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.
In his review of the GRC eConference on the historicity of Jesus Richard Carrier wrote with respect to the claim that the town of Nazareth did not exist in the early first century CE
There is no good case to be made that Nazareth did not exist as a town in the early first century, nor would it at all matter (OHJ, index, “Nazareth”). All the arguments to this effect ignore contrary evidence (e.g. an inscription establishes Nazareth as one of the towns that took in priests after the destruction of the temple, which entail Nazareth had to be a well-developed town by then—indeed, not a hick village either, but a place a member of the temple elite would not be embarrassed to settle at) and derive from invalid arguments from silence (e.g. we simply have not excavated hardly any of the locality now identified as Nazareth and cannot even establish that that is the same town as anciently named—a problem also with Bethlehem, which Zindler also incorrectly said we could “prove” didn’t then exist). And continuing to insist on this unprovable makes mythicism look crank, not least because the town’s not existing would have no more to do with the historicity of Jesus than Bethlehem’s not existing would: every historicist agrees Jesus was never associated with Bethlehem outside scripturally-inspired fiction, so its not existing has zero effect on the probability Jesus existed. Jesus was clearly linked to Nazareth for the same scriptural reasons, which also means the town had to actually exist when the Gospel authors chose it as fulfilling a prophecy they themselves admitted did not actually mention it (e.g. Matthew says the prophecy was that the messiah would be a Nazorian, not a Nazarene—a fact obscured by over-meddling translations—so if they were inventing a town to match, it would have been Nazoria, not Nazareth: see Proving History, index, “Nazareth”). It’s unlikely some obscurely new village would be known to the authors of the Gospels so as to be employed this way.
I did not listen in on that conference but I expect that Frank Zindler would have referred to René Salm’s study of the scholarly publications on the archaeological excavations of Nazareth in his two books and on his webpage.
Carrier’s first sentence is a value judgment that I believe can be demonstrated to be based on ignorance or misunderstanding of the details of the arguments advanced in Salm’s work. Carrier’s second sentence is false and leads one to suspect that he has either never read or has forgotten what he read in Salm’s and another’s arguments.
The Inscription Best Left Unmentioned
The inscription that Carrier indicates as evidence of “a well-developed town by” the first century was in fact “discovered” under highly questionable circumstances by Jerry Vardaman, a person whom Carrier has elsewhere and in another context described in terms such as “insane”, “not to be trusted”, tainted with “chronic mental illness”, “madness”, “absurdity”, “weirdness”, “nonsense on stilts”, a maker of “profoundly absurd” and “fanatical assertions”, “[ranking] right up there with Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods.”
Likely agreement with Carrier’s assessment is found in a letter by a president of the American Society for Overseas Research (ASOR) that he wrote to an academic peer about his experience with Jerry Vardaman’s competence and character as witnessed on an archaeological dig:
Jerry Vardanian was an unmitigated disaster from start tofinish. Hence, we could not invite him back for solid training. He does not have the judgment, the temperament, nor the essential honesty andsolidity of personality that he could be trusted with any work in the NearEast on his own. . . .
Then, while the Director of Antiquities in Jordan, Awni Dajani, was on his death bed, the current Department of Antiquities, as well as the University of Jordan, believe it to be a fact that Jerry bribed Awni’s cousin, Rafiq Dajani, to get a permit to dig at Machaerus. . . . . .That expedition was, from every point of view, a disaster. In any event, when Jerry came back into the country to see about digging again, the Department of Antiquities issued orders to the police to arrest him at the airport. The only way he was rescued from arrest and having to stand trial was that the American ambassador went to bat for him and asked that the matter be settled quietly to prevent the scandal from appearing in the papers. Now, as though that were not enough, this man has the continental gall to start it again. . . .
. . . He simply cannot be trusted to do anything right, not even whenhe is watched every minute. He is as devious and as untrustworthy anambassador in the Near East as any man could possibly be.
Salm’s translation of Enrico Tuccinardi’s research into the authenticity of the Caesarea Inscription begins here. Salm’s fuller discussion of the circumstances of the so-called discovery of that artefact begins here and the subsequent posts can be followed easily from this point.
One has to conclude that Carrier has forgotten or failed to read earlier work that René Salm tried to point out to him, including the publication by Enrico Tuccinardi.
Carrier’s cavalier swipe at the validity of the arguments on the basis that “we simply have not excavated hardly any of the locality now identified as Nazareth and cannot even establish that that is the same town as anciently named” ignores the arguments from the evidence that does exist. Even if the area Jesus happened to have grown up in is under a block of units and for that reason cannot be excavated, archaeologists can see what remains do exist in the surrounding areas and it is clear when nearby settlements were extant and when they were not. Settlements exist with surrounding farm areas, cemeteries, and other markers and it is the fact that we have evidence for these things at the wrong time.
The issue at hand is chronology, not location. The valley floor is now heavily built over and will in all likelihood never be excavated. This is convenient for those who claim a village there in the time of Christ, but it is untenable on several grounds. First of all, it is hardly likely that the village predated its tombs. The dozens of scattered tombs from Roman Nazareth that have been excavated on the hillsides all postdate 50 CE. This shows that the village did also. As was stated: “The earliest tomb at Nazareth is a significant clue regarding the existence of a village” (Chapter 4, p. 157). . . . . (Salm, Myth, p. 289)
And as for not addressing counterarguments, Salm continues,
It is worthwhile to consider the various counter-arguments to the evidence, because the issue of Nazareth in the time of Jesus is so explosive. In the case of the putative Hellenistic tombs mentioned above, once such tombs are shown not to be on the hillside of the Nebi Sa‘in, then one might assert that they were elsewhere—perhaps on the valley floor itself. But this too makes little sense, and is a reversal of what one would expect: presumably, the ancient Jews were living on the steep and rocky hillside, and constructing their tombs on the flat valley floor! (p. 290)
And so forth. A full treatment would take several lengthy posts but René Salm has already set much of it out — apart from his books — on his website.
I will mention just one more support for Salm’s work. It is correspondence from one the archaeologist Hans-Peter Kuhnen. I have posted about that here.
The Fear of Being Called a Crank Factor
Another acerbic online critic who often makes sweeping claims that have a misleading appearance of sounding well-researched and knowledgeable is Tim O’Neill. O’Neill has made one of his motivations quite clear: mythicism will make atheists look like nutters. So he knee-jerks and kicks mythicism whenever he can, usually from a position that is only partially informed. I fear that it looks as though Carrier may be a victim of a similar fear when he complains that arguments against the existence of Nazareth make mythicists look like cranks.
So let’s take a sober look at what is at stake here.
Is the Nazareth Question Important?
Postscript, 2nd Oct 2021:
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. Many of us see its irrelevance from such an intellectual perspective. But in the wider culture, or in “the real world” we might say, it does have a very strong significance. Witness the tourist industry related to Nazareth, the holy sites historically preserved there over the centuries, 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.
Is any knowledge important? Is any research into learning more about our world and our history important?
If Nazareth was not a town at the time of Jesus’ upbringing then legitimate and productive questions must arise. If the gospels speak of Nazareth, presumably their authors wrote at a time when the village existed and presumably that must be some considerable time after the setting of the events they narrate, most reasonably well after 70 CE. If Nazareth did not exist then it strengthens any argument that Jesus was originally known by an epithet that was not related to the town and refutes the view that some continue to hold that Jesus was known by his place of early residence. What were the origins of the revival of settlement at Nazareth some time after 50 CE, what were the general conditions of the time, what was happening in that region?…. all of this information would be potentially significant for any investigation into the period leading up to the Bar Kochba war and final destruction of Jerusalem.
Carrier cites his works On the Historicity of Jesus and Proving History for further discussion but a quick re-scan tells me that neither of these references go much beyond saying that the existence of Nazareth is irrelevant to the question of the historicity of Jesus. Of course, it is fallacious to argue if Nazareth didn’t exist then Jesus didn’t either. But its nonexistence certainly raises questions about when the gospels were written and how and when Jesus came to be associated with that town. Yes, Matthew twists a prophecy to make Nazareth seem the logical place for Jesus’ early years, so presumably Matthew knew of the town, and presumably he believed it to be long-established by his time, so presumably he was writing as late as…..? The answer to that question has major consequences in any reconstruction of Christian origins.
That opponents of the view that Nazareth did not exist (and I am thinking here more broadly than Carrier) react with such vitriol against the thesis and against René Salm personally, with misrepresentation and worse, suggests to me that the question of Nazareth is most certainly very important in many quarters. So much so that tactics that go beyond mere intellectual tools of honest inquiry are brought to bear in the “debate”.
Salm, René. The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus. American Atheist Press, 2008.
I like the above work better for its consistently academic style but the one below is of course more complete with updated material. In the 2008 work, Salm discussed the Caesarea Inscription demonstrating its irrelevance to the main thrust of his thesis despite some views at the time that it verified a settlement at Nazareth in Jesus’ time. It was only after Enrico Tuccinardi alerted him to the character of the “discoverer” of the inscription that Salm eventually came to the same conclusion that it was a forgery.
Salm, René J. Nazarethgate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus. American Atheist Press, 2015.
I’ve updated our archives to include an annotated page of links to all Vridar posts on the Nazareth question. Most are about the archaeology of the early first century period, but some address other questions such as the historical likelihood of Jesus being identified as “from Nazareth” and the supposed embarrassment behind the authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke creating different narratives to explain how Nazareth entered the life of Jesus.
Check the right-hand column here and look under ARCHIVES by TOPIC. Look fo Nazareth under that heading.
This post is an important and necessary follow up to my previous one about the falsehoods of O’Neill’s attacks on Salm’s work. Any readers with a serious interest in the dating of Nazareth and the seriousness of René Salm’s study of the archaeological record should be aware of the evidence that demonstrates how carelessly false Tim O’Neill’s public statements about his work really are.
Contrary to O’Neill’s assertions Salm did not mistranslate [my previous post demonstrated this by showing the locations of sites Kuhnen listed] or misinterpret Kuhnen as Kuhnen himself affirms in the following email exchange between Salm and Kuhnen and that I copy here with permission.
This first extract Kuhnen wrote initially to a third party but then copied to Salm himself. Bracketed clarifications are by Salm and the bolded highlighting is by me:
In my answer to Mr. Salm’s interesting question I referred to my Ph.D. thesis of 1982, published 1989 under the title “Studien zur Chronologie und Siedlungsarchäologie des Karmel (Israel) zwischen Hellenismus und Spätantike. Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients B 72 . Wiesbaden 1989. On pages 49 – 72 of this book you’ll find a chronological analysis of Hellenistic – Roman tombs excavated up to then in Palestine. My chronology is based primarily on internal evidence, i. e. the combination of finds, a method common in European prehistory, but up to now not yet introduced in Palestinian archaeology. My “comparing [comparison—RS] table of datable tombs” (Kombinationstabelle der Funde aus Gräbern”. Beilage 3) clearly proves that all kokim tombs of my “phase I”* (2nd [cent. BCE]- early 1st century AD) are concentrated in the Judean hills around Jerusalem. The earliest kokim tombs of Galilee appear in my “phase II”, starting around the middle of the 1st century AD. Therefore, from the evidence published up to the 1990s, Mr. Salm is right that there is no clear evidence of tombs of the period of Jesus in Nazareth. … I definitely share your scepticism about the historicity of the New Testament. Last year I held a seminar and an excursion at the Institute of Biblical Archaeology of Mainz University on Holy places on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, which showed clearly that the localization of New Testament sites in Galilee is the work of Byzantine historiographers and not of the writers of the New Testament.
* “Kombinationstabelle der Funde aus Gräbern” is the heading of Appendix 3 (“Beilage 3”) of Kuhnen’s PhD thesis. The heading literally means “Combination table of finds from tombs.” That’s of course quite different from Kuhnen’s translation. The word “Kombination” in German has inferences that the English “combination” lacks, including “comparison” (hence my bracketed clarification). The German “Tabelle” variously can mean many things: “table, list, chart, index, schedule, synopsis, summary” (from my large Cassell’s English & German dictionary). I ILL’ed Kuhnen’s thesis years ago and don’t have it at hand, but if … memory serves, the appendix in question is in the form of a list. So, I would translate the entire phrase as “Comparison list of finds from tombs”, or “Master list of finds from tombs”, or even “Master summary of finds from tombs.” Of course, we’re not talking about Nazareth finds here, but those in the vicinity of Mt. Carmel in Lower Galilee, about 30 km WNW of Nazareth. — RS.
So , from an archaeological point of view, Salm’s arguments about a completely Judean “theatre” of NT history cannot be disregarded, but it seems to me that discussion will go on for a long time. [Jan . 4, 2010]
Here are a couple of further snippets from Kuhnen’s emails to Salm. They demonstrate that there has been no daylight (“misunderstanding”) between Kuhnen and Salm on tomb dating. Kuhnen even states that he considers Salm’s study sufficiently worthy to be included in his curriculum. (Unfortunately not every email has the date stamp preserved.) In the posts directly to Salm himself Kuhnen wrote in German but Salm has added translations:
– Kuhnen writes: “Hinsichtlich der Datierung der bekannten Gräber haben Sie sicher recht.” (“Regarding the dating of the known tombs [in Nazareth] you are certainly correct.” (Dated May 15, 2009)
– “Ihre Überlegungen sind sehr anregend, besonders Ihre Hauptthese, dass die Evangelien im wesentlichen die Realität nach dem Jahr 70 n. Chr. beschreiben. Auch Ihrer Einschätzung von Bagatti stimme ich zu. Er und einige andere seiner Kollegen (de Vaux, Humbert) sind meines Erachtens typische Vertreter einer kirchlichen Archäologie, die in der Archäologie das bestätigt sieht, was sie schon vorher wusste.” (“Your reflections are very exciting, particularly your main thesis that the gospels essentially describe the post-70 CE reality. I also agree with your estimation of Bagatti. He and some of his other colleagues (de Vaux, Humbert) are, in my opinion, typical apologists for an ecclesiastical archeology that simply confirms what it already knows.”
– “Insgesamt finde ich, wie gesagt , Ihre überlegungen sehr interessant, und habe darüber auch schon den Studenten in meinem derzeitigen Seminar an der Uni Mainz berichtet. Im nächsten Semester möchte ich an der Uni Mainz ein kritisches Seminar zum Thema “Archäologie und Neues Testament” anbieten. Dabei werden wir sicher auch Ihr Buch behandeln.” (Translation: “In all, I find your reflections very interesting, as mentioned above. I have already communicated your views to students in my current Seminar at the Univ. of Mainz. Next summer I would like to offer a critical seminar on the Archaeology of the New Testament. In it we will certainly discuss your book.” (Second half of May 2009.)
I said in my previous post that contrary to the impression created by O’Neill Salm has engaged with Kuhnen’s work in considerable depth and most certainly was not “quote mining” a single sentence. Here is a list of all of Kuhnen’s works consulted by Salm from the bibliography of his second book, NazarethGate:
1986. Nordwest-Palästina in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit. Bauten und Gräber im Karmelgebiet. Weinheim: VCH Verlag.
1989. Studien zur Chronologie und Siedlungsarchäologie des Karmel (Israel)
zwischen Hellenismus und Spätantike. (Tübinger Atlas zum Vorderen Orient. Beiheft B 72.) Wiesbaden.
1990. Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit. (Handbuch der Archäologie. Vorderasien II,2.) München: C. H. Beck.
1994. Mit Thora und Todesmut: Judäa im Widerstand gegen die Römer von
Herodes bis Bar Kochba. (Führer und Bestandskataloge III.) Stuttgart: Württ. Landesmuseum .
2002. “Bestattungswesen Palästinas im Hellenismus.” In: Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Göttingen), pp. 211 f.
2007. “Grabbau und Bestattungssitten in Palästina zwischen Herodes und den Severern.” In: A. Faber, P. Fasold, M. Struck, M. Witteyer (Eds.), Körpergräber des 1.–3. Jh. in der römischen Welt. Kolloquium Frankfurt am Main 2004. Frankfurt: Schriften des Archäologischen Museums Frankfurt am Main, 57–76.
2009. (with W. Zwickel): Archäologie und Politik im Land der Bibel: 60 Jahre Gründung des Staates Israel. (Kleine Arbeiten zum Alten und Neuen Testament). Mainz: Spenner.
Having finally caught up with Tim O’Neill’s October 2019 post on his History for Atheists blog, JESUS MYTHICISM 5: THE NAZARETH “MYTH”, I have decided to address a new point he makes since I last responded to his Nazareth assertions. Most of his October post is a rehash of what I demonstrated was erroneous in More Nazareth Nonsense from Tim O’Neill. But he has added a new point in an apparent attempt to refute at least one key part of my original criticism and it is that new point that I address here.
I have invited Tim O’Neill to discuss his criticisms on condition that he refrain from abuse and insult. He has responded by declaring I am not worth engaging with because I resort to “nitpicking”, otherwise known as “fact-checking”. Perhaps he will see this post as another example of “nitpicking”, this time in response to his claim that René Salm has based a key part of his argument on a mistranslation of a single sentence in Hans-Peter Kuhnen’s Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit.
What is the relevance of all this to the Nazareth debate?
Salm argues that there is no secure archaeological evidence published in the scholarly literature that enables us to date a settlement in Nazareth at the time of Jesus. The evidence for a settlement in Roman times only begins to appear from the mid or late first century CE. If the kokh tombs around Nazareth could be dated to the early first century then there would be a reasonable case for Nazareth being occupied at that time.
Kokh tombs were known around the Jerusalem region long before and during the time of Christ but Salm insists that they did not appear in Galilee until towards the end of the first century.
Salm has used Kuhnen’s work to argue that it is a mistake to use the dates of Jerusalem sites for the Galilee region. The kokh tombs appeared in Galilee much later than they did around Jerusalem, he says.
What is a kokh tomb?
O’Neill’s new point
Here is the section of Tim O’Neill’s rebuttal of René Salm’s argument that I want to address.
Kokhim of this kind date from as early as 200 BC, but Salm insists that while they were used this early elsewhere in Palestine, they only came to be used in Galilee much later. For this he depends heavily on a single quote from German archaeologist Hans-Peter Kuhnen in his Palästina in griechisch-römischer Zeit (München: C.H. Beck, 1990). There Kuhnen discusses the origin and spread of kokhim in Palestine, appearing under the Hasmoneans and coming to dominate the style of tombs around Jerusalem by the time of Herod. He goes on to say (in Salm’s translation):
Apparently only later, from approximately the middle of the first century after Christ, did people begin to build kokh tombs in other upland regions of Palestine, as seen in Galilee at Huqoq, Meron, H. Serna and H. Usa. (Kuhnen, p. 254, in Salm, p.159)
Salm concludes from this that “kokh tomb use spreads to Galilee only after c. 50 CE” (p. 159), which he feels pushes the dates of the tombs in the Nazareth valley safely away from the period his theory needs to avoid.
But Kuhnen does not say that they did not reach Galilee until around the mid century: he specifies the “mountain regions of Palestine” (“Bergregionen Palästinas” in Kuhnen’s original German) and then gives examples of sites from the very north of Upper Galilee, in the mountains close to the modern Lebanon border and far from the lowland region in which Nazareth sits. Salm chooses to ignore where the illustrative examples Kuhnen are, translates “Bergregionen” as “upland” rather than “mountainous regions” or “mountain regions” (because the low-lying Nazareth region is not remotely “mountainous”) and so decides Kuhnen is saying kokhim did not reach Galilee generally – lower or upper – until “c. 50 CE”. Once again, he twists the scholarship and so shapes the evidence to fit his conclusion.
(My bolded highlighting of O’Neill’s words that I will show are “misleading” at best.)
O’Neill has only quoted a snippet of Salm’s relevant text and he has even misrepresented Kuhnen’s original passage. I don’t believe O’Neill did either of these things with deliberate dishonesty. I think he is so convinced that Salm is a fraud for daring to question the mainstream biblical scholars that he has only glanced at both Salm’s and Kuhnen’s words and once he thought he saw enough to “prove” his point he looked no further. It is “human” to see what we expect and want to see. He relies upon Salm’s translation of a critical passage so it appears he has not even consulted Kuhnen’s work for himself.
Response #1 — selective quoting
To his credit Salm quotes the original German of the section he translated so readers can hold him to account. Here is Salm’s complete quotation of Kuhnen:
15 Schiebestollengräber, die unter den Hasmonäern allmählich die älteren Kammergräber ersetzt hatten, beherrschten auch nach der Thronbesteigung des Herodes fast mit Ausschliesslichkeit die Friedhöfe der Stadt… Auch im jüdisch besiedelten Umland Jerusalems entstanden unter Herodes und dessen Erben Gräber des Schiebestollentyps, beispielsweise in Tell en-Nasbe und in el-‘Ezariye (Betanien) … Anscheinend noch später, etwa ab der Mitte des 1.Jh. n.Chr., begann man in den anderen Bergregionen Palästinas Gräber mit Schiebestollen anzulegen, was für Galiläa Huqoq, Meron, H. Sema und H. Usa… belegen.
Somit ist anzunehmen, dass Schiebestollengräber während des 1.Jh. n.Chr. in allen Landesteilen westlich und östlich des Jordan in Mode kamen… (Kuhnen 254–55).
Kokh tombs [Schiebestollengräber], which under the Hasmoneans gradually replaced the older chamber tombs, also dominated the graveyards of [Jerusalem] almost with exclusivity after the accession of Herod… Under Herod and his heirs, the kokhi type of grave also appeared in the Jewish-populated surroundings of Jerusalem, for example, in Tell en-Nasbe and in el-‘Ezriye (Bethany)… Apparently only later, from approximately the middle of the first century after Christ, did people begin to build kokh tombs in other upland regions of Palestine, as seen in Galilee at Huqoq, Meron, H. Sema and H. Usa…
So it is evident that during the first century after Christ kokhim came into fashion in all parts of the land west and east of the Jordan…15
(Salm, 159. My bolded highlighting)
O’Neill failed to quote the last sentence Salm translates from Kuhnen which underscores Salm’s reading of Kuhnen’s point: kokh tombs were not known outside the Jerusalem region [i.e. not only in northern Galilee] until around the middle of the first century CE and not before. O’Neill wrongly claimed Salm said the kokh tombs were used everywhere else in Palestine except Galilee in the early first-century thus making his claim look like special pleading. He stopped short of quoting the sentence that flatly contradicted and exposes his misrepresentation of Salm’s argument.
O’Neill further infers that Kuhnen only points to sites in the “very north of Upper Galilee, in the mountains close to the modern Lebanon” that were the late borrowers of kokh tombs. That is flat wrong as we see in Response #2.
Response #2 — ignorance of geography
The four sites listed by Kuhnen are not, contrary to O’Neill’s assertion, “in the mountains close to the modern Lebanon border”. Two of them are; the other two are further south and on lower ground even than Nazareth.
Huqoq — not far from the “Sea” of Galilee, ca 30 metres above sea level
Meron — mountainous region in the far north, ca 600 meters above sea level
Khirbet Sema — mountainous region in the far north, ca 600 meters above sea level
Horvat Usä — further south, approx 8 kilometres east of Acre, about 30 meters above sea level
How “mountainous” is Nazareth by comparison? It is approx 350 meters above sea level.
But O’Neill has apparently not taken the time to consult Kuhnen’s book as Salm obviously did. Salm appears to have absorbed and incorporated Kuhnen’s intent from his larger argument as we shall see.
Response #3 — not only Galilee
We now enter some serious “nitpicking” (“fact-checking”) with a look at the intent and thrust of Kuhnen’s discussion. Salm only quoted the first half of examples Kuhnen provided to illustrate his point about the apparent delay in the spread of kokhim tombs. The other half listed sites south of Galilee — in the region of Samaria.
= was für Galiläa Huqöq, Merön, H. Sema und H. Usä, für Samarien Samaria-Sebaste, ‘Ar’ara, Sīlet ed-Dahr und Wädi Bedän belegen. (Kuhnen, 255)
[only later. . . as seen in] Galilee Huqöq, Merön, H. Sema and H. Usä, for Samaria Samaria-Sebaste, ‘Ar’ara, Sīlet ed-Dahr and Wädi Bedän.
So Kuhnen is saying that the spread of the kokhim tombs spread not only to northern Galilee but to Samaria as well quite some time after they became common around Jerusalem. (For the sake of completeness of comparisons I have added the elevations.)
It has become a mantra in almost any book that raises the question: Why did the evangelists insist Jesus was from Nazareth unless it happened to be an undeniable historical fact known to all? The mantric response: Because no-one would make up such a datum; no-one would make up the notion that the great and saving Jesus came from such a tin-pot village. The criterion of embarrassment screams against the very idea.
I have never jumped on board with that response because I have never encountered any evidence that demonstrates why it would be too embarrassing for anyone to imagine that the Lord who taught the overturning of the social order so that the last would be first and the first last, who taught that God will exalt the humble and bring low the mighty, — that it would be too embarrassing for anyone to write down for posterity such a detail unless it were historically true and widely known.
I have always considered that response to be ad hoc. It is a speculative opinion but nothing more — pending evidence to buttress its presuppositions.
Then yesterday I read in the work of an ancient historian about the humble birthplace of a Roman emperor, the humble birthplace of a man who was decreed to be a god. The detail is presumably factual. The historian said it was well-known so there was no point trying to hide it. But there’s a catch, a catch that overturns the premise of the above ad hoc and almost universal explanation among scholars for the reason the evangelists might not have fabricated Nazareth as the hometown of Jesus. Here is the passage from the Roman historian Suetonius:
[The Roman emperor] Vespasian was born in a little village in the Sabine land just beyond Reate, known as Falacrina. [Deified Vespasian, 2]
Was this historical record an embarrassment to Vespasian? It seems not, since
even when he was emperor, he would frequently visit his childhood home, where the house was kept just as it had been so that he would not miss the sight of any familiar object. And he so cherished the memory of his grandmother that on religious and festival days he would insist on drinking from a small silver cup which had belonged to her. [Deified Vespasian, 2]
But wait, there is more:
In other matters he was from the very beginning of his principate [emperorship] right up until his death unassuming and tolerant, never attempting to cover up his modest background and sometimes even flaunting it. Indeed, when some people attempted to trace the origins of the Flavian family back to the founders of Reate and a companion of Hercules, whose tomb stood by the Salarian Way,* he actually laughed at them. [Deified Vespasian, 12]
Humble beginnings of a person who rose to high status could well be interpreted as evidence of special divine favour.
Even the great Augustus, the one emperor Suetonius took the most seriously as a divinity, is noted for his humble place of birth. Not the slightest hint of embarrassment is evinced in Suetonius’s reporting of it:
Augustus was born a little before sunrise eight days before the Kalends of October in the consulship of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius, at the Ox Heads in the Palatine district, on the spot where he now has a shrine, established shortly after he died. For, according to senate records, one Gaius Laetorius, a young man of patrician family, in an attempt to mitigate a penalty for adultery, which he claimed was too severe for one of his age and family, also drew to the attention of the senators the fact that he was the possessor and, as it were, guardian of the spot which the Deified Augustus first touched at his birth, and sought pardon for the sake of what he termed his own particular god. It was then decreed that this part of the house should be consecrated. To this day his nursery is displayed in what was his grandfather’s country home near Velitrae. The room is very modest, like a pantry. [Deified Augustus, 5-6]
Suetonius introduces the above passage after having portrayed other indicators of Augustus’s humble early years and even detailing accusations of Augustus’s enemies about his origins:
In the first four chapters the biographer has compiled an account of the Octavii and the Atii, the gentes of Augustus’ natural parents, which sets out the comparative humbleness of his origins: the princeps’ own claim that his paternal line was an old equestrian family is juxtaposed with the claims of M. Antonius that it was tainted with the servile and banausic – a great-grandfather who was an ex-slave and a grandfather who was a money dealer. As to the maternal line, against the claims of senatorial imagines, Antonius alleges a potentially non-white ancestor and more of the banausic – a great-grandfather of African origin who moved into the baking business after running a perfume shop. This section of the life ends with an extract from a letter written by Cassius of Parma, assassin of Caesar and notorious victim of Augustan revenge, which combines both strands of Antonius’ attack and adds a sexual dimension:
. . . . Your mother’s meal came from the roughest bakery in Aricia; a money changer from Nerulum pawed her with his hands stained from filthy pennies.[Deified Augustus, 4.2]
Although Augustus’ ancestry was not the obvious stuff of gods, the next chapter, which begins the Life of Augustus proper, marks a transfer of focus: . . . .
[See the Suetonius passage above: Augustus was born a little before sunrise . . . .]
It begins by recording that Augustus (Suetonius deliberately uses the anachronistic name) was bom in a modest part of Rome, but then qualifies that by ubi nunc habet sacrarium, which begins a series of references to his divinity. (Wardle, 323-24)
Now we may accept the above accounts as likely historically true, but the point is our historian betrays not a hint of embarrassment. The tone suggests that there is nothing inappropriate about one destined to become a god should be born in humble or obscure circumstances.
I know, I know, there are a dozen spin-off questions relating to the above post. But I have chosen to focus on just one point.
Suetonius. 2008. Lives of the Caesars. Translated by Catharine Edwards. Reissue edition. Oxford etc.: OUP Oxford.
Wardle, D. 2012. “Suetonius on Augustus as God and Man.” The Classical Quarterly 62 (1): 307–26.
I’ve read The Myth of Nazareth and was surprised that anyone would find reasons to conclude it was a dishonest treatment of the archaeological evidence as published in the scholarly literature. It turns out that the bulk of Oracz’s criticism is over René Salm’s daring to criticize the influence of Catholic Church in influencing the interpretations and (frequently poorly supported) claims of archaeologists with obvious Christian sympathies. As for being disappointed, I was disappointed that the review simply skipped over the bulk and substance of Salm’s book and made no comment about any of the evidence it cited to demonstrate its case as well as the flaws in many claims of archaeologists funded by churches and the tourism industry of Israel. The closest Oracz appeared to come to a specific criticism to refer to the chapter titles (none of their content) and to a comment he made on one archaeologist’s grammatical slip:
In discrediting the Christian point of view Salm is resorts to different means. For instance, the author points out a grammatical mistake in Bagatti’s work. After quoting a passage from the Christian archaeologist, he writes:
We note, first of all, the incorrect English grammar. The subject is plural and the two examples are given, but the verb is singular (p. 113).
A more informative comment would have cited Salm’s more critical analysis when he wrote those words:
“Indeed, Bagatti corrects Richmond’s error, but he still mentions the word “Hellenistic” upwards of a dozen times in his Excavations — rarely, however, in connection with identifiable evidence. A careful review of his tome shows that there are astoundingly few artefacts involved:
The only pieces which seem to indicate the Hellenistic period is [sic] the nozzle No. 26 of Fig. 233, and 2 of Fig. 235, a bit short for the ordinary lamps, but not completely unusual. (pp. 309–10.)
This is a second surprise. 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.” In contradiction to the above statement, a careful review in fact shows that Bagatti alleges other Hellenistic shards in his Excavations. He has evidently ignored these latter instances in his above summation which concludes his book. Certainly, two pieces are precious little upon which to base the existence of a village. Apparently, however, they constituted the sum total of pre-Christian evidence at Nazareth as of 1967, the publication date of Excavations (Italian edition). Such staggering importance is therefore placed on “the only pieces” from Nazareth witnessing to Hellenistic times, that they merit the most careful scrutiny.”
Only in the second last sentence does the reader get a hint of what has been missed in the review:
Nevertheless, in my opinion this book is interesting because its points out the problems which could arise with the interpretation of the archaeological data from the hometown of Jesus.
If we read only McGrath’s comment we would be left with the impression that Salm is some sort of dishonest denialist.
I think a more appropriate word in place of “honest”, given the content of Oracz’s review, would have been “disinterested”. I am not aware that anyone has been able to substantiate any charges of “dishonesty” in Salm’s study.
But anybody seeking an honest [disinterested] evaluation of the evidence in “The Myth of Nazareth” will be disappointed.
Salm certainly approaches his survey of the archaeological publications with a clear interest to be alert to where orthodox biases have led to misleading, sometimes incorrect, claims about the evidence for a village of Nazareth in the Second Temple era.
(Oh, and Oracz even cites Vridar to support her claim that Salm’s book “provoked a lively discussion”. Someone notices us here!)
One more point
One interesting detail in McGrath’s post — he writes of “mythicists”:
All of them have an anti-religious bent, whether it be Communist or modern online atheist opposition to religion in general . . .
Now that is simply not true. Thomas Brodie? Timothy Freke? Peter Gandy? Herman Detering? Paul-Louis Couchoud? Arthur Drews? Tom Harpur? Robert M. Price? Edward van der Kaaij? Francesco Carotta? Even René Salm . . . . from what I see they have all sought to promote what they consider to be a higher form of spirituality or religiosity than anything that relies upon literalist dogmatism.
(Not that I think there is necessarily anything wrong with an anti-religion bias — so long as one expresses it honestly, with understanding, tolerance, and with the best information one can acquire. You know, like, with the mindset that says “there but for the grace of buddha, krishna, allah, yahweh and elvis go I”)
McGrath, James. 2019. “Mythicism and Diametrically Opposed Ideological Propaganda.” Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath (blog). July 3, 2019. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2019/07/mythicism-and-diametrically-opposed-ideological-propaganda.html.
Oracz, Anna. 2015. Review of R. Salm, The Myth of Nazaret. The Invented Town of Jesus (Review), by Rene Salm. The Polish Journal of Biblical Research 14: 211–14.
This blog is now entering ‘sleep’ mode… — that’s the heading for René Salm’s final post at least for a while. René explains his decision to retire from posting and publishing his research into Christian origins. Fortunately his blog with its many resources will remain online for some time yet. I think René’s strongest contribution to the public was his overview and analysis of the archaeological reports on Nazareth that have been produced over the years. The responses to his work from some academics and even lay critics was anything but scholarly rebuttal. They were viciously hostile, full of insult, ridicule and blatant misrepresentation. That’s not how one expects sound and valid research and scholarly publications to be defended. One must suspect that his reviews and analysis hit a raw nerve in the academy. René has undertaken research into areas that few others have undertaken and one of his last series of posts was a translation and commentary on Hermann Detering’s thesis involving the relationship of Buddhism with Christianity view the Therapeutae in Egypt.
My posts on René’s books on the archaeology of Nazareth:
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”).
What 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.
After 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?
NazarethGate 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.
Until 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)
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.
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.
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”
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?
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
(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 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”.