Did First-Century Nazareth Exist?

MoN_coverIt’s known as the Christ Myth: the theory that Jesus of Nazareth never existed as a historical person.  One of the arguments that mythicists often use is that the town of Nazareth never existed in the first century at the time Jesus is said to have lived.  If Nazareth never existed, then Jesus didn’t exist, right?  René Salm has even written an entire book on the subject entitled, The Myth of Nazareth, The Invented Town of Jesus.1

Because this argument is becoming increasingly popular, how does one respond?

Quite easily, actually.

First, the argument is illogical.  Atheist, Bart Ehrman has pointed out, “ I could dispose of this argument fairly easily by pointing out that it is irrelevant.  If Jesus existed, as the evidence suggests, but Nazareth did not, as this assertion claims, then he merely came from somewhere else.    Whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S. or not (for what it is worth, he was) is irrelevant to the question of whether he was born.”2

Secondly, the argument has been falsified through numerous archaeological discoveries which clearly establish that Nazareth was indeed a town inhabited in the first century at the time of Jesus.  Consider the following:

  • Tombs with fragments of ossuaries have been excavated in Nazareth, indicating a
    nazareth_foundations
    A first-century courtyard house discovered in Nazareth. Photo Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

    Jewish presence there in the first century.

  • Hellenistic and early Roman artifacts, including pottery shards, a cooking jar, and lamps discovered in the 1969 Nazareth excavations led by Bellarmino Bagetti, come from a first-century context.4
  • In 1997 and 1998, excavations at Mary’s Well, an ancient spring in Nazareth, led by archaeologist Yardenna Alexandra revealed coins from the Hellenistic and early Roman periods – coins that would have bene used in the time of Jesus.5
  • In 2009, a first-century dwelling was discovered6 in which were found pottery and chalk stone vessel shards which date from the late Hellenic through Early Roman periods (100 BC to 100 AD)7
  • Another first-century courtyard house was excavated in Nazareth8, which still had windows and doors intact. In 2015 Dr. Ken Dark, the lead archaeologist, noted evidence of early Christian veneration at the site, suggesting that it may have been the childhood home of Jesus.9
house-nazareth-ken-dark
The rock-cut doorway of a first-century house discovered near the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, which may have been the childhood home of Jesus. Photo Credit: Ken Dark. Used by permission.

While there once was a lack of first-century evidence in Nazareth, recent excavations have conclusively demonstrated that in Jesus’ day, Nazareth was a backwater village of around 50 houses about four acres in size and populated by devout Jews of modest means.10

In the historical biographies of Jesus in the Bible, Nazareth is identified as his hometown by each of the writers: Mathew (Mt 2:23), Mark (Mk 1:24), Luke (Lk 18:37), and John (Jn 19:19).  Some 30 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, Christians were still known as the “sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5).  These writers, along with the many people who spoke about “Jesus of Nazareth” were familiar with the village.  Upon hearing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, one even asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46)

Some have objected that Nazareth is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) nor in any other ancient sources outside of the New Testament.  This is true, and with good reason: Nazareth was too small and too insignificant to have warranted being described.  This in itself is evidence that Nazareth truly was the hometown of Jesus; who would make up a place like this for the hometown of the Messiah?

While there are those who would seek to transform Jesus of Nazareth from an actual person into a legendary figure, few scholars and historians subscribe to the Christ Myth.  Arguments such as, “Nazareth never even existed at the time of Jesus,” may make for entertaining rhetoric and interesting conspiracy theory, but they are far from compelling.   As an archaeologist who reviewed René Salm’s book summarized: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic, and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenisitic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of ‘myth.’”11  The reality is the historical evidence for the existence of the first-century rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth is overwhelming.

 

Endnotes

http://www.nazarethmyth.info/

2 https://ehrmanblog.org/did-nazareth-exist/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2013/06/nazareth-in-the-first-century.html

4 Geisler, N. L. (2013). The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible. Eugene, OR: Harvest House. Pg. 319.

5 Geisler, N. L. (2013). The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible. Eugene, OR: Harvest House. Pg. 320.

6http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_eng.aspx?sec_id=25&subj_id=240&id=1638&module_id=#as

7 https://www.cleveland.com/religion/index.ssf/2009/12/archaelogists_in_nazareth_say.html

8 https://www.livescience.com/49941-jesus-home-photos.html

9  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/has-the-childhood-home-of-jesus-been-found/

10 http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/87363c36b8d9af9378057b2c0705e2f6

11 https://ehrmanblog.org/did-nazareth-exist/

 

 

 

5 comments

    • Hi Mark, I just tried the link and it still works for me.
      http://www.aparchive.com/metadata/youtube/87363c36b8d9af9378057b2c0705e2f6
      It’s from an Associated Press story from 12/21/09. Here is the text:

      Days before Christmas, Israeli archaeologists on Monday unveiled what they said were the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth that can be dated back to the time of Jesus.

      The find could shed new light on what the hamlet was like during the period the New Testament says Jesus lived there as a boy.

      The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres (1.6 hectares).

      It was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israeli Antiquities Authority.

      Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to be “the sort of house that Jesus or people of his period would have lived in,” Alexandre said, as workers at the site carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.

      Nazareth holds a cherished place in Christianity.

      It is the town where Christian tradition says Jesus grew up and where an angel told Mary she would bear the child of God.

      The discovery so close to Christmas has pleased local Christian authorities who say it adds proof to the veracity of their Biblical traditions.

      “It’s a gift to Nazareth,” said a smiling Father Jack Karam of the nearby Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

      Alexandre’s team found remains of a wall, a hideout, a courtyard and a water system that appeared to collect water from the roof and supply it to

      the home.

      The discovery was made when builders dug up the courtyard of a former convent to make room for a new Christian centre, just yards (metres) away from the Basilica.

      It is not clear how big the dwelling is – Alexandre’s team have uncovered about 900 square feet (85 square metres) of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger, she said.

      Alexandre said her team also found a camouflaged entry way into a grotto, which she believes was used by Jews at the time to hide from Roman soldiers who were battling Jewish rebels at the time for control of the area.

      The grotto would have hid around six people for a few hours, she said.

      However, Roman soldiers did not end up battling Nazareth’s Jews because the hamlet had little strategic value at the time.

      The Roman army was more interested in larger towns and strategic hilltop communities, she said.

      Alexandre said similar camouflaged grottos were found in other ancient Jewish communities of the lower Galilee such as the nearby Biblical village

      of Cana, which did witness battle between Jews and Romans.

      At the site, Alexandre told reporters that archaeologists also found clay and chalk vessels which were likely used by Galilean Jews of the time.

      The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which was used by Jews at the time to ensure the purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels.

      The shards also date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.,

      Alexandre said.

      The only other artefacts that archaeologists have found in the Nazareth area from the time of Jesus are ancient burial caves outside the hamlet,

      providing a rough idea of the village’s population at the time, Alexandre said.

      Work is now taking place to clear newer ruins built above the dwelling, which will be preserved.

      The dwelling will become a part of a new international Christian centre being constructed close to the site and funded by a French Roman Catholic group, said an official from the Chemin Neuf Community overseeing construction.

      Alexandre said limited space and population density in Nazareth means it is unlikely that archaeologists can carry out any further excavations in the

      area, leaving this dwelling to tell the story of what Jesus’ boyhood home may have looked like.

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