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“Herodian” and the misdating of Nazareth evidence
The published Nazareth literature demonstrates a predictable trait found particularly among Catholic scholars, namely, both the forward– and backdating of evidence to the centuries immediately preceding the first Jewish Revolt (66–73 CE). My review has shown that the basin was not settled during eight centuries (c. 730 BCE to c. 70 CE), a period I term the Great Hiatus. The existence of this hiatus is carefully substantiated in my book, The Myth of Nazareth. Here I would like to simply note some of the more egregious attempts on the part of the tradition to “fill in” the hiatus in order to authenticate a settlement at Nazareth in the time of Jesus, as is required by scripture.
First of all, we can mention that as long ago as 1930, Catholic scholars themselves noted with alarm that “no trace of a Greek or Roman settlement” was found in the venerated area of Nazareth (that is, where the Church of the Annunciation and nearby structures now stand. See Myth pp. 65 ff.). From this time on, attempts are found in the literature to postdate Iron Age finds, as well as to backdate later Roman finds, in an effort to authenticate ‘:on paper’ what cannot be authenticated in the ground of Nazareth. These attempts are individually described in my study. Thus it is that chronologically mislabeling material is rife in the Nazareth literature, as I shall briefly describe now.
We have already encountered an example of postdating Iron Age material (Scandal Sheet 2), where Bagatti is capable of assigning the same artefact on one page of his Excavations in Nazareth to the Iron Age, and on another to “Hellenistic-Roman” times. It was demonstrated there that this was a ploy to falsely introduce the word “Hellenistic” again into his tome. Though postdating Iron Age material is indeed found (Kopp, Bagatti, Finegan), the more prevalent modus operandi is a wholesale backdating of Middle and Late Roman artefacts to “Early Roman” and even to “Hellenistic” times. The reasons are obvious: there is a great deal more later Roman evidence from the basin than there is Iron Age material. Also, Middle Roman evidence is only one century removed from the target period (the turn of the era), not 5–12 centuries as is the case with Iron Age artefacts.
A large part of this deceptive dynamic involves terminology. Thus, the word “Herodian” is misused by traditional archaeologists to denote bow-spouted oil lamps which, in fact, are found in the Galilee only after c. 25 CE (as explained at Myth pp. 167 ff.). They continued to be made and used in the Galilee until c. 150 CE. Thus, this type of lamp found in the Nazareth area (and called “Herodian”) considerably postdate the reign of Herod the Great. This problem alone is a major stumbling block for the cursory reader. It is no wonder that many archaeologists refuse to use the problematic phrase “Herodian oil lamps,” given the fact that these lamps in Galilee postdated the time of Herod the Great by several decades, and those at Nazareth may even have postdated the entire Herodian dynasty (whose last survivor died c. 100 CE).
Furthermore, “Herodian” has been applied to the kokh tomb, an important type of tomb found in the Holy Land as late as the fifth century CE! It is clear that labeling such tombs “Herodian” is extremely misleading, and tends to misdirect the unwary reader to the time of Christ. Invariably, however, we find that these tombs and oil lamps are termed “Herodian” by Bagatti, James Strange, and other Christian archaeologists.
The German scholar Hans Peter Kuhnen has shown that the kokh tomb (of which over twenty exist at Nazareth) first appeared in the Galilee only after c. 50 CE. This critical and much-overlooked fact is carefully noted in my book. It means that all the material found in kokh tombs, including Tombs 70–72 at Nazareth, as well as the Feig tombs (outside the Nazareth basin) dates after the middle of the first century CE. Whenever we encounter Nazareth evidence, we must immediately ask: Was this material found in a kokh tomb? If it was, then all that evidence must have been placed in situ after the time of Christ (perhaps long after). It cannot be used as pre-Jesus evidence. This simple maneuver alone removes 90% of the evidence alleged for the putative town of Nazareth at the turn of the era!
When we realize these two facts—(1) that the earliest bow-spouted oil lamps (“Herodian”) at Nazareth postdate c. 25 CE (they may be as late as c. 150 CE); and (2) that the kokh (“Herodian”) tombs postdate c. 50 CE (they were also used for many subsequent centuries)— then the case for Nazareth at the time of Jesus dissolves before our very eyes. Nazareth certainly came into being after the middle of the first century CE.
After all, there are no pre-kokh tombs in the Nazareth basin (unless we skip all the way back to the Iron Age). There are also no provable I BCE oil lamps, nor other I BCE pottery evidence. Of course, we have a few artefacts here and there which could date before the turn of the era. But the fact that they invariably come from kokh tombs removes them from consideration as pre-Jesus evidence. In any case, and in every case (I have examined and tabulated them), these few questionable artefacts have a lifespan of use which stretches well into Middle Roman times, thus making them eminently compatible with a beginning for Nazareth c. 70 CE.
For example, Nurit Feig notes one oil lamp which she terms “Hellenistic” (1990, Illus. 9:10), but in a footnote in her Hebrew article she then writes that “Lamps of this type are dated between the middle of the fourth century BC and the first century CE.” In this case she also interestingly draws comparison to a “lamp found at Shimron dated by Lapp from the first century CE.” The latter dating (known only to those who have read the Hebrew article together with its footnotes) is undoubtedly correct, for the Feig lamp was found in a kokh tomb which, as we have seen, existed in the Galilee only after the middle of I CE. This proves that the lamp was deposited in situ no earlier than the latter half of I CE, and possibly well into II CE.
The Feig tombs lie outside the Nazareth basin (they are 2.6 km east of the Ch. of the Annunciation, and one kilometer from the crest of the hill, that is, from the edge of the basin). These tombs may have been hewn by residents of a nearby community (such as Afula), and her article would be better titled “Burial Caves near Nazareth” rather than “Burial Caves in Nazareth.” Due to their removed location, the Feig tombs cannot be used as primary data for Nazareth, and hence I do not use them as such in my study. It is clear, in any case, that Feig uncovered nothing which contradicts a settlement at nearby Nazareth beginning after 70 CE, whether or not her tombs belonged to that settlement.
A remarkable conclusion of my research into Nazareth archaeology is that not a single artefact can with certainty be dated before 100 CE (unless, of course, one goes back to the Iron Period). Given the extant scholarly literature (which continues to defend the traditional history of Nazareth, quite to the exclusion of the evidence from the ground), this state of affairs is nothing less than shocking!
In the next Scandal Sheet, we shall look at further evidence of “backdating” Roman evidence to the time of Christ, including three jugs which Feig (under the influence of Catholic archaeologists) calls “from the Early Roman Period” (1990, fig. 9:1–3). To anticipate for a moment, it can be stated here that these jugs were also found in kokh tombs, thus clearly signaling a post-Jesus dating.
Updated June 30, 2014.
Coverups relating to Nazareth archaeology.
Hidden tombs under the house of Mary
(the Church of the Annunciation)
The shell game with Nazareth evidence
Alleged Hellenistic finds
The Nazareth Village Farm Report
A ‘House from the time of Jesus’?
“Israel’s Evangelical Approach” and Nazareth
The Nazareth coin boondoggle
The 1962 forgery of the “Caesarea inscription”
Nazareth archaeology leads to peer review breakdown
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