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No “house from the time of Jesus” has been found at Nazareth
On December 21, 2009, news regarding an excavation in Nazareth was released simultaneously to multiple press agencies around the globe. Many articles immediately touted discovery of house remains “from the time of Jesus,” a view allegedly expressed by the archaeologist herself. However, the brief official statement (recently taken offline) from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) does not support this thesis. The IAA release is the primary report and supersedes secondary sources such as articles in the press and interpretive remarks. This will continue until a scholarly report with independently verifiable itemizations, diagrams, and discussion appears in print.
The IAA report makes no mention of first-century remains, much less of evidence from the turn of the era (“time of Jesus”). Consistent with other excavations in Nazareth, structural remains found in this excavation date to “the Roman period,” which lasted into the fourth century CE. The only other dating divulged in the report is of structural remains from the Mamluk period. The alleged presence of a “small camouflaged grotto” could point to a hiding place at the time of the Second Jewish Revolt (132-135 CE), consistent with other material from Nazareth, not to the time of the First Revolt (c. 70 CE).
The excavation took place between Nov. 11 and Dec. 7, 2009, under the direction of IAA archaeologist Y. Alexandre. It took place in the so-called “venerated area” next to the Church of the Annunciation, located on the Nazareth hillside. At this time, the official release from the IAA is the primary report and ultimate source of information on this excavation. As is normal, statements going beyond it must be supported by the presentation of verifiable evidence, and statements contradicting it must be viewed with skepticism.
Prominent American and Israeli archaeologists raise doubt about the alleged Jesus-era house in Nazareth
An American archaeologist rails against Yardenna Alexandre’s announcement:
...What I find most notable is that to date the excavators have yet to report even one shred of evidence that places this structure in the first century CE as opposed to the second century. People can “trust” all they wish, but it is precisely this type of trust that leads the gullible to pay no heed to the requirements of evidence. Instead, they buy into the spurious idea that the traces of farms, Roman bath houses, garrison works, vineyards, caravanseries, synagogues, etc., have been discovered from a turn of the era Nazareth. These edifices do not exist in the factual record, but they widely populate apologists’ fiction.
The same archaeologist writes:
…After reading the MFA [Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs] press release, which states that the ceramics found at the site were perhaps second century CE, I contacted a friend of mine who is a director at the Albright. He confirmed for me that the typology is first-second century CE, and presently the ceramic finds are so sparse and disjointed that it is still too early to rule out stratigraphic intrusion. So, judging from the finds themselves, the “Jesus era” is apparently first-second century CE or perhaps even later. Obviously, this dig adds little if anything to our previous body of knowledge at this time, as we already have scarce first-second century ceramic remains at Nazareth and an evidentiary profile that confirms occupation of the site in the second century CE.
It really looks like our Israeli and Franciscan friends are merely up to their old tricks. I find it highly revealing that an IAA [Israel Antiquities Authority] representative would state that we have a “few written sources that [let us] know” that “Nazareth was a small, Jewish village” in the “first century CE.” Anyone care to venture a guess as to what these written sources might be? Nazareth is a cash/political cow and professional/confessional bulwark that they will never allow to crumble, no matter what the evidence might be.
BTW, if anyone is interested in an excellent summary of the archaeological recoveries at Nazareth to date, I would highly recommend Rene Salm’s book on the subject… [I]t provides an excellent inventory and analysis of the evidence, a feat all the more remarkable when one considers that Salm is not a formal member of our profession.
[Dec. 30, 2009. Emphasis added and name withheld.]
The Grand Opening of The Mary of Nazareth International Center took place on March 25, 2011. This imposing complex (see below) is located directly on the site of the so-called “house from the time of Jesus,” one discovered in Nazareth in late 2009. For the last year, the Roman Catholic Church has been publicizing this very small dig—one evidently unworthy of any scholarly report, for none has appeared.
I’ll first talk a little about the excavation before discussing the new edifice. Neither the archeologist (Y. Alexandre) nor anyone else has published any verification of material findings or claims. That is one major problem with the excavation. The closest we have had to an objective report was a (very) brief IAA statement which made no mention at all of finds from the time of Jesus. That report has now been taken off the web, so the world must now rely entirely upon the claims of the Church regarding the primary evidence: “the house dates with certainty from the time of Christ… pottery and ceramics are from the Hellenistic Period.” All this is typical. For two thousand years the faithful have similarly relied exclusively on ‘in-house’ reports regarding their founder Jesus of Nazareth—namely, the Gospels.
A second problem with the excavation is that the original house (whatever it’s actual date) was quickly covered over—by construction of The Mary of Nazareth International Center, thus preventing any future investigation of the underlying evidence. So, we have (1) no verification in the published literature, and (2) not even the possibility of verification due to subsequent construction at the site. No one can ever really know what was there. The reader should remain skeptical of all claims made on the Internet, in the popular literature, and even in scholarly articles and books (that will probably appear) which discuss this excavation, for they are all based on the same two problems noted above: the lack of verification, and the lack of possible verification now and in the future.
There is, however, a statement in the Catholic literature which, I submit, should be taken seriously: “Up till then [that is, the recent ‘house’ discovery], there was no scientific evidence affirming the existence of a village of Nazareth of the epoch of Christ.” After a hundred years of digging, this belated admission is entirely correct, besides being an oblique nod to my work. Coming from the Catholic Church, it is categorical assurance (were any still required) that the last century of excavation in Nazareth has utterly failed to vindicate the traditional story of Jesus.
Now, to The Mary of Nazareth International Center. The humble Mary, Mother of God, must be proud as she looks down from her heavenly throne on the spanking new edifice which, curiously, marks not her home but that of an anonymous next door neighbor. You see, Mary herself lived across the street at the present Church of the Annunciation. Who her (now-exalted) neighbor was nobody really knows …or seems to care. It couldn’t have been Joseph, for he evidently lived to the other side of Mary’s dwelling (the Church of St. Joseph is 100 m. north of the Church of the Annunciation). Anyway, an unknown Nazarene is now posthumously venerated by the Catholic Church at this new Center. The impressive edifice consists of several areas including: (1) a 120-seat theatre for rent, amenable to performances, conferences, and motion pictures. (2) A cafeteria-restaurant for “coffee break, an ice-cream, or even a full meal,” for hungry sinners requiring sustenance of a physical nature. (3) A Boutique where one can buy “olive tree wood, icons, cards, souvenirs, books, CDs and DVDs, ceramics, candles, confections, jams, olive oil, and spices”—evidently, all one could possibly need to get to heaven. (4) A botanical garden “with a breathtaking view.” (5) A chapel. (6) Offices of the Chemin Neuf association, which runs the Marian Center.
The Chemin Neuf (“New Path”) association seems to be the arm of the Roman Catholic Church which reaches out especially to young adults. Founded by a certain Père Laurent Fabre, it’s motto is “Let Mary be your guide through the Scriptures.” Chemin Neuf exists in many countries. There is a photo online of its local director in Nazareth, a certain Marc Hodara. Looking very much the Catholic foreman, he stands in front of the Marian construction site wearing dark glasses, a prominent crucifix, and a construction hat emblazoned with the letters “MH”.
Certainty at Nazareth?
The founder of the Mary of Nazareth Association is a certain Olivier Bonnassies. He has written (regarding the Nazareth house excavation): “One is able to establish the date of these stones—they are datable because of pottery and ceramics; and they date to before Christ, that is, before the Hellenistic period, which is to say before 67 B.C., the year of the conquest of Pompey, which made Palestine roman.” This confusing statement aptly summarizes the position of the Catholic Church regarding Nazareth. It contradicts itself and is quite unsubstantiated. In the first place, skeptics and scholars alike must consider the alleged ‘pottery and ceramics’ mythical for, as mentioned above, no report has appeared in the literature regarding them. In other words, they don’t exist in the scholarly record. Secondly, the time “before Christ” is not “the Hellenistic period” (which ended with Pompey’s conquest in 63, not 67 BCE). So, if material there were to date to the Hellenistic period (which I very much doubt), that would hardly substantiate a settlement at the turn of the era. Finally, the claim of evidence from “before the Hellenistic period” adds another layer of confusion and moves us back several centuries before ‘Christ.’ In sum, we don’t really know what Bonnassies is saying here.
Oh, well. I’m not sure he himself knows what he is saying.
Updated November 26, 2012.
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
“Herodian” and the misdating of Nazareth evidence
The Nazareth Village Farm Report
“Israel’s Evangelical Approach” and Nazareth
The Nazareth coin boondoggle
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