortably within the first century CE” – I don’t see any “certainty” there.

    Dark, reviewing Salm vs Pfann et al, is similarly cautious when he concludes:

    “The available archaeological evidence from the centre of contemporary Nazareth, by contrast, suggests that the settlement of Nazareth existed in the Second Temple period …”

    You say there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Nazareth existed as a village at the time of Jesus (i.e. first half of first century CE), yet Bagatti, Sussman, Feig, Alexandre, Haiman, Rapuano, Pfann and Dark all apparently disagree with you. I don’t think anyone claims these conclusions are certain, simply that they are clearly the way the present evidence points.

    I can only assume you are either an archaeological sceptic, only happy if you have “water-proof facts”, or you are applying different standards to this case than would normally be applied by seasoned archaeologists. I’m sorry but I cannot see any reason to believe you when the on-site archaeologists all conclude differently.

    I think my post stands as a fair statement of the conclusions of everyone I have seen who has actually worked on the site. If you think they are wrong, perhaps preparing your own journal paper would be a better course than commenting on a blog.

    Thanks for the interest you have shown, I have learnt some new things through this discussion. Best wishes.

  10. Hi unclE,

    I went through Bagatti’s report a week ago, but I can’t remember any “late 1st century” finds. Well, even if I missed something, late 1st century still is 75…99 CE, not 50 BCE…50 CE. On the other hand, your statement tells me you did not read the reports of Pfann’s predecessors who excavated other spots in the Nazareth basin? Moreover, even Pfann/Yapuano’s “A reply to Salm” confirms that the majority of finds were 100 CE and up. Except the report of the Pfann/Voss/Rapuano team, no one claimed that Nazareth existed before 70 CE. As Dark states:

    In conclusion: it may be that the ceramic evidence for Second Temple period activity at the site of Nazareth Village Farm is, as published, ambiguous. However, field systems are notoriously hard to date using archaeological evidence and this does not make Salm’s argument for a post-Second Temple date for the settlement at Nazareth any more credible. The available archaeological evidence from the centre of contemporary Nazareth, by contrast, suggests that the settlement of Nazareth existed in the Second Temple period and included the area around the existing Church of the Annunciation. The terraces at Nazareth Village Farm might well have been farmed by people from, or having some relationship with, that settlement.

    “Suggests that…” means “we do not know, but it is likely that…”. Dark surveyed the landscape between Sepphoris and Nazareth [‘The Roman-Period and Byzantine Landscape between Sepphoris and Nazareth’, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 140.2, 2008, 1-16], so he had used other terms if he was really sure about the available evidence. It is important to understand the wording of experts like Dark…

    My statements about certainty only regarded the -conclusions- presented by Pfann/Voss/Yapuano and Salm. There is no certainty as long as there are no reliable secondary sources or inscriptions to narrow dating of objects down to a very small period in time. Stating “there was (a)(no) Nazareth at Herods time” simply is wrong – the only valid statement is “we do not know, but…”.

    Here’s a link to the report about the ancient Bathhouse in Nazareth: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1641177

    I agree that our views differ in important points. I apply scientific methods, while you rely on one source. Let the readers decide which point of view is more convincing… 😉

    Greetings from Augsburg, Germany

    Bernhard

  11. Greetings to you in Augsburg. I’ve never been there, but I’ve been Munchen railway station! : )

    Just a brief couple of corrections.

    (1) The Bagatti date was ” late first century BCE” – i.e. a century or more before Jesus, part of the evidence of occupation over several centuries around the time of Jesus.

    (2) You say I rely on one source, when I have referenced 8 archaeologists who all say the same thing!

    Thanks again. Greetings from Sydney Australia.

  12. Hi unclE,

    I think you still did not understand what I told. Have a look at this map to see how far it was to walk from Yaphia to the NVF farm:

    http://goo.gl/maps/ttkJv

    Mere 23 minutes by foot. Notice that there are buildings on the way. In ancient times, they had taken the straight way, saving a few minutes.

    Secondly, you should stay with the facts:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazareth#Archaeology
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary%27s_Well#Recent_Archaeological_Discoveries

    The second paragraph provides the same data I posted (probably they studied Bagatti’s report, as well). Crossan’s comment was related to Bagatti’s report – the “hamlet” consisting of one farm and one house build in the 1st to 2nd century (that is: approximately 100 CE) was not known when he wrote it. Compare Frater Freund’s statement with Jacob Walker’s report

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID1641177_code1511086.pdf?abstractid=1641177&mirid=3

    Some final words spoken by Aviram Oshri, senior IAA archaeologist:

    http://www.archaeology.org/0511/abstracts/jesus.html
    http://www.religioustolerance.org/xmaswwjb.htm

    Darn… 😉

    Have a nice time

    Bernhard

  13. I said I didn’t think this was worth discussing any further, and I still think so. You are now relying on references in Wikipedia (a secondary source) and Religious Tolerance (secondary and known to be biased, selective and not worth quoting), rather than the actual archaeologists working on the site. But thanks for your continued interest.

  14. What an interesting half hour read.
    If you add all this to the erroneous, geographically inaccurate ‘Nazareth’ description in Luke, the somewhat odd description of the ‘multitude’ that wanted to sling JC from a ‘cliff’ mix in a bit of Occam’s Razor and what you get is …well… not to put too fine a point to it…hogwash.
    Bottom line? There really was no Nazareth as described in the bible at the time of Jesus. Erg…no Jesus of Nazareth.
    Maybe we should rethink our approach and label him Jesus of Yaphia?

  15. unkleE, I just read through all the comments and have to say your refusal to further engage Bernhard is a little pathetic. Seems you’ve been proven wrong and have simply decided it time to take your ball and run home. Like I said, pathetic.

    Just a note to add to the others: Josephus was the one time Governor of Galilee. His failure to mention Nazareth, or for that Jesus, is quite telling.

  16. G’day John, thanks for visiting and commenting. I’m sorry you feel the way you do. But I think you are unfair in your comment about refusing to further engage Bernard. Bernard wrote 6 comments, generally getting longer and longer, and I replied to each of them. But it becomes clear after a while that a discussion is unlikely to be productive any further, and so without any personal criticism of Bernard, and granted the unreliable sources he was quoting, I couldn’t see that further discussion was worthwhile. But he had ample opportunity to state his case (3,600 words if I have counted correctly), and he did it courteously, but didn’t by any means prove me wrong, or more importantly, prove the consensus of scholars wrong. All that seems like a quite reasonable opportunity to me.

    As for Josephus not mentioning Jesus, he is mentioned in the text that we have, and those who wish to reject the text have not proved their case. Most scholars accept that the references are genuine, even though all the words are probably not.

    As for his failure to mention Nazareth, are you able to quantify this failure please (I genuinely don’t know and would like to know)? How many villages the size of Nazareth were there in first century Galilee and Judea, and how many does Josephus mention? Unless we know these facts, we have no statistics on which to base such a statement.

    Thanks for visiting, I’d be interested to read your response.

  17. Hi. Sure, its your blog and you’re free to do what you will. Sorry to say, however, but you’re dead wrong on Josephus. The TF is well-known, well-recognised as a 4th century interpolation. That is the consensus, and it has been since the close of the 18th century. The Testimonium Flavianum was in essence ignored after that until it experienced a revival of sorts in the mid-20th Century after empty handed Christian polemicists returned to the entry and began pushing a notion that there had in fact been a nucleus contained in the original 1st Century text. It was their contention that although Eusebius of Caesarea might have indeed tampered with the original document there was, they promoted, an aboriginal core inside the exaggerated entry which did mention Jesus. As far as verifiable suppositions go this notion is pure fantasy; a wish based on as much factual evidence as Jesus’ foreskin orbiting Saturn. This however has not stopped apologists from even going as far as to suggest that this ‘nucleus’ might have been a single sentence mentioning Pontius Pilate having a man named Jesus put to death. The idea of a nucleus, let alone an assumption of what might have been written, is entirely groundless. No pre-4th Century copies of Josephus’s work exist. In all reality, no pre-11th Century editions exist making any claim of a nucleus all the more implausible and the suggestion of the actual composition of the alleged sentence/sentences utterly nonsensical.

  18. “Sorry to say, however, but you’re dead wrong on Josephus. The TF is well-known, well-recognised as a 4th century interpolation. That is the consensus”

    Thanks for your reply, but can you offer some evidence for these statements please. The consensus among whom? Here’s a few statements from some of the best experts I know:

    Geza Vermes, Oxford University:

    “Let me offer therefore the text that I believe Josephus wrote….

    About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man…For he was one who performed paradoxical deeds and was the teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews [and many Greeks?]. He was [called] the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him…And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

    Vermes also recognises as authentic, as most scholars do, the reference to James as “the brother of Jesus called Christ”.

    Robert Van Voorst, writing of “the neutral reconstruction” in his book ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament’:
    “In sum, Josephus has given us in two passages something unique among all ancient non-Christian witnesses to Jesus: a carefully neutral, highly accurate and perhaps independent witness to Jesus …”

    Maurice Casey in ‘Jesus of Nazareth’:
    “… the text appears to be generally reliable. except in the most contentious passage ….. the usual scholarly view is that Josephus, who also recorded the trial and execution of Jacob, ‘the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ’ …. wrote a short piece about Jesus, and that it was edited by Christian scribes ….”

    Early Christian Writings regards the shorter reference as genuine, is uncertain about the longer, but points out that surveys of scholars show that most regard the Testimonium Flavianum to be partially genuine.

    This summary by Christopher Price also states that modern scholarship affirms the authenticity of the shorter reference and the partially authenticity of the longer one.

    For what it’s worth, Wikipedia confirms that scholars “almost universally” affirm the authenticity of the reference to Jesus as the brother of James, and that there is a “general” or “broad consensus” that the longer reference is partially authentic.

    I could provide more references, but may I first ask you the question: do you accept the verdict of scholarship?

    Also, may I ask you again my question about the numbers of villages in first century Palestine and in Josephus?

    Thanks.

  19. The TF is well-known, well-recognised as a 4th century interpolation. That is the consensus, and it has been since the close of the 18th century.

    Wrong, as UnkleE has shown, the current consensus is that the Testimonium Flavianum is interpolated, but that it has not been completely interpolated since the language is so clumsy that an original which has been amended is more probable. How long something has been the consensus position is completely irrelevant, but this position has become the majority opinion since around the mid-twentieth century. Thackeray already defended partial authenticity.

    The Testimonium Flavianum was in essence ignored after that until it experienced a revival of sorts in the mid-20th Century after empty handed Christian polemicists returned to the entry and began pushing a notion that there had in fact been a nucleus contained in the original 1st Century text.

    “Empty handed Christian polemicists” should mean scholars from a variety of backgrounds. This spin has been noted.

    It was their contention that although Eusebius of Caesarea might have indeed tampered with the original document there was, they promoted, an aboriginal core inside the exaggerated entry which did mention Jesus.

    Regardless of the history, the case against Eusebius of Caesarea being the interpolator is summed up by A. Whealey, against Ken Olson. He doesn’t have a record of being a forger – some scholars had suggested that several documents he cited about Constantine were forged because of his apologetic use of them, but then two parts of the alleged forged documents were found (p. 106) – , the use of language in the Testimonium Flavianum is in key points different from Eusebius’ and the Testimonium Flavianum is not most convenient for Eusebius’ not very ambitious apologetic goals.

    http://books.google.nl/books?id=JRl1T876naAC&lpg=PA91&as_brr=3&pg=PA91&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

    As far as verifiable suppositions go this notion is pure fantasy; a wish based on as much factual evidence as Jesus’ foreskin orbiting Saturn.

    Colourful language, but this is no backup of the preceding claim that “this notion is pure fantasy”. Could you demonstrate why is it pure fantasy?

    This however has not stopped apologists from even going as far as to suggest that this ‘nucleus’ might have been a single sentence mentioning Pontius Pilate having a man named Jesus put to death.

    That would be the majority of current scholars, who are not limited to only “apologists”. The reasons for this suggestion are that the language use in the authentic parts of the Testimonium Flavianum is quite typical of Josephus.

    The idea of a nucleus, let alone an assumption of what might have been written, is entirely groundless.

    It isn’t, but the above assertion is, as no evidence or reference is provided.

    No pre-4th Century copies of Josephus’s work exist. In all reality, no pre-11th Century editions exist making any claim of a nucleus all the more implausible and the suggestion of the actual composition of the alleged sentence/sentences utterly nonsensical.

    How does the fact that there are no pre-11th century witnesses of the Testimonium Flavianum make it nonsense to suggest there is an authentic nucleus? Does this mean that all the books of the Antiquities that are not attested before the 11th century should be dubious? Or that it is impossible to subject them to any meaningful textual criticism? Of course not.

    Besides, you ignore that there are also Arabic and Syriac versions that omit the suggested inauthentic sections, though A. Whealey argues that these are dependent on Eusebius’ version.

  20. Hi IgnorantiaNescia!

    “How does the fact that there are no pre-11th century witnesses of the Testimonium Flavianum make it nonsense to suggest there is an authentic nucleus?”

    The point was actually that there exists no pre-4th century copies, meaning pre-Eusebius. As there exists no pre-Eusebius copies no one can make ANY assumption as to what there was or wasn’t… hence, nonsensical.

    Hi unkleE

    I’ve never heard of these authorities you’re citing. I don’t however question that there are polemicists today still quite determined to point to Josephus, but from everything I’ve read they’re in the minority in any academic sense. I’m guessing your sources are theologians, in which case one must take their assessments with a grain of salt… I think you’d have to agree. I’m personally no expert so I won’t labor here to cite names, however the acknowledged authority on the life and works of Josephus is Louis H. Feldman of Yeshiva University, who wrote:

    “We may remark here on the passage in Josephus which has occasioned by far more comment than any other, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum (Ant. XVIII. 63 – 4) concerning Jesus. The passage appears in all our manuscripts; but a considerable number of Christian writers – Pseudo-Justin and Theophilus in the second century, Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Orgen in the third century, and Methodius and Pseudo-Eustathius in the early fourth century – who knew Jeosphus and cited from his works do not refer to this passage, though one would imagine that it would be the first passage that a Christian apologist would cite. In particular, Origen (Contra Celsum 1.47 and Commentary on Matthew 10.17), who certainly knew Book 18 of the Antiquities and cites five passages from it, explicitly states that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as Christ. The first to cite the Testimonium is Eusebius (c. 324); and even after him, we may note, there are eleven Christian writers who cite Josephus but not the Testimonium. In fact, it is not until Jerome in the early fifth century that we have another reference o it.

    Feldman has stated that in the period from 1937 to 1980 at least 87 articles had appeared on the topic, the overwhelming majority of which questioned the total or partial authenticity of the Testimonium.The reason, of course, is the total and complete absence of any reference made by
    • Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), who obviously pored over Josephus’s works, makes no mention of the TF.
    • Theophilus (d. 180), Bishop of Antioch–no mention of the TF.
    • Irenaeus (c. 120/140-c. 200/203), saint and compiler of the New Testament, has not a word about the TF.
    • Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-211/215), influential Greek theologian and prolific Christian writer, head of the Alexandrian school, says nothing about the TF.
    • Origen (c. 185-c. 254), no mention of the TF and specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was “the Christ.”
    • Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 235), saint and martyr, nothing about the TF.
    • The author of the ancient Syriac text, “History of Armenia,” refers to Josephus but not the TF.
    • Minucius Felix (d. c. 250), lawyer and Christian convert–no mention of the TF.
    • Anatolius (230-c. 270/280)–no mention of TF.
    • Chrysostom (c. 347-407), saint and Syrian prelate, not a word about the TF.
    • Methodius, saint of the 9th century–even at this late date there were apparently copies of Josephus without the TF, as Methodius makes no mention of it.
    • Photius (c. 820-891), Patriarch of Constantinople, not a word about the TF, again indicating copies of Josephus devoid of the passage, or, perhaps, a rejection of it because it was understood to be fraudulent.

  21. *the 87 articles Louis H. Feldman calls attention to are all peer-reviewed papers, therefore considered scientific… unlike theological papers.

  22. UncleE…. earlier you asked: “How many villages the size of Nazareth were there in first century Galilee and Judea, and how many does Josephus mention? Unless we know these facts, we have no statistics on which to base such a statement.”

    If you are genuinely interested in learning here’s an excellent article on just that. I think you’ll find it quite telling… or rather damning. Afraid to say, it doesn’t look good for Nazareth. Josephus lists 204 Galilean towns, and if you didn’t already know, he lived for some time in Japha which was 3kms from where Nazareth should have been. Bit odd that he wouldn’t mention it along with the 204 towns. Of course, I’m by no means surprised by this. The story is a fabrication from beginning to end, but realising that Nazareth wasn’t even in existence at the time is a little awkward for polemicists, i think you’ll have to agree.

    All the best

    http://www.academia.edu/1503523/204_settlements_in_Galilee

  23. I really can’t be bothered getting into yet another boring debate with a Myther about the TF, and there are others already commenting here who are capable of showing John Zande what he has got wrong there and what the scholarly consensus is. But I couldn’t let this blunder pass:

    “Josephus lists 204 Galilean towns, and if you didn’t already know, he lived for some time in Japha which was 3kms from where Nazareth should have been. Bit odd that he wouldn’t mention it along with the 204 towns. ”

    Wrong. And the very article you link tells you that you’re wrong. Josephus did not “list” 204 towns in Galilee at all. He simply mentioned that this was the total number of towns in the region. If we tally up the number of towns he actually mentions by name we find there are only 35 of them – see page 35 of Chaim ben David’s article, it’s right there at the top of the page.

    So Josephus only mentions 17.15% of the towns and villages he says existed in Nazareth. That leaves a further 82.84% or 169 towns and villages he didn’t name but which he says existed in Galilee.

    That’s plenty of scope for a tiny village like Nazareth to go unmentioned. If you’re going to link to a scholarly article it usually helps to READ it first.

  24. “Afraid to say, it doesn’t look good for Nazareth….. realising that Nazareth wasn’t even in existence at the time is a little awkward for polemicists”

    John,

    Thanks for your information. But you have jumped to this conclusion very quickly, don’t you think? After all, to know the odds of Nazareth getting a mention, you need to know both the number of villages and the number mentioned. You only give one figure, and you describe it wrongly.

    Like Tim, I too looked up the reference you gave, and a few others besides. I too found that 204 refers to the number of Galilean villages Josephus counted, not the number he “listed”. According to your source, he named just 35 of these (he doesn’t apparently “list” any, but names several in the course of his discussion of the Roman war). As Tim points out, this makes the odds of any village getting a mention quite low.

    When you consider that some of those he named were quite large (e.g. Japha/Japhia, which you mention, is said by Richard Horsely, apparently quoting Josephus, to be “the largest village of Galilee”), and important in the war because they were fortified (e.g. Bersabe and Selame), one can see that the likelihood of little Nazareth getting a mention are even further reduced.

    So it seems your source was reliable, but you didn’t read it carefully, and jumped to a conclusion that the facts don’t actually warrant. In fact your reference proves the opposite of what you wanted, namely that the odds of Nazareth being mentioned by Josephus are quite small. The data is actually awkward for polemicists against Nazareth, not those for its existence.

  25. John, I wanted to respond to your most recent post on Josephus in some detail, more than is easy in comments. Since the matter of whether Josephus mentioned Jesus is off-topic for this post on Nazareth, I thought I’d do a separate post on the topic.

    Please feel free to continue the discussion at Josephus and Jesus.

    Best wishes.

  26. Thanks for the offer, but I’m pretty bored of this subject. Have discussed it in depth on my blog and you’re not introducing any new information. Polemicists clinging to one clearly debunked mention as the ONLY proof for their god-man is enough evidence to disregard the entire subject out of hand. Feldman is the leading authority on this matter and he gives the TF no credence at all.

    Again, I remind you, theological papers are to be considered “opinions,” not peer-reviewed science.

    My conclusions are quite simple: Jesus was a metafictional character invented by 1st Century crisis cultists; a literary vehicle through which doctrinal points could be made. This explains the wild variations in his apparent life, but the unusually similar parables issued. The parables were the message, not the character. This metafictional story was grossly misinterpreted by the northern diaspora, and in the 4th century church historians set about to falsify information and invent a history by doctoring Josephus, for example.

    All the best

  27. Some anonymous person tried to post this to my blog. He claims he can’t post it here, though I have no idea why. Or why he is posting it to my blog anonymously. Perhaps because it makes no sense:

    “Dear Mister O’Neil,
    I apologize for commenting here but I am unable to post on the blog hosted by Unklee
    You slated John Kande’s comment re: Davids report on Galilean settlement numbers. Although Mister Kande’s wording was not exact it would seem churlish to suppose Josephus did not have a list of the settlements, being Governor for one thing, but he could hardly have been expected to have carried these details around in his head. Unless you think he should have?
    I would also like to draw your attention to the last paragraph of the article in question that you may have missed.
    “It can therefore be concluded that the methods used to scrutinize settlement numbers – counting the numbers of settlements in the Ottoman period, in the rabbinic literature and particularly according to archaeological data – Josephus number of 204 settlements is probably not far from the actual number of settlements in Galilee and Gualanitis prior to the Jewish revolt.”

    They guy’s surname is “Zande” not “Kande” (just as mine is “O’Neill” not “O’Neil”). And his wording is quite exact – he claims Josephus “lists” 204 towns and doesn’t mention Nazareth. This is garbage. Josephus says there were 204 towns, but only “lists” (ie mentions by name) 35 of them. Which leaves a further 169 towns and villages unnamed. That makes Zande’s argument gibberish (and incompetent gibberish at that, since the article he links to makes all this clear) and it’s not “churlish” to point out both his basic error of fact or the fact of his incompetence.

    Then these Mythers wonder why no-one takes their kooky crap seriously.

    PS If for some reason you can’t post here, and I have no idea why, send an e-mail directly to Eric/UncleE via the “Contact” link at the top of this page. Don’t post your replies to the discussion here to another topic entirely on my blog.

  28. @ Zande

    “Polemicists clinging to one clearly debunked mention as the ONLY proof for their god-man is enough evidence to disregard the entire subject out of hand. ”

    So all the scholars in the field who accept the partial authenticity of the TF, which is the overwhelming majority of them, are “polemicists”? That would be news to the ones who are agnostics, atheists and Jews.

    ” Feldman is the leading authority on this matter and he gives the TF no credence at all. ”

    Then you must be posting from an alternative universe, because here in our reality, Louis H. Feldman is one of the majority of scholars who accept the partial authenticity of the TF. You seem to display a talent for getting basic things completely wrong.

  29. I’m pretty bored of this subject. Have discussed it in depth on my blog and you’re not introducing any new information.

    I wasn’t introducing anything new, just pointing out that virtually everything you said about Josephus was contradicted by the experts, including Louis Feldman who you nominated as your expert of choice. So in that sense it was presumably new to you. But if you don’t wish to know what the experts say, then I’ll say farewell, and thank you for visiting. Best wishes.

  30. Tim, I hate to say it, but do you have any idea how honestly pathetic you look jumping about over Josephus? You’re throwing a tantrum over a single entry which has been UNIVERSALLY recognized as either a frightfully careless 4th century embellishment, or a complete and utter forgery. Either way you’ve already lost, and screaming about it like some enraged little brat just looks petty and childish.

    Like I said, I’m bored with this subject. You can quibble all you like over this forgery, but I’d imagine your time would be better spent trying to explain why not a single church father in the 200 years before Eusebius mentioned the forgery in the first place. Can you answer why they didn’t mention it? Don’t you find it odd? Don’t you think this an aberration? Don’t you consider it unnatural to the extreme? As Feldman observed, “one would imagine that it would be the first passage that a Christian apologist would cite”… and yet not one did. Strange, don’t you think? If you aspire to being a good apologist then that is what you should be focusing your efforts on. I for one would be very interested to hear what explanation you might arrive at.

    All the best

  31. Tim, I hate to say it, but do you have any idea how honestly pathetic you look jumping about over Josephus? You’re throwing a tantrum over a single entry which has been UNIVERSALLY recognized as either a frightfully careless 4th century embellishment, or a complete and utter forgery. Either way you’ve already lost, and screaming about it like some enraged little brat just looks petty and childish.

    I do not intend to be rude, Mr Zande, but it does make easy arguing, if your position is first that complete inauthenticity is widely accepted except by Christian apologists, when challenged collapse to the much broader and vaguer position that it is either an embellishment or a complete forgery (regarded as two very different points-of-view by scholars) and then dismiss an attempt to counter your position and also provide evidence and the actual scholarly majority opinion as childish and pathetic.

    The reason why a Christian apologist would not have found the uninterpolated Testimonium Flavianum useful to quote is of course that it didn’t support any Christian beliefs contested by non-Christians originally. Opponents were not Mythicists, so there was very little use in quoting Josephus. Only once the passage was interpolated it became apologetically useful.

  32. Apologies IgnorantiaNescia if my comment appeared a little rude. Your explanation struck me as wanting and my fingers were slightly faster than my brain 🙂

  33. That it is wanting is something I happily concede and it’s not surprising taking its brevity in consideration, however I’d very much like to be brief since you said you are not interested in the debate. If you have the need to present any particular questions, feel free to ask. Otherwise, I’d rather not get bogged down in writing long posts. Besides, I think many particulars have already been addressed in recent comments here.

  34. John, we are each entitled to our opinions, but it is wise, I am sure you will agree, to base our opinions on the best evidence and facts available. But you continue to make assertions that are factually false. So before we discuss opinions, let us see if we can agree on the facts.

    These are the statements that you have made that are factually incorrect:

    1. You said Josephus listed 204 villages in Galilee, when he lists none and mentions only 35. The 204 number was simply a number. (This means your opinion on whether we would expect Nazareth to be mentioned was based on wrong information.)

    2. You originally commented on Josephus’ failure to mention Jesus, when the fact is that the copies we have mention Jesus twice – and one of the references (not the TF) is, and always has been, recognised as genuine by virtually all scholars.

    3. You said “The TF is well-known, well-recognised as a 4th century interpolation. That is the consensus, and it has been since the close of the 18th century.” More recently you said the TF was ” a single entry which has been UNIVERSALLY recognized as either a frightfully careless 4th century embellishment, or a complete and utter forgery” This is again factually incorrect. We have shown that the considered conclusion of the majority of scholars is that the TF is a partial interpolation, with substantial portions about Jesus being genuine.

    4. You have accused the scholars who hold this view of being “polemicists” and “apologists”, again factually incorrect – they include some of the world’s most respected historians, and many of them are non-christians.

    5. You continue to refer to Louis Feldman, and quote his comments. Yet you seem to be unaware that he too believes the TF is only a partial interpolation.

    6. You say to Tim: “If you aspire to being a good apologist”, making a similar accusation as you make about the scholars. But I have known Tim for many years, have had many discussions and disagreements with him, and he is an atheist. So again, your factual error has coloured your opinions and accusations. Same as it has done with your misunderstanding and misrepresentations about Vermes, Feldman, Casey, etc.

    So, are you willing to face up to the fact that you have based your polemic on wrong information, misreading of the documents, wrong assumptions about people’s views, etc? Until we get on the same page about the facts of what the scholars conclude and why they conclude this, there is little point in expressing opinions.

    Are you a rationalist who believes we should be evidence-based, or will you choose to ignore the facts?

  35. Tim, I hate to say it, but do you have any idea how honestly pathetic you look jumping about over Josephus? You’re throwing a tantrum over a single entry which has been UNIVERSALLY recognized as either a frightfully careless 4th century embellishment, or a complete and utter forgery. Either way you’ve already lost, and screaming about it like some enraged little brat just looks petty and childish.

    What a weird reply. I post briefly to note that the consensus on the partial authenticity of the TF was amongst scholars of all backgrounds, not just “apologists” and to point out that Feldmann is one of them and so does not give it “no credence at all”. And somehow these two, brief, soberly expressed points become “jumping up and down” and “screaming like some enraged little brat” and “petty and childish”. Zande – are you drunk?

    You also haven’t admitted your stupid blunder over the ben David article and the 204 towns you claim Josephus “listed”. I’m guessing you’ll now tell us again how “bored” you are with this topic as a way of dodging the exposure of your errors. Before posting repeatedly again, despite your terrible “boredom”.

    Why are all Mythers so weird as well as incompetent?

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