2012-09-24

Nazareth Boondoggle

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by Neil Godfrey

From René Salm, author of The Myth of Nazareth and the Nazareth Myth website . . . . .

Last week I received via snail mail (from a contact in Israel) a just-published book entitled “Nazareth: Archaeology, History and Cultural Heritage” (Nazareth Municipality, 2012). On glossy paper, with color photos, bound with thread, it’s a pretty slick production. . . In it is an article by Stephen Pfann (University of the Holy Land, the “brains” behind the Nazareth Village resort), and also an article by the now infamous Yardenna Alexandre. . .

I’m hereby alerting you that the entire book is benign except for one sentence by Alexandre. On p. 32 she announces:

In the excavations at Mary’s Well undertaken in 1997, Late Hellenistic pottery shards and ten coins of the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus (103-73 BCE) were found in the earth fills below the fountain house.

WTF!? But, in truth, I half-expected this. It’s  not entirely a surprising, for this coin allegation has been rumored for some time (see my latest Scandal Sheet, http://www.nazarethmyth.info/scandaleight.html). This, however, is a leap to another level–we’re no longer dealing with a rumor but a statement by the archaeologist who excavated at Mary’s Well.

This  represents a colossal challenge to myself as well as to mythicists. IMO, the tradition is now resorting to “planting” evidence. That is a  shocking but desperate development by any standard.

How does one counter the “planting” of evidence? Wish I knew. . . You will recall that I possess a signed Mary’s Well report (sent via email) from Alexandre dated 2006 in which she makes no mention whatsoever of Hasmonean or pre-Jesus evidence (coins or otherwise). She has evidently “changed her mind” and has now found all these shards and coins from the time of Janneus.

Wow. . . That’s all I can say. The tradition really has brass. Yet Alexandre still resists publishing this incredibly significant information so that others can verify her claims–and she’s had no less than fifteen years to do so! In addition, these new revelations of hers conflict stunningly with the evidentiary profile from the Nazareth basin as exhaustively revealed in my book. I showed (for the first time, incidentally) that “not a single post-Iron Age artefact, tomb or structure at Nazareth dates with certainty before 100 CE” (p. 205).

Tiresomely, Alexandre’s statement is accompanied by a footnote which informs us that a report is “forthcoming.” Right. . .

But such a report might now actually eventuate. I wouldn’t be surprised if a bona-fide scholarly itemization of coins in Nazareth from the time of Janneus appears, perhaps in the next twelve months. I, for one, would be totally unconvinced, for the trail of deception leading to this report is long, loud, and almost predictable. Three years ago I wrote in an article (see American Atheist magazine, Jan. 2009:12) where I noted that “A cache of Hellenistic and Early Roman coins is exactly the sort of evidence which the tradition needs in order to decide the matter in its favor.” James Randi also perceptively alluded to this in his YouTube video dealing with my Nazareth work.

I want you to know: I’ve hit the wall with this latest revelation. Absolutely hit the wall. I’m not going to stand for any more of this degenerating BS from the tradition regarding Nazareth. . . I’ve just approached American Atheists (an organization which I’ve belonged to for many years) with the proposition that they publicly adopt a stand in favor of the mythicist position. I’ve also recommended that they endorse the so-called “Zindler-Salm” hypothesis regarding Nazareth: that it did not yet exist at the turn of the era.

I should have some response from them in a month or so.

Your feedback on this matter is appreciated. Incidentally, you have my permission to mirror this post (or any parts of it) as far and wide as you see fit. . .

Best regards,

René

14 Comments

  • Niels Peter Lemche
    2012-09-24 20:12:14 UTC - 20:12 | Permalink

    years ago Mario Liverani had this about historical deductions in biblical studies:

    Abraham came with his family from Ur to Harran. There was a road between Ur and Harran. Because this road is a historical fact, and Abraham walked on this road: Abraham must also be a historical fact.

    Planting “proofs” in our field is so normal and it normally has to do with money, but faking in order to prove the truth of Christian myth, that is more special, although I am not so sure that it is something new. But how the religious mind works in some persons, that something I will never understand.

    NPL

  • 2012-09-25 02:22:24 UTC - 02:22 | Permalink

    Uh oh! How long before some historicist scholar unearths a lost letter of Paul that clearly speaks of the historical Gospel Jesus? (Or maybe even the sandal he left behind when ascending into heaven?)

    NPL is right, of course. Didn’t the crusaders unearth the spear that pierced Jesus’ side when they were bogged down outside Antioch in 1099? The army got so pumped up they went on to conquer the city and then lay waste to Jerusalem.

  • 2012-09-25 03:21:25 UTC - 03:21 | Permalink

    Finding old coins wouldn’t prove anything except that someone in the second century hid some old coins. I have a few old coins myself – pretty much worthless, since they’re not rare coins, but they’re over a hundred years old. Nothing unusual about someone having some old coins laying around.

  • brettongarcia
    2012-09-25 04:26:19 UTC - 04:26 | Permalink

    No need to panic; Corky is right.

    For that matter too, if early coins were found in an earth “fill,” that means they were found in earth that was moved from somewhere else. Which means that most likely, not being original strata, it has less archeological value, and cannot be used for dating the whole site. It could have been landfill added after 100 BC …. but using dirt from a more ancient site.

    Or heck: somebody could have dug a hole, and burried some old coins in it; in a coin “cache.” Not too uncommon in ancient times.

  • jeh704
    2012-09-25 05:16:49 UTC - 05:16 | Permalink

    When I was a kid in the ealry ’60’s, living in El Paso, TX., my sister and I unearthed coins while digging in the yard (playing of course). they were early 20th century British pennies and half pennies. I still have one of the half pennies. Does that mean that El Paso, TX. was a colony of the British? Maybe that Queen Vic herself resided there?

  • 2012-09-25 07:29:48 UTC - 07:29 | Permalink

    But such a report might now actually eventuate. I wouldn’t be surprised if a bona-fide scholarly itemization of coins in Nazareth from the time of Janneus appears, perhaps in the next twelve months. I, for one, would be totally unconvinced, for the trail of deception leading to this report is long, loud, and almost predictable.

    -Is Salm accusing an archaeologist of fraud? This is surely an extraordinary claim. Some extraordinary evidence for that claim is required. Is there anything that would not leave Salm “totally unconvinced” of the existence of first-century material at Nazareth?

    I’m not going to stand for any more of this degenerating BS from the tradition regarding Nazareth. . . I’ve just approached American Atheists (an organization which I’ve belonged to for many years) with the proposition that they publicly adopt a stand in favor of the mythicist position. I’ve also recommended that they endorse the so-called “Zindler-Salm” hypothesis regarding Nazareth: that it did not yet exist at the turn of the era.

    -An even worse idea than the division encouraged by the leaders of Atheism+. Atheism is merely lack of belief in gods. Promoting a position on Jesus and Nazareth accepted by barely anybody in the scholarly community is not going to get either American Atheists or the atheist movement anywhere, as this will make American Atheists a laughingstock among the scholarly world and re-enforce any existing popularly perceived identification of atheism with Jesus ahistoricism.

    • 2012-09-25 07:39:18 UTC - 07:39 | Permalink

      Yardenna Alexandre does have form: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/that-jesus-era-house-in-nazareth-discovery/

      The evidence is indeed extraordinary, I think.

      • 2013-08-14 01:28:40 UTC - 01:28 | Permalink

        Hm. Checking whom I’m following on Academia.edu yielded this paper – http://www.academia.edu/3988852/The_Quest_for_the_Historical_Nazareth , which mentions more specific coin claims. This paper cites “Mary’s Well, Nazareth. The Late Hellenistic to the Ottoman Periods” for the coin claims. Its full title be found here – http://israelexplorationsociety.huji.ac.il/IAA.htm and can be ordered here – http://www.antiquities.org.il/shop_eng.asp?cat_id=8
        The volume is discussed briefly here – http://jameshannam.proboards.com/thread/1143?page=6

        Spin is one thing; fabrication of evidence is in a whole different circle of hell. So, yes, an allegation of fraud is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence.

        • 2013-08-14 02:10:16 UTC - 02:10 | Permalink

          Greg Jenks relies upon Ken Dark’s reports for his Nazareth argument. Rene Salm has questioned Dark’s methods: http://vridar.org/2012/12/29/more-nazareth-nonsense-from-tim-oneill/

          A pattern is developing among archaeologists of applying Judean datings to Galilean artifacts. Both Rapuano and Dark do this at critical junctures. Using southern typologies moves the terminus post quem back generations or even centuries. It took over two centuries for the kokh tomb to get from Judea to Galilee! (Salm, drawing on the scholarship of Kuhnen 254-55)

          I have yet to see any academic response to this specific criticism and I understand Salm is preparing a lengthier publication on Ken Dark’s methodology and reports.

          As for academic/research fraud, it is easy to be too rosy-eyed about the scene. If not deliberate “fraud”, certainly pressure to produce results that are going to attract citations and readership can lead to sloppy and unchecked publications — with criticisms of the methodologies or findings being left out of the public view. It does happen. See, for example, how even the academic model of publishing in ranked journals encourages bad practices (and even unethical) publications: http://www.frontiersin.org/Human_Neuroscience/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291/full

          It is naive to assume objective honesty as a given in any ideological field, and Nazareth archaeology is clearly an ideological issue. Trust always needs to be demonstrated, not taken or given as a right.

          • 2013-08-14 02:44:25 UTC - 02:44 | Permalink

            What would demonstrate the coin claims to be true?

            • Neil Godfrey
              2013-08-14 21:16:29 UTC - 21:16 | Permalink

              Time and testing, as with most discoveries like this. It is in areas like this where the “criterion of coherence” has validity. If a new claim of a new discovery does not cohere with currently known evidence then the most sensible thing to do is to get as many heads from different points of as possible to examine and test the evidence. This is especially so if the one making the claim appears to have a professional conflict of interest. We know professional egos are also on the line. That’s not an attack on the professionals involved. It’s simply an honest consideration of the way the real world works and has long been demonstrated to work. The first question one would normally ask is where the coins were found — in what situation, exactly. In what building or pottery were they? What does the science tell us about that specific repository of the coins?

              I’ve been without answers on so many things relating to the Bible I can wait a little longer until we see these coins come under the scrutiny of scholarly inputs. I feel uncomfortable with anyone who “knows” Nazareth was an inhabited village on the basis of invalid reasons being so quick to insist this find is the “proof” we should all accept to know they were right all along.

  • Encolpius
    2012-09-25 15:34:17 UTC - 15:34 | Permalink

    It strikes me as somewhat suspicious that these alleged coins just happen to be of Janneus, given that the Toldoth Yeshu anachronistically places Jesus’ life during the reign of Janneus.

  • Richard
    2012-09-26 09:59:13 UTC - 09:59 | Permalink

    Whether the evidence is real or fake, it is not really “a colossal challenge … to mythicists”. The dates of habitation at Nazareth are not a critical matter for deciding between a historical Jesus and a mythical Christ. An invented person could be fictionally associated to a real place, and a real person could be anachronistically associated to place that did not exist in his time. It doesn’t prove the matter one way or another.

  • 2012-10-06 12:03:11 UTC - 12:03 | Permalink

    Corky IS right! If these coins from Alexander Jannaeus’ time were found in the same strata as, say, Hadrian’s or even Commodus’ time, it is more than likely that a person from the second century had deposited them there… probably as a votive for the dead.

    Remember the brouhaha about the single family house they dug up?

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