Category Archives: Salm: Myth of Nazareth


2016-10-27

Dear Professor Bart Ehrman, Please explain, if you will…..

by Neil Godfrey

Dear Professor,

You wrote on October 21 2016 in your post Mythicists: Did Nazareth Exist? for your paying readers the following:

Mythicists often argue – one of them named Rene Salm has written an entire book arguing – that Nazareth did not exist.  And if no Nazareth, then no Jesus of Nazareth.

I have always found this argument to be not only wrong but flat-out silly.  I probably won’t use the word “silly” in the debate, since I don’t want to insult anyone, but really….

So the reason the argument on this point by the Mythicists is wrong is that it’s been proven to be wrong.  The reason it is silly is this.

Suppose we grant the point that Nazareth didn’t exist (even though it did).  How would that have any bearing on the question of whether the man Jesus was an actual historical being?  Saying that Jesus did not exist because he could not have been born in Nazareth is like saying Barack Obama does not exist because he could not have been born in America.

I find arguing with Mythicists, for the most part, terribly frustrating.   Possibly you can see why. (my emphasis)

I am mystified. Though you “have always found this argument to be . . . flat-out silly” (I agree it is silly) I have never heard René Salm (or any mythicist) make that argument.

In fact Rene Salm nowhere argues that because Nazareth did not exist therefore Jesus did not exist, neither in The Myth of Nazareth (that you read prior to writing Did Jesus Exist?) nor in Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth (in which he responded to your book DJE? and that you assured us you read “twice”).

mon_coverWhat Salm did write in The Myth of Nazareth in relation to the significance of Nazareth not existing in the early first century was the following:

If Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus, then questions quickly arise: Why did the evangelists place him there? Was there something regarding his real provenance that they found objectionable? What was that provenance? If Nazareth was a persistent and recurrent invention in the gospels, then we leave the realm of error and enter the realm of elaborate fiction. This recognition would require a fundamental reappraisal of the Jesus story, and a paradigm shift in Christianity. . . . .

The implication is . . . irrefutable: if there was no Nazareth before his birth, then Jesus did not come from Nazareth. . . . .

It is not my intention here to question the conventional understanding of Christian origins, that a man by the name of Jesus . . . lived in Palestine in the early first century CE and inspired the religion we now call Christianity. . . . I restrict consideration to the archaeology of Nazareth, with the purpose of showing that the provenance of Jesus, as set forth in the gospels, is not historical.

He — whoever he was (or wasn’t) — certainly was not Jesus “of Nazareth” in Lower Galilee. . . . It remains to be determined why the evangelists found it necessary to invent such a Jesus.

(MoN, pp. xii-xiii, 148, 157-8, 308, my emphasis)

Would you like to explain what has prompted you to now impute such a silly argument to René Salm in particular and inform us who the mythicists are who have published that argument?

Fabricated self contradiction

Dear Professor, you further write to your paying readers:

A Mythicist like Salm argues that yes, it did exist in different periods of history (still exists today as a city, as those of you who have visited Israel know).  But it was uninhabited in Jesus’ day.

You may notice that the argument that it existed but was uninhabited contradicts the argument that it never existed; some of the mythicists are not terrifically consistent in their logic, from one argument to the next.

zindlerAfter you made a similar false charge in DJE? Salm corrected you on this point on page 341 of Bart Ehrman and the Quest of the Historical Jesus of Nazareth. In the Q&A at the end of the Milwaukee Mythicist sponsored debate with Dr Price you assured us all that you had read that book “twice”. So the question arises: Since Salm has made it consistently clear that it is the site, not the town or village, that was uninhabited in Jesus’ day, why you continue to repeat this disinformation.

You have twice read Salm’s explanation:

Secondly, I don’t claim that “the town came to be reinhabited” but that the site came to be reinhabited. It may seem like a minor detail, but the first chapter of my book shows that a settlement indeed existed in the basin in the Bronze and Iron Ages. It was not called “Nazareth” but “Japhia” [MON 53–55]. Again, one wonders if Ehrman paid attention to the book.

Plugging one’s ears . . .

Bart (if I may), you further wrote:

Salm also, I should note, argues that the ancient place of the city could not have been on the hillside where it has traditionally been located but two kilometers away in the valley; he also points out that archaeologists have never dug in this alternative site. But then he argues that therefore it never existed there. Well, if the site hasn’t been excavated, how could there be “evidence” that it never existed?

This representation of Salm’s argument is doubly mystifying because since the publication of DJE? you have been reminded twice that you asked this question of René Salm while researching for DJE? and Salm made the answer clear to you back then, five years ago, as we read in BEQHJN on pages 363-364: read more »


2012-12-29

More Nazareth Nonsense from Tim O’Neill

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2012-12-29 at 8.20.32 AM

What Tim O’Neill has done in his attacks on René Salm earlier this year over his claims that there was no village of Nazareth at the time of Jesus is defend the very worst practices found among the most culpable of researchers. He is defending the right of academics to make pronouncements of breakthroughs and new discoveries and then say, “Nope, you can’t examine all the details of the data for yourself. I’m a professional! How dare you question my judgements!” And just to be sure you get the point, the same researcher calls upon an “independent” peer to back him up in his assertions of breakthroughs and new discoveries: but nope, we can’t give you all the detail of the data that you’d like. And let no-one mention that both the researcher AND his “independent” peer are committed to stamping out your doubt — that these new discoveries are true. That’s never spoken out loud. Are you some anti-religious bigot to think this might matter?

The Background

First, the background. 2007 saw the publication of “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report” (the Nazareth Village Farm report) in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (BAIAS). The following year, the same peer-reviewed journal published René Salm’s criticism of that report (“Response”), along with a defence of it by two of the report’s authors (“A Reply to Salm”), another defence by the director of a related project, Ken Dark (“Nazareth Village Farm: A Reply to Salm”), and finally a 23 page “Amendment” by Y. Rapuano correcting some of the deficiencies Salm had pointed out in the original report. The same 2008 issue of BAIAS also contained a scathing review by Dark on Salm’s book, The Myth of Nazareth. Salm responded to that review on his website (http://www.nazarethmyth.info/bibl.html).

René Salm’s book, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus, surveys earlier reports that have been produced on the archaeology of Nazareth. Salm itemizes the history of archaeological finds at Nazareth and compares these with claims that go beyond that evidence by researchers who have a demonstrable religious bias.

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)

That leads to one little detail that Tim O’Neill happens to overlook in his attack on Salm. The Nazareth Village Farm report was the work of three persons. Only one of them, Rapuano, is a trained archaeologist who, however, customarily works in Judea far to the south. It is Rapuano who dated the pottery at the NVF and who, Salm shows, wrongly uses early Judean parallels (e.g. from Jericho and Gezer) to date the Galilean pottery at Nazareth, thus producing false early datings. Another of the NVF report authors has extensive field experience but is untrained, and all three are or have been closely connected with the religious institutions dedicated to discovering and restoring — for public “educational” purposes — the town of Jesus. The religious bias of the funding body and persons behind the report should not be overlooked. The Nazareth Village Farm report begins by acknowledging the religious and tourist motivation of its authors:

For nearly two decades, the University of the Holy Land (UHL) and its subsidiary, the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC), has laboured to lay the academic foundation for the construction of a first-century Galilean village or town based upon archaeology and early Jewish and Christian sources. It was hoped that such a ‘model village’ would provide a ‘time capsule’ into which the contemporary visitor might step to encounter more effectively the rural setting of Galilean Judaism and the birth-place of early Christianity. At Nazareth Village this educational vision is currently being realized (for a popular publication on the Nazareth Village Farm project, see Kauffmann 2005).

Understand exactly what the University of the Holy Land (UHL) and the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC) are: See

  • UHLThe University of the Holy Land website (its mission is to produce “communicators of the scriptures” and “pastors”; “the land of the Bible is [its] classroom”; its total faculty numbers nine persons)
  • The UHL began as the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC) but the CSEC has since become a subsidiary of the UHL. Both are under the direction of Stephen Pfann. The CSEC is dedicated to establishing in beside the site of the archaeological dig “a ‘model village’ [to] provide a sort of time capsule into which the contemporary visitor might step to encounter more effectively the message of Jesus in its original setting.”

It is not an insignificant detail that all those involved in the archaeological dig at the Nazareth farm, the authors of the report, and the institutions they represent, are dedicated to discovering (and restoring a replica of) the Nazareth of the Gospels as a religious enterprise. The archaeologist at the centre of Salm’s criticisms is Jehudah Rapuano. One can glean an insight into his religious interest in the Nazareth site from online scribblings from years back, from his choice to do his Masters degree at the University of the Holy Land, his association with Zion Public Radio (“Israel Talks, We Listen”), and his belief that there is even literary evidence that Nazareth was a settled village in the time of Jesus (presumably the Gospels are his authority) (see his and Pfann’s reply to Salm in the BAIAS).

And this is the trained archaeologist the Israel Antiquities Authority licenses to undertake a dig at Nazareth — a dig which the report itself said had a religious and tourist motivation. And this is the author whom Tim O’Neill says we are lunatics not to trust when he pronounces his views on the evidence for Nazareth.

This post

This post goes through O’Neill’s key criticisms and concludes with a demonstration that he has put himself squarely in the anti-intellectual, we-must-always-defer-to-the-authoritative-pronouncements-of-scholars-and-never-be-so-impertinent-as-to-question-them corner of the fight.

One theologian (another who regularly calls upon the less learned to lay aside their questions and simply defer to the judgments of scholars) has said he finds Tim O’Neill’s personal denigration of René Salm and criticism of his supposed arguments about Nazareth “very helpful”. Tim O’Neill himself expresses satisfaction with his post:

I put this together in a thread on the James Randi forum where some Mythers tried the “Nazareth never existed” tack. After this post, they totally abandoned that line of argument.

Tim O’Neill does have that affect on some people attempting to engage in a serious intellectual discussion. Anyone interested in discussing the facts and reasons in a civil manner and avoiding ad hominem soon learns to ignore his blustering online persona. His language and tone are further evidence of his anti-intellectualism and bullying demands to have others submit to his own arguments (or he’ll call you bad names).

(Tim O’Neill is always welcome to reply to this or any other post on this blog, by the way, but only if he abides by the blog’s comment policy and moderation rules. But of course, if he does that, he will lose the force of his primary weapons: bluster and insult. I think he’d lose interest.)

O’Neill has the ability and patience to dig out many sources but few of his readers would have the like patience or opportunity to actually test his claims by checking those sources for themselves. Some of those readers may find this post “very helpful”.

Falling over at the start

O’Neill begins: read more »


2012-12-07

Emperor Ehrman Walks Naked Through a Storyland Nazareth 4000 Years Old

by Neil Godfrey
The Emperor's New Clothes - (2) - procession

The Emperor’s New Clothes – (2) – procession (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Updated with mostly typo corrections, 6:30 am, 8th Dec. 2012.

Perhaps many readers of Bart Ehrman are impressed enough with his public reputation to be confident that when they read his book on mythicism, Did Jesus Exist? (DJE?), they are reading yet another fine, erudite, devastating critique by a scholar who knows what he is talking about.

A few who have also read René Salm’s book, The Myth of Nazareth (MoN), on the other hand, will shake their heads in disbelief that such a distinguished scholar is exposed as intellectually stark naked when he writes about that book. Ehrman, once again, demonstrates for any who are prepared to look that he clearly has not read the book he is reviewing. He even makes a complete fool of himself with simplistic retorts that only demonstrate his utter ignorance of what he describes as “the highly technical field of archaeology”. Ehrman exposes himself as a very shallow thinker when faced with serious challenges to a paradigm he had always, by his own admission, taken for granted.

Let’s start.

The point of it all

Ehrman curiously thinks that Salm is arguing that if Nazareth didn’t exist then there was no historical Jesus, either:

The logic of this argument . . . appears to be that if Christians made up Jesus’s home-town, they probably made him up as well. . . Salm sees this issue as highly significant and relevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus. (DJE? pp. 191, 193)

But Salm’s argument is at no point so black and white and, contrary to Ehrman’s innuendo, does not simplistically assume that Jesus did not exist if Nazareth did not exist.

If Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus, then questions quickly arise: Why did the evangelists place him there? Was there something regarding his real provenance that they found objectionable? What was that provenance? If Nazareth was a persistent and recurrent invention in the gospels, then we leave the realm of error and enter the realm of elaborate fiction. This recognition would require a fundamental reappraisal of the Jesus story, and a paradigm shift in Christianity. . . . .

The implication is . . . irrefutable: if there was no Nazareth before his birth, then Jesus did not come from Nazareth. . . . .

It is not my intention here to question the conventional understanding of Christian origins, that a man by the name of Jesus . . . lived in Palestine in the early first century CE and inspired the religion we now call Christianity. . . . I restrict consideration to the archaeology of Nazareth, with the purpose of showing that the provenance of Jesus, as set forth in the gospels, is not historical.

He — whoever he was (or wasn’t) — certainly was not Jesus “of Nazareth” in Lower Galilee. . . . It remains to be determined why the evangelists found it necessary to invent such a Jesus.

(MoN, pp. xii-xiii, 148, 157-8, 308)

Nothing new, but everything anew

Ehrman mischievously implies that Salm is claiming to present new discoveries, read more »


2012-09-24

Nazareth Boondoggle

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. read more »


2011-07-31

The origin and meaning of Nazarene/Natsarene and its relationship to “hidden gnosis”

by Neil Godfrey

Noah, the first Natsarene?

René Salm has shared his findings on the historical roots of the term we know as Nazarene. The pdf file, The Natsarene and hidden gnosis, is available on the mythicist resources webpage.

This is from the forward of the 20 page article:

This lengthy Addendum follows the third installment (Chapters 3–4) of my translation from the German of Ditlef Nielsen’s book, The Old Arabian Moon Religion and the Mosaic Tradition (1904). . . . [That book] explores a number of still novel themes which are foundational to my thought, such as: the influence of North Arabian religion on early Israelite origins, and in turn on Christianity; the gnostic nature of the religion of Midian, where Moses allegedly sojourned and learned from Jethro; and the gnostic character of the most ancient Israelite religion.

. . . . In the Addendum, I show that these terms [Nazarene and Nazoraean] reflect the Semitic n-ts-r (nun-tsade-resh), a root with specifically gnostic connotations going back to the Bronze Age. The dictionary tells us that Hebrew natsar means “watch, preserve, guard.” Its cognates in related Semitic languages also signify “secret knowledge” and “hidden things.” . . . .

. . . . . For perhaps the first time, we can now see that Natsarene (or a close cognate, with Semitic tsade) was widely used in early Middle Eastern religions to designate the person of advanced spirituality, a spirituality linked to hidden gnosis. Hence the title of the Addendum, “The Natsarene and hidden gnosis.” . . . . 

The table of contents: read more »


2011-05-07

The Nazareth Myth: Salm responds to McGrath and O’Neill

by Tim Widowfield

Well worth reading are Salm’s responses to the ignorance and misrepresentation peddled by McGrath and O’Neill about Salm’s work The Myth of Nazareth.

First he addresses the criticism that he is supposedly arguing there was a hiatus of settlement of a few decades at the time Jesus was supposed to have been there. Salm in fact presents a comprehensive history of the archaeological finds (as published by archaeologists) in the Nazareth region from the Stone, Chalcolithic, Early-Middle-Late Bronze and Iron ages and through to Byzantine times, cites the unequivocal archaeological evidence when settlememt ceased in the Nazareth region, and demonstrates the way this evidence came to be subtly re-written by Catholic apologists to give misleading impressions of continual settlement.

Further comments here, here and here.

(McGrath’s most intellectually incisive response at the end of it all is his usual: I’m not going to accept anything you say because if you disagree with my peers you are just like a creationist.)


2011-04-27

Interview with René Salm

by Neil Godfrey

René Salm discusses Nazareth and Nazarenes, James and Paul, Christianity and Buddhism, and Ventures Old and New

René Salm is best known for his publication The Myth of Nazareth: the Invented Town of Jesus that reviews the state of the archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the supposed time of Jesus. I first came to know of Salm on the original Crosstalk discussion list where I was impressed with the way he debated the question with scholars. In the following interview Salm refers to his Crosstalk discussions and interested readers will find one of his earliest posts to that list on the topic of Nazareth here. Robert M. Price has reviewed Salm’s book here, and I have discussed another review of it here.

But René Salm has much more to contribute to the discussion of Christian origins than his studies on the archaeology of Nazareth, and the following interview will introduce readers to his investigations into Christian origins, including pre-Christian movements, such as the Natsarenes/Nazarenes and gnosticism, and the specific roles of James (“the brother of the Lord”) and the apostle Paul.

Salm is working on a new book and has been building a new website (Mythicist Papers) on Christian origins, both discussed below.

For a broader view of his interests and achievements, including as a writer and musician, follow these links:

Short story by René Salm

René Salm’s music page

Buddhist and Christian parallels

And of course his NazarethMyth.info webpage. This page includes further biographical information with a “personal statement” by Salm.

The Interview

1. What led to your interest in Nazareth archaeology?

René Salm: My interest in Jesus mythicism. As recently as ten years ago I was not a ‘mythicist’ and, in fact, would have considered the mythicist theory far too fringy to be taken seriously. On the other hand, I had not seriously considered it—because I hadn’t needed to. But, as my researches into Christianity deepened, I realized that Jesus’ very existence was much more open to doubt than I had previously imagined. This led to my Nazareth work. In the late 1990s I came across a couple of passages in obscure works which doubted the existence of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.

Online (in the original Crosstalk forum) this doubt met very strident and universal opposition. read more »


2010-08-15

The Real Jesus Challenge, Bart Erhman, and Nazareth

by Neil Godfrey

The Real Jesus Challenge
“I think it is historically virtually certain that Jesus existed.”—Bart D. Ehrman

See René Salm’s Reply to Bart Erhman on Nazareth and The Real Jesus Challenge Award. This is an excerpt from the American Freethought podcast with Bart Ehrman, hosted by John C. Snider. Professor Ehrman’s remarks have led to the institution of the Real Jesus Challenge (also known as the 2011 Historicist Prize) sponsored by the Mythicists’ Forum.

On the same page I found these interesting remarks on René Salms book on the archaeology of Nazareth — The Myth of Nazareth:

Prof. Thomas Thompson…

…René Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth has been waiting to be written for twenty years now and I am glad to see that someone has finally taken up the challenge.…—Thomas L. Thompson PhD, University of Copenhagen (Emeritus). Author, The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel; The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David, etc. read more »


2009-05-31

Reviewing a Scholarly Review of Rene Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth

by Neil Godfrey

Archaeologist Dr Ken Dark, in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society [BAIAS] (Vol. 26, 2008), wrote a 5 page review of René Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth: the Invented Town of Jesus (2008). I was led to this review after catching up with a discussion of Salm’s book on the Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board.

Declaring the vested interests

Ken Dark begins by laying out the bias:

Salm then argues that this, in turn, discredits the New Testament account of the childhood of Jesus Christ, an argument that must have made the book attractive to its publisher, the ‘American Atheist Press’.

This is a reasonable point. On the other hand, interestingly, the same issue of BAIAS published a response by Salm to its previous issue’s “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997-2002): Final Report” by Pfann, Voss and Rapuano. This survey began:

For nearly two decades, the University of the Holy Land (UHL) and its subsidiary, the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC), has laboured to lay the academic foundation for the construction of a first-century Galilean village or town based upon archaeology and early Jewish and Christian sources. It was hoped that such a ‘model village’ would provide a ‘time capsule’ into which the contemporary visitor might step to encounter more effectively the rural setting of Galilean Judaism and the birth-place of early Christianity. At Nazareth Village this educational vision is currently being realized . . . (2007, V0lume 25)

So it looks like the battle lines are drawn: an archaeological project funded by “Holy Land” and “Christianity” interests and aimed at promoting a 3-D time capsule for lay visitors versus a publisher with a vested interest in discrediting the same faith.

Other contributions and reactions

René Salm’s published response to this Final Report of the Nazareth Village Farm surveys and excavations provoked significant reactions in the same BAIAS, among them a 22 page “Amendment” to the original Final Report. Clearly it would be a mistake to dismiss the amateur Salm as a fringe crank. His responses in the academic discussion list, Crosstalk2, some years ago also introduced him as someone whose knowledge and understanding of the archaeological reports deserve serious attention and responses.

I won’t mention this, or that, nor will I address something else, and especially not X or Y

Ken Dark’s review amusingly — and tellingly — consumes quite some space delineating all the points it will “not” address. Among several other inadequacies and errors, Dark “will not draw attention to mistakes of referencing, measurement, language or citation . . .” etc. Having set out a detailed backdrop of an error-laden, incompetent work, without any supporting references (because these are not what he will address), Dark delivers a few direct kicks:

This review will not draw attention to . . . . language . . . , although it is worth noting that Salm affords no equivalent courtesy to other scholars (for example, criticizing Bagatti’s English grammar on p.113).

Ouch. Ken Dark has inexcusably omitted Salm’s own explanation for his comments on this one particular instance of a grammatical inconsistency in Bagatti. The grammatical inconsistency is raised by Salm as evidence, in this particular context, of a less than forthright report of the exact nature of the evidence in question. He is not interested in discussing grammar. Salm is alerting readers to evidence that Bagatti knew he was being less than fully candid with his report:

We note, first of all, the incorrect English grammar. The subject is plural and two examples are given, but the verb is singular. It is of no moment whether the faulty grammar is due to the author or to the translator, for — since Bagatti nowhere claims Hellenistic structural remains — we here have the remarkable admission that the entire Hellenistic period at Nazareth is represented by only two pieces: an oil lamp nozzle, and number “2 of Fig. 235.” . . . . . A third surprise meets us when we compare the two artefacts. Incredibly, they are two versions of one and the same piece — represented once in a photo (Fig. 233 #26), and once again in a sketch (Fig. 235 #2). This may explain the singular verb is in Bagatti’s statement: the two pieces are one.

Ken Dark’s complaint that Salm is less than gentlemanly for stooping to correcting Bagatti’s grammar is a disingenuous avoidance — even a misrepresentation — of Salm’s discussion of the nature of the evidence and how it is misleadingly reported.

Disingenuousness #2

Dark follows up with a knife thrust at Salm’s supposed hypocrisy for doubting another scholar’s published work on Nazareth because the scholar in question lacks specific qualifications and experience, while Salm himself is not an archaeologist. “I will not judge Salm’s work on the same basis . . .” Once again Dark is being disingenuous. Here is Salm’s actual discussion of this point:

Besides his writings on Sepphoris, Strange has authored scores of archaeological reference articles on many sites in Palestine . . . . He has published extensively on Nazareth . . . . Other than Bagatti, Strange is arguably the most cited scholar on Nazareth. This is curious for two reasons: (a) unlike Bagatti, Strange received no academic degree in the field of archaeology . . . . and (b) Strange himself has never dug at Nazareth, nor has he authored a report dealing with material remains from the Nazareth basin.

Though very influential, Strange’s contributions to the scholarly Nazareth literature are limited to brief summaries of the site’s archaeology and history in reference articles and books. He is not in a position to offer us any new material evidence, and thus his opinions lie entirely within the range of the secondary Nazareth literature. Nevertheless, his views have radically departed from those of Bagatti and the Church, and have moulded the prevailing attitude in non-Catholic circles regarding Nazareth. . . . . . .

[I]t is surprising that archaeologists of the stature of Meyers and Strange would take a position in diametric opposition to the conclusion of the principal archaeologist at Nazareth, B. Bagatti. A remarkable feature of the Nazareth literature is that it has accommodated strikingly varied positions, none of which are dependent upon the archaeological record at all.  (pp.137-140)

Dark suppresses the fact that René Salm is challenging Strange, and the surprisingly widespread influence of Strange’s interpretations, on grounds that his views stand in contradiction to the “material evidence” reported by the “principal archaeologist at Nazareth”.

Such is the disingenuity with which Ken Dark begins his review.

So by way of introduction, Dark misrepresents Salm for supposedly focussing on Bagatti’s grammar and supposedly complaining of Strange’s inability to offer new material evidence. As the quotations from Salm, above, demonstrate, Salm is actually addressing the lack of forthrightness with which the actual evidence is reported (not grammar per se, contra Dark), and the widespread acceptance of opinion and interpretation in place of material evidence as reported by “the principal archaeologist” (not Strange’s reliance on secondary literature per se, contra Dark).

1. Is it logically possible to show Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus?

This is the first of five themes of Salm’s The Myth of Nazareth that Ken Dark addresses. Dark quite logically and correctly points out that “it is not possible to show archaeologically on the basis of the available data that Nazareth did not exist in the Second Temple period (or at any other period), because the focus of activity at any period may be outside the — still few — excavated and surveyed areas.”

Dark is quite correct logically when he elaborates the above by pointing out that hypothetically archaeologists could all be digging at the wrong places entirely for the New Testament Nazareth.

It matters not how weak (or strong) the archaeological evidence is, one can always hypothesize that it is in the wrong place. True, true. So let’s not be so Bernard Woolley-like pedantic and instead let’s limit our discussion to the evidence at sites as they are published as supports of the New Testament Nazareth. Which, of course, is what we are all doing.

2. Hydrology and Topography

Dark faults Salm for apparently addressing only a single natural water source (St Mary’s Well) in his description of the area. Others to which Dark alludes apparently date from the fourth century and later Byzantine times (according to Dark’s footnote). Fair enough. Will keep this in mind when I have another look at Salm’s book. The point does not swing the argument either way over the existence of Nazareth in the early first century c.e., however.

As for topography, Dark does fault Salm’s generalization that “hill-slope locations preclude Roman period Jewish settlement”. The idea of a hill-slope settlement is important in order to match Luke’s account of the Nazareth villagers taking Jesus to a cliff top in order to toss him down to his death. Dark notes that hill-side settlements are known (elsewhere) in Galilee, and so are not theoretically impossible at the time of Jesus in the locale of Nazareth:

Structures on terraces and rock-cut hill-slope structures — recently discussed as a type of construction by Richardson — have been published from excavated Roman period Jewish settlements elsewhere in the Galilee . . . . Richardson’s book [2004] . . . might also have appeared too late for inclusion [in Salm’s bibliography].

The hillslopes in question are, according to Salm’s description, and not denied by Dark, “rocky, steep, and cavernous” and dotted with tombs, although the tombs apparently do not date prior to 50 c.e.

In contrast to the hillsides, the valley floor offers several advantages for the construction of dwellings: it is relatively flat, it is less rocky and has greater depth of soil, and it is not encumbered with caves, hollows, and pits. (Myth of Nazareth, p.220)

Against this, conformity to Luke’s account of the attempt to push Jesus off a cliff means that a settlement must be found in the adjacent hillsides.

Ken Dark’s critique would have had more punch had he addressed this point of Salm’s (the prima facie unlikeliness of a hillslope settlement in this particular place), and even moreso had he pointed to evidence for a pre-Christian settlement among the hillsides in question. Certainly the fact that the hillside tombs date from the latter part of the first century c.e. does not preclude the possibility of an earlier settlement beneath them. The evidence is still to be uncovered.

3. Dating the archaeological material — and dating publications

Ken Dark notes problems with Salm’s dating of the kokhim tombs, which, he writes, is “central to his thesis”:

the dating of these would have been more credible if he employed the dated typology in the now-standard work on Second Temple burial, Rachel Hachlili’s excellent 2005 book Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period. This renders his chronology for tomb construction invalid, as it is based on interim, popular or outdated works, and leads him to ignore typological evidence for Hachlili’s Type 1 Second Temple period tombs in Nazareth.

Is it an over-reaction to see this criticism (failure to refer to a 2005 publication) as a little breathtaking when only a page earlier Dark had observed that a 2004 publication was probably too early to be referenced in Salm’s book? Are all scholarly reported dates prior to 2005 really rendered “invalid” by this 2005 publication?

Dark’s critique would, of course, be even more pertinent were it addressing evidence for village life, not death and burials.

Dark’s point that later tombs do not logically deny the possibility of evidence for village life existing below them in earlier strata is valid, nonetheless. Presumably, then, the implication is that the village Jesus knew would have been overlaid and/or dug up and used for tombs within some decades of the life of Jesus — although this implication is not explicitly raised, naturally enough.

4. Site of the Church of the Annunciation on tombs?

The suggestion [by Salm] that there were Roman period tombs . . . on the site of the present Church of the Annunciation is interesting, but the evidence is inconclusive.

Dark critiques aspects of Salm’s arguments for the church being built on what was primarily a tomb site, and that these preceded the agricultural activity at the site.

This is a point I’m prepared to continue to watch as others more knowledgeable debate. I am not clear on the centrality of this point, however, to the core of Salm’s case.

5. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Ken Dark echoes a recent U.S. Secretary of “Defense” (sic):

Salm points to what he considers a lack of certain Late Hellenistic pottery from Nazareth . . . Before one can establish its absence from the record (and that is not, of course, the same as absence from the settlement) then one must set out what would, identifiably, constitute the presence of Late Hellenistic ceramics there.

What Dark means here is that sometimes a Jewish community chose not to use ceramics of a non-Jewish provenance.

These communities, therefore, eschewed the very wares, for example Eastern Terra Sigillata (‘ETS’), that may be most precisely dated or are most widely distributed elsewhere, such as Galilean Coarse Ware.

This is interesting, but Dark still frustratingly fails to address Salm’s key point here, the absence of evidence.

Few twenty-first-century archaeologists would credit Salm’s assertion that ‘two- and three-inch fragments of pottery vessels are a precarious basis indeed for fixing the type and date of an artefact’ (p.125).

Again, while Dark’s quotation draws attention to Salm’s amateur status, it simultaneously obscures from view the context and point Salm is making on page 125:

Because there is a non-correspondence between the diagrams and the descriptions [or Bagatti], however, we are in an impossible position.

Dark sidesteps the problem Salm is raising and that arises because the pottery shards are so fragmentary and few, and that they do not correspond to their verbal descriptions by Bagatti. How can we determine their real nature from such contradictory and scanty evidence alone?

Conclusion

I would have had more confidence in Dark’s portrayal of Salm as an ill-informed and illogical crank had he addressed in his review the core of Salm’s arguments.

I recommend reading Salm’s book with Dark’s review in hand for corrections and evaluations of various claims in The Myth of Nazareth, and to assess how at least one professional archaeologist responds to (or avoids) its central case.

I originally read René Salm’s dialogue with scholars, including archaeologists, on Crosstalk2 and nothing in Ken Dark’s review has persuaded me to dismiss out of hand Salm’s critiques of Nazareth archaeology. I remain open to all and any scholarly reports and discussions about the archaeological study of Nazareth. One summary of one set of these discussions is still available at message 13031.

As for the relevance of the study, I cannot go so far as to see the existence or non-existence of Nazareth in the early first century c.e. being central to “the survival of Christianity”. Astronomical and biological sciences have not undermined the faith. Archaeology won’t either. But if it can be established that Nazareth was not settled as a village until after the fall of Jerusalem, then there would be implications for dating the gospels.


2009-04-24

What it really means to be human . . . the challenge before us all

by Neil Godfrey

Having quoted a passage I could relate strongly to from René Salm’s (The Myth of Nazareth) introduction, I have to follow up with his even better concluding paragraph:

When someone removes the idols from the temple, deep-seated resentment is likely to ensue. After all, mythology serves a purpose, and the Christian myth fabricated in late antiquity answers to basic human needs: the need to be watched over, protected, saved, loved — even the need to be immortal. The Christian faith, in its Pauline guise, has grown because ordinary people have sensed a profound affinity for its myths and have toiled untiringly, though misguidedly, on their behalf. It is to be hoped, however, that the human species is capable of taking thought, of looking squarely at the way things are, of removing myths and delusion, and of using the powers of reason that separate humanity from bestiality. In short, it is to be hoped that we are capable of living in a world which is not make-believe. That is what it really means to be human, and that is the challenge before us all. (p.308)

This reminds me of a lunch-time discussion with a work colleague. She told me her faith, and I reciprocated that I had no “faith” in that sense, but had come to prefer honesty to happiness, and that if being happy meant believing in a delusion then I would rather be honest. I prefer the pain of the honesty of facing things as they are, with all their unpredictability and unfairness, than the comfort of a make-believe.

She replied: That takes a very strong person.

I wish I had replied: No, it is in one’s genes. It is simply having the courage to accept one’s humanity. To be honest is all it takes.

But she was a work colleague and friend and all I felt I should say was something like: We are all where we are at, and that’s that. (Dr Seuss?)

Well, I actually said a bit of both.


2009-04-11

The Nazareth myth

by Neil Godfrey

I’ve just discovered Rene Salm now has a a page introducing his argument for the archaeological evidence (or lack of it) for the existence of Nazareth as a village at the time of the early first century c.e. (Am I the last to know about this?)

www.nazarethmyth.info

.Another page of his addresses the establishment arguments against his case.

An Essential Nazareth Bibliography

For those who like James Randi, there is also a Youtube endorsement by Randi.

I recall reading lengthy exchanges of a wide cross-section of biblical scholars with Rene Salm on Crosswalk (or Crosswalk2) some years ago and was a bit dismayed at the way the most pro-historical-Nazereth arguments were flimsy attempts to draw definitive, even dogmatic, facts from vague propositions and ‘minimalist’ evidence.

An interesting summary of exchanges seeking an explanation for the origin of the connection of Nazareth with Jesus can be found in a post (13031) on Crosstalk2 by Bob Schacht.