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

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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. 

Salm finds fault with one side of Dark’s work that I have found all too common among scholars in New Testament studies:

Prof. Dark invokes numerous well known archaeologists by name, often broadly signaling their works via a footnote. Yet those footnotes are often simply to the name of an article or even to an entire book without page reference. Such an imprecise procedure is of little use to the researcher, and when one makes the effort to check the footnoted authors one sometimes finds that they stated nothing similar to what Dark claims, or even that their actual positions are in diametrical contrast to what Dark has represented them to be. Detailed examples of this unfortunate propensity will follow.

Salm has raised problems with published dates for critical tombs in the Galilee before and I have searched in vain for an informed response to his criticisms. Dark falls into the same trap of using southern Palestinian dating guidelines for the Galilee, apparently:

Dark also makes serious errors of a rudimentary nature, errors which reveal him to be embarrassingly unfamiliar with the subfield of Palestinian archaeology. Those errors,unfortunately, nullify his major conclusions regarding the Sisters of Nazareth convent site. They include false datings for kokh-type tombs in the Galilee, as well as the direct application of Judean chronologies to Galilean evidence, resulting in a chronology for Nazareth which is approximately two centuries too early. 

Salm concludes:

In sum, Prof. Dark is writing about a hypothetical structure under the Sisters of NazarethConvent, one which does not reflect the archaeological remains. He views that hypotheticalstructure as a “model courtyard house” and dates it before the kokh tomb. This article has shown that in both of these conclusions he is mistaken. The lack of significant domestic structures argue persuasively against interpreting the remains as those of a domestic dwelling. Contra Dark, there can be no question that the kokh tombs at the Sisters of Nazareth were used long after 100 CE and hardly before that time (Kuhnen). Thus Dark’s terminus ante quem for the kokh-type tomb evaporates. Consequently, his argument for a first century CE date for the above ground structure must be jettisoned.
The material evidence points in very different directions than Dark supposes. Below ground are Middle-Late Roman tombs. Above ground are Middle-Late Roman agricultural installations. The site under the present Sisters of Nazareth Convent was a locus of agricultural and funereal activity long after the time of Jesus.


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Neil Godfrey

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2 thoughts on “A Critique of Ken Dark’s Work at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent”

  1. Another Nazareth fiasco! It’s about time that ALL archaeologists working in Israel and the PA area be licensed archaeologists who are not C-h-r-i-s-t-i-a-n, preferably either Jewish, Muslim, or nonreligious Israeli or Palestinian.

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