Once more on Nazareth, Relevance and Salm versus Carrier

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by Neil Godfrey

Nazareth, 1842

A comment by VinnyJH has led me to rethink and plan to add a paragraph to my recent post on Nazareth. Of course, Nazareth is a significant factor in the historical Jesus debate. True, it is not necessary for Nazareth to have been settled to support Richard Carrier’s “minimalist historical Jesus” figure that he uses in his hypothesis for the unlikelihood for the historicity of Jesus. But in the wider culture, it does have a very strong significance. Witness the tourist industry related to Nazareth, the holy sites historically preserved there, for starters. Even in mainstream scholarly circles, we can find the argument presented that the “criterion of embarrassment” “proves” the historical Jesus came from Nazareth. It is a prominent feature of mainstream historical Jesus scholarship that the authors of both the gospels of Matthew and Luke supposedly tied their narrative in knots just to work out a way to get Jesus from Bethlehem (where he had to be born to fulfill the messianic prophecy) to Nazareth (from where “oral tradition” was so insistent as the place he was known to come from). The same scholarship is very clear: it posits that the Nazareth association was so important in the wider knowledge about Jesus that the evangelists somehow felt compelled to write contradictory and convoluted narratives to explain how that “general knowledge” came about.

It is no wonder that some mainstream historical Jesus scholars choose to respond to René Salm’s research with insult than engage in an intellectually honest way with the evidence he has published.


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Neil Godfrey

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19 thoughts on “Once more on Nazareth, Relevance and Salm versus Carrier”

  1. I thought this was all put to bed! Nazareth probably did exist in 1CE albeit not as described in the gospels. Nobody associates the town with the godman until Matthew in c.90CE, Mark’s one use of the word believed to be a much later insertion, see Turton: Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Matthew put Jesus there not because of any oral tradition about the town but because of the word Nazorean which has been given a few meanings but definitely not: citizen of Nazareth! I am not sure about how Matthew came across this word but for me Nazareth has no bearing on historicity one way or the other. It does however cast serious shade on the criteria of dissimilarity, used in shoddy way by scholars who should know better! Looking at you Bart Ehrman……

    1. You are thinking quite logically. I agree. Unfortunately, the “real world” — not only the general public but the mainstream of biblical scholarship — has thinks differently.

    2. Nazorean = Nasara = Batanea -somewhere-

      The only relevant town in Galilee outside of Tiberius (and Gamala, Paneas, which are accounted for) is Sepphoris. Is Jesus from Sepphoris? There’s an academic discussion. “Nazareth” is wholly irrelevant.

      Jesus could not have come from Bethlehem since the ENTIRE nativity story is a retelling of the Adonis myth, and we see the prominent Adonis shrine in the spring-cave upon which the Church of the Nativity was built. Adonis-of-Bethlehem and his mother Pege (Anobret of Bethlehem) was incorporated into David. No wonder it was recycled into Jesus.

      This taking the gospels at face value is insulting. They’re recycled myth. If history is there, it’s buried in code or parable. I.e.: Lazarus and the Rich man, the two brothers, the wedding feast, the prodigal son, the “honest” tax collector, Barabbas, etc.

  2. Jesus as a unique, historical, poor, itinerant innovator who led a group of poor, uneducated Galileans who then spread out his message and thence Christianity is one of the most absurd and speculative and insulting theories ever conceived.

  3. If Nazareth was historically real, it was Nasara of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which was probably Bathrya AKA “Ecbatana” the hill next to Nawa, Syria which we should assume was settled by Essenes and Oniad Judeo-Egyptian mercenaries in the Roman era and governed by a dynasty of Babylonian Jews. A perfect explanation for Jesus and Christianity and fitting the historical context. Why historians can’t go there? Maybe overly attached to the Bible as history, and the Christian narrative.

  4. Jesus was born in Bethlehem because prophecy! Jesus was from Nazareth because prophecy! Jesus did a ton of stuff because prophecy! Maybe the story was about prophecy fulfilment, not mundane facts about a man’s history.

  5. Hi Neil,
    I have read your coverage of Rene’s investigations into Nazareth. I very much agree that he seems to have hit a nerve with scholars by using logic rather than wishful thinking. I also follow another researcher who has recently written an article about Nazareth. His name is Henry Davis, you may or may not be aware of him. His work has also been verbally attacked by multiple people, including Tim O’neill. He recently posted his article on Nazareth on Twitter and it has been given the Tim O’neill treatment, that is, Tim has cherry-picked the article to produce a response he thinks debunks Henry’s research. It doesn’t. You can find Henry on Twitter under @HenryDavisCC


    1. Thank you so much for this notice. I will certainly follow it up. Yes — Tim uses personal attack and insult etc to cover for his fundamentally slight and shallow knowledge of the issues and the fact that he relies on cherry-picking for and against instead of having a genuine interest in exploring a question in its totality, for and against and beyond.

      1. Thanks for replying. I agree. For Tim to call someone “amateur” whilst he himself acts very immature and abusive is just ironic.

        Tim brought up stratigraphy as if that changes anything. It doesn’t. We still have what is there and the dating conclusions of Dark and Yardenna. Dark has said in one of his papers/books that there is no evidence Second Temple Jews were forbidden from burying their dead on disused occupational sites. But as Davis points out, there was uproar from Jews when the city of Tiberias was built over an ancient Jewish burial ground.

        Clearly the Jewish people did not want to live on/in burial sites.

        1. Sadly the easy resort to insult, condescension, dogmatism seems to be in proportion to the fragility of the evidence and hypotheses — and all too often it is biblical scholars who have set the example in this regard so that outsiders feel it is perfectly right to follow the worst examples.

          1. That does seem to be the case yes. I am of the understanding that scholarship is about questioning things that don’t seem right. But it seems biblical scholars and armchair scholars like O’Neill don’t like that position and vehemently attack anyone who does raise questions. I’ve read the Rene was verbally attacked after being invited by SBL to present his paper. Disgusting.

            1. Yes, I, too, am absolutely appalled at the treatment René Salm has received. I find his research top rate and none of it has been refuted as far as I am aware. If his research was shoddy then that would have been the target — in a clinical, forensic, scholarly approach. But I have seen no such response from any of his critics.

              1. That’s interesting. I’m assuming that the archaeological structural finds at the Sisters of Nazareth site have not changed since Joan Taylor wrote about them?

              2. I will read that, thanks.
                What I mean is that I have read Taylor’s comments stating that the sites of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, Church of Annunciation and Church of Joseph are all agricultural. So I cannot see how Dark can say the Sisters of Nazareth structure is a house if nothing about the archaeology has changed since Taylor’s statement.

              3. There is nothing written by Joan Taylor, as far as I am aware, where she addresses evidence for an early first century settlement. Taylor does speak of “the Roman” and “Roman-Byzantine” eras, but that is very vague. She also relies heavily on Bagatti’s studies and those, I believe, Salm thoroughly established to be little more than church propaganda.

                Salm’s argument is that the published evidence supports the view that Nazareth ceased to be populated in the centuries immediately preceding the present era and was only resettled some time around the late first century — most likely after the war of 66-70 CE. A major part of his positive case refers to specialist archaeologists in Galilee whereas Dark is a specialist in Roman Britain archaeology. The dates Dark uses are mistakenly based on his assumption that Galilee dates can be matched to Jerusalem dates, whereas in fact Galilee evidence follows Jerusalem data by about a generation.

              4. From what I understand, there are two archaeological remains under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent; a structure and a kokh tomb. On page 230 of Christians and the Holy Places, Taylor says, “One can add that under the site now occupied by the Sisters of Nazareth, 100 metres west of the present Basilica of the Annunciation, and under the Church of St Joseph, to the north, there are caves containing cisterns from the Roman period. The remains indicate that the entire area was used for agricultural processing activity. Domestic buildings may have been constructed over the complexes. The remains bring to mind the words of the Piacenza Pilgrim, who stated that Nazareth’s grain, wine, oil, and apples were of superior quality”

                To me, Taylor is talking about the same structures as Dark. I’m pretty sure Salm has even cited Taylor’s work. So my thinking is that if the remains haven’t changed, how can Dark claim it’s a house if a specialist concluded it was an agricultural installation?

              5. Have you checked René Salm’s website dedicated to the Nazareth question? http://www.nazarethmyth.info/index.html He has contact details there along with many links to specific questions. There are also Ken Dark’s and Joan Taylor’s webpages with contact details for both: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/people/ken-dark and https://www.kcl.ac.uk/people/ken-dark

                I mention them because you might find more satisfactory answers or clarification related to your question there before I will be able to refresh my memory of the details by revisiting their works myself.

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