Order the book:
My reply to B. Ehrman’s
Favorite mythicist websites
[The following is a rough translation from the Internet of an article recently published in Eleutheros Typos, a leading weekly magazine in Greece. The article is for a general readership and, for the record, I do not endorse every assertion in it.—R.S.]
Seeking the Historical Nazareth
“Jesus of Nazareth” is the central figure of Christianity described in the Gospels. How would you react, however, if you learned that the city of Nazareth is not mentioned in any of the texts of the period and that its existence in the time of Jesus’ activity was the invention of the first Christians to enhance the power of their Gospel narratives? Let’s consider this case in more detail…
By Minas Papageorgiou
One of the major issues resulting from the research of Mythicists on the historical Jesus is related directly to his hometown of Nazareth, which is nowadays one of the best known destinations of Christian pilgrims in Israel. Surprisingly, there are no strong arguments which prove that such a city actually existed in the years Jesus supposedly lived there and grew up.
Relying on findings which so far have come to light in the official reports, the researcher René Salm dedicated an entire book to the issue, entitled The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus (2008). He attempts to show that the place now called Nazareth was settled only after 70 AD, immediately after the end of the first Jewish War.
But let’s take things from the beginning. Seeking a historical Nazareth, the truth is that we don’t find any references whatsoever to such a town in the ancient sources. Not the Old Testament, nor the Hebrew Talmud, nor Paul, nor any ancient geographer make reference to a Nazareth in Galilee. Even the great Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), knows absolutely nothing about Nazareth, though his writings list 45 towns and villages in the vicinity. Nevertheless he has a long section on Japhia, which is situated only one mile from today’s Nazareth. Indeed, he even seems to have lived there for a while.
But the geographic location of Japhia was not constant. It appears to have moved from the area which today is Nazareth, where Japhia was situated during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Similar movement has been noted for several settlements of Judea referred to in the Old Testament.
According to available archaeological evidence—researched mostly by Catholic archaeologists—Nazareth was inhabited from 2000 BC until 730 BC, when the Assyrians invaded Israel and destroyed many cities. Thus, by the end of the eighth pre-Christian century the area was abandoned, following which there is no evidence that indicates human presence. The depopulation of Galilee at that time is confirmed by the researches of Israeli archaeologist Zvi Gal. Nonetheless, the official position of the Church continues to be that the settlement today known as Nazareth has been continuously inhabited since 2000 BC…
A new chronology
The Jewish historian Josephus informs us that the town located at the “modern” Japhia was destroyed by the Romans in 67 AD. 15,000 people were killed and many women and children were captured and sold as slaves.
The survivors had to seek a place to bury their dead, and the ideal site was found in a well sheltered valley about a mile to the northeast. Over this anonymous necropolis the city called Nazareth was subsequently built following the Bar Kochba war in 135 AD—according to British historical researcher Kenneth Humphreys.
Oil lamps and archaeological research
What is the principal evidence which has deceived archaeologists into supposing that Nazareth existed in the time of Jesus? It consists of six oil lamps discovered in 1931 and characterized by the Catholic author, C. Kopp, as “Hellenistic,” a term referring to the period between 330 and 63 BC. In fact, the lamps are from the Middle and Late Roman periods, i.e. somewhere between 70 and 300 AD, according to the extensive 1969 study by the archaeologist [Bellarmino] Bagatti.
The Truth is that the first archaeological findings of the “new era” that have come to light begin only in the first post-Christian Century. They are a fairly large number of so-called ‘Herodian’ oil lamps. According to experts, these types of lamps borrowed their name from the Herodian dynasty yet continued to be produced in the Galilee until 150 AD. The question that now arises is: “How early are these lamps?” The answer came from archaeologist Nurit Feig, who in 1981 brought to light several such lamps—similar to those discovered earlier by Bagatti—in a cluster of graves 2.6 km east of the Church of the Annunciation. Using modern methods of dating, Feig came to the conclusion that construction of these “Herodian” type lamps should be dated between 50 and 150 AD.
If the city of Nazareth did not exist when the Gospels say Jesus lived, then why did the evangelists invent a mythical town for their hero? And, most importantly, why did they chose to call it so? Great interest in the whole issue attends this area of linguistic research, and modern Mythicists may be solving the “mystery of Nazareth.”
In the New Testament “Nazoraios” or “Nazarenos” occurs twelve times. Semantically, in Hebrew the term means “the anointed one” (the word Nazara had the meaning of “truth”) or “Essaio.” The Essenes were a Jewish eschatological sect of that period who, of course, had absolutely no connection with a place called Nazareth. But it seems that the creators of the gospel texts (who had direct contact with prior Judaic eschatological passages and who attempted to connect the prophecies of Jesus with persons of the Old Testament) did not understand these etymologies and gave the word Nazarene a purely local character. Thus, the subsequent “invention” of a city by the name of Nazareth could indicate how little was actually known about Jesus.
The paradox of the Church of the Annunciation
The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth was built in accordance with tradition to memorialize the appearance to Mary of the angel Gabriel, who predicted the birth of Jesus. This luxurious church was erected above the “Well of the Lady” which was discovered under mysterious circumstances by the eighty year-old Helen (mother of the emperor Constantine), later a Christian saint, during her visit to the region at the beginning of the fourth century AD.
However, the Church was erected at the very center of an earlier ancient Roman cemetery. Ironically, according to Jewish tradition contact with the dead was a source of ritual impurity and graves had to be dug outside the limits of any Jewish town or village. Thus the existence of even one burial within the boundaries of a Jewish settlement in the first century AD was virtually prohibited.
This fact seems to have been ignored by the Catholic archaeologists up until the ’50s. When the question “opened” for discussion, some of them argued that these undeniable burials held members of the family of Jesus or—according to the archaeologist Bagatti—that they were Crusader graves(!). These views were quickly refuted under the weight of findings such as those of Salm.
Note here that a similar curious story exists with the discovery of the “True Cross” (and again from Helena!), supposedly found under the Temple of Aphrodite three centuries after the events described in the Gospels. As is well known, Gentiles/Pagans did not build their temples and their sacred places upon locations previously used for torture.
Page uploaded: December 21, 2012
Archapostle of skepticism