2016-01-26

NazarethGate

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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. Continue reading “NazarethGate”


2015-08-06

Possible Discovery of Mary Magdalene’s House

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by Neil Godfrey

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

A Catholic priest decided to build a Christian retreat in Galilee and was required by Israeli law to check for remains of archaeological interest first. By pure chance (but we know God was the one behind it, of course) Father Juan Solana then unearthed the first synagogue in that region to be discovered from the first century period. We are not told how it was dated to the first century or whether it was closer to the second century end or the BCE end, or how we know it was a synagogue, but no doubt such details will quickly follow.

Some sceptical scholars till now had argued that the absence of synagogue buildings in the Galilee from the time of Jesus was easily explained by simply understanding that when the gospels tell us of Jesus preaching in synagogues they meant he was preaching in group gatherings in homes and other private dwellings. This discovery finally puts well-deserved dirt on the faces of those sceptics.

And there’s a bowl they discovered, too, 2000 years old so of course we must seriously accept the very real possibility that Jesus himself washed his hands in it. Accordingly it is now a holy relic.

The volunteers on the dig all pray before they start work so we can be confident they have divine guidance in all that they find and interpret.

They’ve even discovered what sounds very much like a veritable Jesus-miracle-working well: Continue reading “Possible Discovery of Mary Magdalene’s House”


2015-03-21

The Dark Resurgence of Biblical History

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by Neil Godfrey

emergence_Biblical history and biblical archaeology have fought back to a new ascendancy after surviving the double-edged scrutiny of opponents they disparaged as “minimalists”.

For a moment it looked like genuine historical inquiry into ancient Palestine had the potential to displace the paraphrasing the Bible and the tendency to interpret nearly every archaeological artefact through the Bible. “Biblical History” and “Biblical Archaeology” blanket the archaeological remains of Palestine with the tapestry of the Bible’s story of Israel. Naturally this means that the tapestry’s tale appears distorted in places but the primary structure remains clear:

  • Israel emerged in Canaan as a distinctly religious and ethnic identity in the early part of the first millennium
  • After a period of some kind of unity culminating in David’s rule, Israel split into two political entities, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, and continued to dominate the region up until the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities
  • The Jews returned after the Persians “liberated” them from their Babylonian exile and continued as a distinctly “Jewish” civilization up until the time the Romans dispersed them; the religions of Judaism and Christianity emerged from the religious thought and writings of this Second Temple era.

Other groups who make an appearance in this biblical history for most part do so as external conquerors to be overcome or as indigenous corrupters to be left behind.

This kind of history begins with the Bible and archaeological discoveries are significant insofar as they can add some colour or modification to that biblical narrative.

Is this comparable to beginning with the tales of King Arthur’s Camelot and using those to recreate the history of early Britain?

Doubling the excitement

Valid historical investigation should always ensure the horse is positioned in front of the cart.

Start with the “hard” evidence like the carved stones, baked clay and forged metal found in the ground. What can be reconstructed from these? After having done that we can compare the results with literature that first appeared in considerably later strata.

If we find that the literature describes just what we have found and calls it Camelot then that’s exciting. On the other hand, if the literature’s narrative of Camelot is significantly at odds with what we have found then we have double excitement: before us lie two quests — the quest to learn more about the real world history found through the hard evidence in the ground; another quest to understand the origin of the Camelot narrative.

A Fight for history

Twenty to thirty years ago a few scholars opened up the first challenges to the dominance of “Biblical history” in Biblical studies. Here is how one of those scholars, Keith Whitelam, looking back described what happened in the wake of the publication in 1987 of The Emergence of Early Israel in Historical Perspective by Robert Coote and himself: Continue reading “The Dark Resurgence of Biblical History”


2015-02-12

The Rhythms of Palestine’s History

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by Neil Godfrey

whitelamThe reality of Palestine’s long history from the Bronze Age to the present has been lost behind the myths of the Bible.

Think of Palestine’s past and images of Israel displacing the Canaanites from around 1200 BCE, establishing a united kingdom, even an empire, under King David and then his son Solomon slip easily into our minds. We think of the divided kingdom: apostate Israel in the north ruled from Samaria and Judah in the south with its Jerusalem temple. We know these kingdoms were removed by the Assyrians and Babylonians by around 600 BCE and that the Jews returned once again after a period of captivity.

And they re-returned to “the land of their fathers” to “re-establish the Jewish State” as proclaimed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence of 1948. The historical right of the Jews to the land of Palestine remains evident today to possibly most Christians and anyone taught this historical outline.

Archaeological-Historical Periods in Palestine

  • Early Bronze Age 3150-2000 BCE
  • Middle Bronze Age 2000-1550 BCE
  • Late Bronze Age 1550-1200 BCE
  • Iron Age 1200-587 BCE
  • Persian 538-332 BCE
  • Hellenistic 332-63 BCE
  • Roman 63 BCE – 330 CE
  • Byzantine eras 330-636 CE
  • Early Caliphates 636-661 CE
  • Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljug 661-1098 CE
  • Crusaders 1099-1291 CE
  • Ayyubid and Mamluk 1187-1517 CE
  • Ottomans 1517-1917 CE
  • British 1920-1948 CE
  • Israeli 1948 – present

The question we might ask, then, is what is the history of the Palestinians? The biblical narrative leaves them no room for a history in the land. Are they late trespassers? Are they rootless Arabs with no genuine attachment to any land in particular?

Until his retirement Keith Whitelam was Professor and Head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Stirling and Professor and Head of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. His recent publication, Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past, surveys the archaeological evidence for the history of Palestine from the Bronze Ages through to the end of the Iron Ages and compares what he sees with the Palestine from more recent times according to travelers’ reports and current geo-political maneuverings.

He concludes that our Western view of Palestine’s history has been determined by the biblical narrative and conflicts with the archaeological evidence before us.

The past matters because it continues to flow into the present. However, Palestine has been stripped of much of its history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is as though Palestine only came into being with the British Mandate (1920-48) and came to an end with the declaration of the modern state of Israel (1948). The growth of towns, the shift in villages, or the population movements of three millennia before have become divorced from this ‘modern’ Palestine. (Kindle Locations 42-46).

Whereas others who have been gaining their independence from imperial domination ever since the nineteenth century and especially since World War 2 have been able to construct their own national histories as an essential part of their national identities, Continue reading “The Rhythms of Palestine’s History”


2015-02-04

A New Gospel Discovery (For Real, this time!)

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by Neil Godfrey

newgospelH/T Archeologia Biblica e Storia della Chiesa, blog of Antonio Lombatti, Scoperto un nuovo vangelo in Copto = A New Gospel in Coptic Discovered . . . 

Newfound ‘Gospel of the Lots of Mary’ Discovered in Ancient Text (article by Owen Jarus in Live Science)

The manuscript is 1500 years old. Reportedly discovered by Anne Marie Luijendijk, a professor of religion at Princeton University.  It’s opening lines:

“The Gospel of the lots of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, she to whom Gabriel the Archangel brought the good news. He who will go forward with his whole heart will obtain what he seeks. Only do not be of two minds.”

A key word there is “lots”. I’ll explain.

The book is very small. It can fit easily in the palm of one’s hand. It appears to have been used in ways not unlike the way some people read their daily horoscopes:

A person seeking an answer to a question could have sought out the owner of this book, asked a question, and gone through a process that would randomly select one of the 37 oracles to help find a solution to the person’s problem. The owner of the book could have acted as a diviner, helping to interpret the written oracles, [Luijendijk] said.

It would apparently be opened up at random (or by spiritual guidance?) for the right “lot” to be found to advise the reader or inquirer.

Sample oracles:  Continue reading “A New Gospel Discovery (For Real, this time!)”


2015-01-29

What they’re saying in the world of archaeology

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by Neil Godfrey

Some recent news (and not quite so recent) that has come to my attention via the social media —

Arabia_saudita-_Iscrizione_(Imbert)A forest of crosses and names of martyrs in the desert of Saudi Arabia

A Franco-Saudi archaeological team is responsible for the discovery. Prof Frédéric Imbert dated the graffiti to 470-475, a time when anti-Christian persecution began, culminating under the usurper Yusuf. Even the Qur’an refers to it indirectly. The findings show how far Christianity had spread at the time, until the arrival of Islam.

Has anyone seen “First Century Mark”?

By P. J. Williams. He begins

I have had correspondence with Craig Evans and have his permission to confirm that he has not seen the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and does not know the identity of the scholar or scholars to whom it has (presumably) been assigned for publication.

10 Great Biblical Artifacts at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem

Nothing new, but it’s always nice to visit a museum.

The Walls of Assyrian Nineveh destroyed

This is an Italian site so most of us will need an online translator. No doubt by now there are some sites with this story in English but this is the one that came to me first. From my Google translator:

A source in Nineveh province revealed on Wednesday, that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “ISIS” terrorist organization has resumed bombing historical buildings and monuments in the province, noting that it has blew up the historic wall in the center of Mosul.

The source, who asked for anonymity told “Shafaq News”, that “ISIS terrorists have destroyed on Tuesday night large parts of the historic wall of Nineveh in Tahrir neighborhood in the left coast of the Mosul area, noting that terrorists have used large quantities of explosives”. 

Ah, how I miss Saddam …

_80397343_closeupXray imaging and the Herculaneum Papyri

This one I can’t wait to learn more about. I suspect the results won’t be known for many years, however.

Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

There is an earlier story (again in Italian so keep the translator handy) on Antonio Lombatti’s blog.

Pagan deities in ancient synagogues

I’ve always wondered what to make of these. The author’s attempt to rationalize an explanation with modern sensibilities strikes me as naively amusing. Continue readingWhat they’re saying in the world of archaeology”


2015-01-24

A Papyrologist On the Reported Discovery of the 1st Century Gospel of Mark Fragment

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by Neil Godfrey

If you are frustrated by Bart Ehrman hiding behind a paywall the views of the only expert in papyrology he has found to comment on the current Gospel of Mark fragment controversy behind his blog’s paywall (An Expert Talks About Mummy Masks and Papyri) I suggest we turn to that expert’s own updated blog page:

Mummy masks, papyri and the Gospel of Mark

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 10.29.48 am
https://facesandvoices.wordpress.com/

I am not sure now but I think this page was linked from one of the sites I posted here a few days ago.

Roberta Mazza‘s expertise is spelled out at http://robertamazza.com/  Continue reading “A Papyrologist On the Reported Discovery of the 1st Century Gospel of Mark Fragment”


2015-01-21

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

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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:

Continue readingWhat they’re saying about The New Gospel of Mark Fragment”


2015-01-20

Destroying Egyptian Antiquities for Jesus

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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.


2015-01-11

Ideological Archaeology in Israel, Greek beauty, Coffee and the Paranormal

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by Neil Godfrey

Some articles I’ve found interesting this past week:

The Connection Between Archaeology and Ideology in the Middle East in Counterpunch (h/t Otagosh)

Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a speech/article by Uri Avnery. In the desperation to find confirmation of the Biblical stories after the 1967 war Moshe Dayan and others swept away all the top layers of Ottomans, Arab/Crusader, Byzantine, Roman, Greek and Persian eras and found nothing. They had very likely pushed aside their real history. Excerpt:

Even if one would like to believe that the Bible only exaggerates real events, the fact is that not even a tiny mention of the exodus, the conquest of Canaan or King David has been found.

They just did not happen.

IS THIS important? Yes and no.

The Bible is not real history. It is a monumental religious and literary document, that has inspired untold millions throughout the centuries. It has formed the minds of many generation of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

But history is something else. History tells us what really happened. Archeology is a tool of history, an invaluable tool for the understanding of what took place.

These are two different disciplines, and never the twain shall meet. For the religious, the Bible is a matter of belief. For non-believers, the Hebrew Bible is a great work of art, perhaps the greatest of all. Archeology is something entirely different: a matter of sober, proven facts.

Israeli schools teach the Bible as real history. This means that Israeli children learn only its chapters, true or fictitious. When I once complained about this in a Knesset speech, demanding that the full history of the country throughout the ages be taught, including the chapters of the Crusades and the Mamelukes, the then minister of education started to call me “the Mameluke”.

If that’s too political for you you might prefer more philosophical reading. Salon.com has an extract from David Konstan’s book, “Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea” :

The secret history of beauty: How the Greeks invented Western civilization’s biggest idea — (People think of beauty as universal to the human experience. But the truth is actually much more complicated)

Conclusion — some interesting openings into understanding the breadth of human experience: Continue reading “Ideological Archaeology in Israel, Greek beauty, Coffee and the Paranormal”


2015-01-05

Temple Mount Ruins: Fulfilled Prophecy or Fourth Century Earthquake?

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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 

Continue reading “Temple Mount Ruins: Fulfilled Prophecy or Fourth Century Earthquake?”


2014-12-31

Archaelogical Finds 2014 — But Beware Christians Bearing Gifts

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by Neil Godfrey

We feed your body and take your soul!

Much has happened in the world of archaeology this past year but little of it has been related to themes biblical. Two interesting pages are up for comparison and review. The advertisement that appears on the biblical one is obnoxious. Try not to get distracted (though I won’t help at all by re-posting the offending images here) but then finish up with the page listing some really interesting discoveries of wider relevance and interest.

The boring list of “bible-related” archaeological finds:

Biblical Archaeology’s Top Ten Discoveries of 2014 by Gordon Govier, on Christianity Today.

This includes the tomb of St. Stephen (who almost certainly was a myth) and the theatre where Polycarp was (very likely not) martyred.

No, I lie — there is something there of a little interest after all. Something about Noah’s ark being round like a giant version of one of those bath-tubs. And the animals going in two-by-two even on a Babylonian text. (Add it to your trivia list.) The curator of the tablet wears a beard to suit the part, too.

But this shameless plug on the page smacks your face:

Screen shot 2015-01-01 at 5.54.57 AM

The link takes you to a list of all the things your donation can do: provide clean water, a bible in his language and the good news of Jesus. And don’t forget that by giving to this child you are really giving to God himself so you’ll get a really great reward in heaven.

Screen shot 2015-01-01 at 5.56.35 AM

That sort of “compassion” I can do without.

There’s a similar boring list at Bible History DailyTop 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014 by Robin Ngo. This one has more interesting graphics for the Noah’s ark story here. And it does not have obnoxious ads telling you how to exploit the sufferings of others or how to get a bigger reward in heaven.

But let’s get real. The most interesting archaeological news for the past year is at Coolest Archaeological Discoveries of 2014.

The biggest one is, of course, the tomb from the era of Alexander the Great. Then there’s the Richard III find, more news from Stonehenge, the glamour and cheese mummy in China, the mummified erection of King Tut in Egypt, and most interesting of all (well, to me anyway) is the indication that homo erectus produced some form of “art” designs half a million years ago.  Continue reading “Archaelogical Finds 2014 — But Beware Christians Bearing Gifts”


2014-07-23

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.  Continue reading “A Critique of Ken Dark’s Work at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent”

2012-12-29

More Nazareth Nonsense from Tim O’Neill

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

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

  • http://www.uhl.ac/en/about/

    (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: Continue reading “More Nazareth Nonsense from Tim O’Neill”