Category Archives: New Testament Archaeology


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 »


2016-02-22

Nazareth, General Overview of the Evidence

by Neil Godfrey

NazGate_coverNazarethGate by René Salm furnishes readers with far more than the published archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the supposed time of Jesus. In taking up the task of mastering the research literature on the archaeology of Nazareth Salm has found that archaeologists well-known for their proclamations of finds that are relevant to our understanding of Jesus have a track record of questionable methods and reliability. Hence the pun on the Watergate scandal in the title as well as the subtitle: quack archeology, holy hoaxes, and the invented town of Jesus. Salm has done the work to earn the right to make these judgements.

In my previous post I touched on Salm’s exposure of the “less than optimal” work of Ken Dark. (Compare also A Critique of Ken Dark’s Work at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent.) There is much more. But here I am pausing to set out for easy reference a very general summary of the archaeological evidence for Nazareth. That is, what follows is taken from the scholarly published literature as distinct from unverifiable popular press reports. The former are testable; the latter — even if quoting opinions of certain archaeologists — are not.

Salm is able to point to the apparent influence his earlier book, The Myth of Nazareth, has had on the chagrined re-writing of some of the claims made about the archaeological evidence. Hopefully this new work will help raise a more public awareness of the tendentiousness (even incompetence) of the claims of some of the archaeologists who press claims for evidence that Nazareth was the home of Jesus.

From the Bronze Age to Roman Times

read more »


2016-01-26

NazarethGate

by Neil Godfrey

NazGate_coverUntil some major new finds turn up at new digs I am convinced that there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of Nazareth at the time of Jesus. I have been slowly reading the first six chapters of René Salm’s new book, NazarethGate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus, stopping to consult wherever I can his footnotes, his citations of various archaeologists’ works, and at this point I have found his argument to be both

  • decisive with respect to the non-existence of Nazareth until well into the latter half of the first century CE
  • and absolutely devastating in his analysis of archaeologist Ken Dark’s published efforts to prove the presence of early first century domestic dwellings there.

Many people understandably find the minutiae of archaeological reports and debates to be tedious. They are not light reading, especially for anyone new to a particular study. Sensibly they are willing to defer to the specialists in the field. I am by no means a specialist but I can still read the literature — it is not as complex as advanced mathematics or quantum physics — and follow exchanges of views among archaeologists and readers of their reports. Reasonably intelligent lay readers are able to distinguish between those claims made with the support of clear evidence and others made on the basis of more speculative reconstructions. With some extra effort those same readers can also identify where a scholar has misunderstood or misused the works of others. Nor after a little immersion is it very difficult to detect tell-tale signs of ideological bias. (I elaborated on this point in Can a lay person reasonably evaluate a scholarly argument?)

I would love to see serious engagement with the detailed arguments in Salm’s book. I would love to see how specific questions and data are addressed. Maybe Salm’s conclusions can be overturned after all, or at least modified. We won’t know until we see further reports, discussions and responses.

Unfortunately it appears so far that scholars (and others) who ardently oppose the very idea that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus, and who loathe the mere mention of Salm’s books, are not very different from that handful of scholars (Maurice Casey, Bart Ehrman, James McGrath) who have attempted to publicly refute the writings of Jesus mythicists. Their reviews of Salm’s first book (The Myth of Nazareth) leave the knowledgeable reader with the strong suspicion that they read no more than a few snippets of the book and those with ideological hostility. The main arguments are ignored.

Though I acknowledged that the field of archaeology is complex enough for most people to defer to the specialists, some lay critics of Salm tend to rely upon authorities indiscriminately for the purpose of hectoring and belittling a lay scholar who has genuinely mastered the published literature in this particular niche topic. I would love to see people like Tim O’Neill engage seriously with both Salm’s arguments and his critiques of Dark’s published work.

René Salm’s method

Salm does not attempt to hide his outsider status. His account of how he undertook his study of the archaeology of Nazareth reminded me of some of my own experiences in embarking on serious biblical studies. Both of us found the now defunct online discussion group where scholars and lay persons met, CrossTalk, an informative starting point. Salm writes:

From the start I left no stone unturned, did not hurry, skip any steps, nor overlook even minor reports. Lacking a relevant Ph.D. I knew that thoroughness would be my only credential — one that would have to be earned. 

I began with the most accessible secondary material: encyclopedia articles and entries in secondary reference works. Scouring the footnotes and references, I slowly accumulated the obvious primary sources. Among these, the largest was B. Bagatti’s long tome Excavations in Nazareth (vol 1, 1969). . .  This book was the first (and often only) resource used by scholars who ventured to write about Nazareth’s archeology. . . 

[Salm then describes his heavy use of the University of Oregon library and special help of a librarian who was able to procure for him “obscure books and hard-to-find articles”.] He validated my status as a resident scholar so that the University of Oregon’s critical interlibrary loan facilities would be made available to me as if I were a member of the faculty. 

Accumulating the necessary research material also required trips to major libraries in Seattle and San Francisco. . . 

Collecting the requisite material was of course only the first step. Each account, description, or excavation report had to be examined in a particularly careful way. It was not good enough simply to read the report, or even to collate all of its itemized artifacts in columns by type, date, and so on — things I learned to do quite early on. Incidentally, such collation could be quite revealing. For example, on one page Bagatti dates a certain pottery shard to the Roman period and on another page to the Iron Age. Such errors are quickly detected through careful and complete bookkeeping

All this was tedious, but the problem which required the most time, by far, was that each and every claim had to be tested. For example, in one place Bagatti claims that a fragment of pottery is “Hellenistic” — but the parallels he gives, when checked, date to the Iron Age. In another place, his alleged “Hellenistic” parallels actually date to Roman times. Richmond, too, in 1931 claimed that six oil lamps found in a Nazareth tomb were “Hellenistic.” Subsequent redating by specialists . . . shows, however, that all the lamps in question are Roman. 

There was also the problem of mislabeling. I learned that one scholar (J. Strange) termed the kokh type of tomb “Herodian” . . . . However, the important work of H.-P. Kuhnen shows that kokh tombs were not hewn in the Galilee before c. 50 CE. (They continued in use to c. 500 CE.) Thus, the term “Herodian” for these tombs is clearly erroneous and very misleading. . . . 

In the above and other ways it soon became clear to me that serious flaws characterize the primary reports, not to mention the secondary reference articles based on them. . . . 

Though I could read, tabulate, compare, and analyze the reports which came under my gaze, I could not venture any opinion myself, for I am certainly not a professional archeologist nor have I excavated in Nazareth. As a result, any opinion which I produced that disagreed with Bagatti, Strange, Richmond, etc., was necessarily the verifiable opinion of a leading specialist in the relevant field or subfield. This gave my writing ‘teeth,’ but it also required an enormous amount of time. In the process I could not help but become somewhat educated in Galilean archeology. That education extended to language classes at the university which afforded me the ability to also read excavation reports in Hebrew. . . . (NazarethGate, pp. 15-17, emphasis added)

Kokh Tomb

Kokh Tomb

Different from the earlier book

Salm’s second book, NazarethGate, is quite different from his first. The new work includes chapters that are (sometimes) edited versions of articles written and published since the first book. Some of these chapters are largely polemical (anti-Christian or anti-religion) in tone and written for militant atheist publications. The significance of the absence of Nazareth for the Jesus mythicist debate reverberates through a number of these chapters. If Nazareth did not exist, then clearly “Jesus of Nazareth” could not have existed either. I must point out that there is more nuance in the discussion than that: Salm is well aware of the arguments that some other “Jesus” figure lies behind the gospels and he is also very cognizant of the debates over the original derivation of “Nazareth” as an epithet or its cognates as the name of a sect, including the possibility of pre-Christian origins.

Frank Zindler writes the Foreword. He lists nineteen reasons to think that Nazareth did not exist in the early half of the first century, many of them having been extant prior to archaeological digs. This section nicely segues into Salm’s opening chapter (the Introduction) in which he adds further such reasons and addresses some of the complexities involved in understanding the meaning of “of Nazareth” and “the Nazarenes” etc in the Gospels.

What I was most keen to read in the new book were Salm’s responses to Ken Dark’s views. read more »


2015-01-21

What they’re saying about The New Gospel of Mark Fragment

by Neil Godfrey

Tim linked to some background info on the reported discovery of the new fragment of the Gospel of Mark. Here is some further discussion that might be of interest:

By Roger Pearse (creator of the Tertullian Project website and the Additional Fathers collection)

Covers in serious depth some important aspects to what we have been reading about. Roger’s conclusion:

If the discovery is genuine, then it is wonderful.  Any recovery of lost texts from antiquity is a joy, and any very early witness to any important text is to be treasured.

But is it genuine?  We cannot say.  But the manner in which it is becoming known to the public does nothing to give me confidence.

So I think we need to hold our horses, and await proper publication.  To me, all this is too good to be true.  But let’s hope not.

image3

From http://phdiva.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/is-this-more-of-first-century-gospel-of.html

From Dorothy King of Dorothy King’s PhDiva:

Dorothy adds pics of something she thinks she recognizes from … — one of several attached here. Interesting comments, too, such as. . .

Interesting similarity of handwriting … between these fragments I posted photos of yesterday from the Turkish eBay seller “Zelis eksioglu” …and the newly discovered Gospel of Mark 😉

These top three photos of material he was touting to sell “off eBay” and below the ones of the Gospel of Mark Josh McDowell recently ‘discovered’ … although frankly when the seller is boasting of what it is …

And more interesting observations on Dorothy’s blog.

Another scholar, Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica.com has some interesting background links via:

read more »


2015-01-20

Destroying Egyptian Antiquities for Jesus

by Tim Widowfield

In case you missed it, recently the web site “livescience” published an update on the mummy mask mutilation controversy.

http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html

For a little background on the matter, see Brice Jones’s blog post from last May.

http://www.bricecjones.com/blog/the-first-century-gospel-of-mark-josh-mcdowell-and-mummy-masks-what-they-all-have-in-common

I can’t deny that finding new and perhaps much older papyrus fragments of NT manuscripts sounds fascinating, but it’s a bit gut-wrenching to see apologists ripping apart archaeological items, destroying them forever. It doesn’t matter if they’re “low quality” masks or not. They’re priceless and irreplaceable. Furthermore, they’re part of the heritage of humanity; they shouldn’t be thought of as “owned” by private individuals who can do whatever they want with them.

Bart Ehrman has posted his thoughts about it on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBartEhrman/posts/809740275764435

From his post:

This complete disregard for the sanctity of surviving antiquities is, for many, many of us not just puzzling but flat-out distressing. It appears that the people behind and the people doing this destruction of antiquities are all conservative evangelical Christians, who care nothing about the preservation of the past – they care only about getting their paws on a small fragment of a manuscript. Can there be any question that with them we are not dealing with historians but Christian apologists?

Nope.  No question about it.


2015-01-05

Temple Mount Ruins: Fulfilled Prophecy or Fourth Century Earthquake?

by Neil Godfrey
Professor Shimon Gibson at Western Wall; Photo by Emil Salman. From http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.635160

Professor Shimon Gibson at Western Wall; Photo by Emil Salman. From http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.635160

Those stones that so many Christians and Jews point to as the sacred remnants of Herod’s Temple destroyed in 70 CE may really be the refuse of an earthquake that hit Jerusalem in 363 CE.

Since the uncovering of these fallen stones in the 1970s the consensus has been that they are definitely the signs of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

“Not one stone shall be left upon another,” goes the prophecy of Jesus, and there is the evidence. Jews see them as the tangible link to the moment when they were believed to have been exiled from their city.

The January 4th 2015 edition of Haaretz publishes a challenge to all of that:

Gibson

Main points of Professor Gibson’s thesis that was presented at Bar-Ilan University. I summarize them here:

1. How could they leave debris in the middle of a rebuilt city?

Since the discovery of these stones in the 1970s archaeologists have learned much more about Roman Jerusalem after that fateful year 70 CE.

Recent archaeological digs taught us that Roman Jerusalem (which became known as Aelia Capitolina) was a functioning city with a rich population, sturdy homes, a commercial life and wide, elegant streets.

It makes no sense to think that such a thriving city would leave the rubble from the year 70 lying in in its civic heart. Jerusalem was rebuilt. Stones from the previous destruction are the most likely to be the first to be used in that rebuilding.

2. Why would anyone build a bakery business beside a damaged wall and fallen stones?

 A Roman era bakery has been discovered next to the rubble.

You don’t build next to a four-storey ruin. 

3. The anachronism of the Temple Mount pillars 

read more »


2014-07-23

A Critique of Ken Dark’s Work at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent

by Neil Godfrey

René Salm has posted online his review of the work of British archaeologist Ken Dark on Nazareth. You can read A Critique of Dr. Ken Dark’s writings relative to the Sisters of Nazareth convent site at Academia.edu. Dark is well known for his work on Roman Britain but Salm finds his work on Nazareth failing to take into account specialist knowledge and methods for this region. Dark promised some years ago a new book comprehensively addressing Nazareth archaeology but since that book has still not appeared Salm has studied and responded to relevant articles Dark has published so far.

To those who might think that Salm’s review is therefore premature he writes:

As interim reports, then, we cannot fault Dark’s writings on the Sisters of Nazareth site for their lack of descriptive detail nor of the precision promised in the final report. As of this writing (Fall,2013), all of Prof. Dark’s publications on the Sisters of Nazareth site must be viewed as primarily interpretive. As such, it is precisely the professor’s interpretation of the evidence which is the focus of this critique—his reasoning, his assumptions, his chronology, and his methodology. These do not change from interim to final report. Hence, this critique itself is not to be viewed as “interim” but addresses unchanging and critical elements of Dark’s work at the Sisters of Nazareth convent.  read more »

2012-05-16

Nazareth: René Salm’s preliminary response to Bart Ehrman

by Neil Godfrey
Nazareth

Nazareth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

René’s response has been reformatted and posted here with permission:

Obviously, the question of Nazareth archaeology is my special bailywick and, to my knowledge, no one has specifically countered Ehrman regarding his pages 191-97. I can say here that Ehrman is evasive, tendentious and, of course, entirely wrong.

  • He is evasive by casually ignoring vital elements of my case (e.g., he doesn’t even mention oil lamps, all of which date to the common era at Nazareth).
  • He is tendentious
    • by stressing extra-evidentiary elements (such as my lack of credentials–p. 194),
    • by focussing on irrelevancies (kokh tombs were expensive and not used by “poor people”),
    • and by grossly mischaracterizing actual evidence.

The boondoggle regarding Yardena Alexandre’s 165 coins (p. 195) is a case in point and is getting entirely out of hand.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) report Alexandre sent me in May, 2006 regarding her Mary’s Well excavation makes no mention of coins other than “many 14th-15th century small denomination coins.” It is inconceivable to me that coins dating “to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus” (DJE 195) would have been omitted from Alexandre’s report to the IAA. Furthermore, such a coin profile conflicts with the remaining evidence from Nazareth.

Nevertheless, such coins have subsequently been claimed, beginning with the Nazareth Village Farm report (BAIAS 2007, p.40) authored by Stephen Pfann and others. There, Pfann writes that a report on these early coins from Alexandre is “forthcoming” but, to my knowledge, no such report has appeared (now five years on). In his “Reply to Salm” in BAIAS 2008:106, Pfann and Rapuano write that Alexandre has provided a written statement to them attesting to such early coins in her 1997-98 excavation. Evidently, Pfann and the tradition are running with this. Ehrman now also mentions this: “Alexandre has verbally confirmed that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising” (196).

So, the plot thickens. We have “evidence” that is not published but is being passes from one scholar to another and must be taken on faith. Of course, had I admitted unverifiable evidence ten years ago, my Nazareth book would never have been written. 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 »


2010-01-01

That “Jesus-era” House in Nazareth “Discovery”

by Neil Godfrey
NAZARETH, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 21:  Father Jacque...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Yawn!  What a crock!  But it’s Christmas season and it’s good for the media and good for the tourism industry.

A professional archaeologist, no less, is quoted in the media, on the eve of Christmas, declaring the discovery of a house in the very hometown of Jesus. Wow. No-one quite says it, but it could even be the same house he grew up in, or maybe where his best friend lived and where he had sleepovers.

  1. http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/nazareth-house-dates-back-jesus-jesus-era-nazareth-home-found
  2. http://news.discovery.com/archaeology/jesus-christ-nazareth-house.html
  3. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1136599.html
  4. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121724812
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/12/21/world/international-uk-israel-jesus.html
  6. http://www.christianpost.com/article/20091221/first-jesus-era-house-found-in-nazareth/index.html
  7. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Early+History+-+Archaeology/Residential_building_time_Jesus_Nazareth_21-Dec-2009.htm

(I like finding ‘7’ things to support a bible case — adds a nice ring of numerological authenticity.)

So who is Yardenna Alexandre, the archaeologist quoted in the media, and what is the role of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) also cited as an authority in this news byte? I am not an expert to know, but I am a global citizen with access to the internet and here are some interesting finds (they took only minutes of googling to locate) that put this sensationalized news in an all too predictable context.

From Wikipedia on Mary’s Well:

Excavations by Yardenna Alexandre and Butrus Hanna of the Israel Antiquities Authority in 1997-98 – sponsored by the Nazareth Municipality and the Government Tourist Corporation – . . . .

So Nazareth Tourism sponsorship makes an appearance when one searches for Yardenna and the IAA . . . . ??

Then there is this piece on an Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website [it is the seventh listed link about the Jesus-era house discovery on this page above] that has a number of interesting oddities in it, but one in particular stands out. It’s final paragraph reads:

The “Association Mary of Nazareth” intends on conserving and presenting the remains of the newly discovered house inside the building planned for the “International Marian Center of Nazareth”.

What are the Association Mary of Nazareth and International Marian Center of Nazareth? Should we think that names like those represent neutral innocent bystanders in all of this?

When I mentioned the above google-finds to a group on the Freethought and Rationalism Discussion Board (FRDB) another (“yalla”) responded with more tidbits:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6743472/…ience-science/

That is the report linked by Orlando in post #66 where the same archaeologist, Yardenna Alexandre, conected to this current house discovery, announced the discovery of, possibly, the same wine jars with which JC performed his miracle at Cana. Or something like that.

Note this bit:

“Alexander has been digging in modern Cana since 1999.

The current find came in a last-ditch “salvage dig” before a house is built on the site. A Christian Arab family financed part of the excavation, in accordance with Israeli law, before construction can begin.

Alexander believes that with more substantial investment, the site could became a major tourist attraction and pilgrimage destination.

“We’re really working very hard to save some of this site because what we do have here is a village of Jesus,” she said. “And it was here that he carried out the first miracle.”

Meanwhile I learned that another name that seems to be frequently associated with Yardenna in the media, Dr Stephen Pfann, also has some interesting associations. I replied to the above with:

Thanks for this. Associated with Yardena Alexandre are several online articles is Dr Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land (the name tells you its ideological bent), and he/it appears to be also associated with the Nazareth Village Project too http://www.uhl.ac/NazarethVillage/nazareth.html

Jeezus-Kabeezus! Who would ever have thought that economic and religious interests could be behind a misleading supposed “scientific” report in the mainstream media!?

.

For more information on Nazareth I recommend Rene Salm’s webpage, www.nazarethmyth.info. His page contains a link to the official IAA report on this particular archaeological find and its contents are a long ways away from the sort of hype Yadenna is quoted as having fed the media on the eve of Christmas. His book is well worth a read, too. I’ve reviewed a “scholarly” review of it here.


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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

The Real Battle in debates over the bible with believers

by Neil Godfrey

My copy of The Myth of Nazareth (René Salm) has arrived and I love this paragraph in its Introduction:

The real battle, however, is not empirical, nor even about how we view the evidence of Nazareth or of any other site in biblical archaeology. The battle is not between postmodernists and conservatives, minimalists and maximalists, nihilists and positivists. It has nothing to do with facts but has to do with human needs, for if need be, man will invent. He desires comfort, not facts. The two thousand years of Christian tradition have nothing to do with the facts of history. They never did. They have to do with human desires and needs. (p.xv)


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.