Fictional Nazareth Issue Heats up

excavation in 1999

December of 2010 I did a piece updating a controversy from the early days (late 90s) of my apologetical life: the Nazareth as Inhabited at the Time of Jesus. This was on Atheist Watch, and the comment below was sent to Atheist Watch. That piece I did on atheist watch was in 2 parts. part 2 is here. Of cousre the mythers say no. The Pfan excavation, which they had been sighting as documentation for their view (it was going around big time, every message board had posts on the mythers using Pfan excavation. I'm the one who actually got hold of the guy to find his findings and who read his article to see if they were misquoting him. Now a new gang is saying his findings were no good (now that they know he doesn't back them).

I recieved a comment (on Atheist Watch) to that old post from 2010:

Anne Carly Abad says:
I read this article about Nazareth:

And the author debunks the dating of some of Pfann's findings, claiming "It consists of eleven small pieces of pottery—shards to which the NVF scholars assign an early date but which the standard textbook dates as late as the second century CE. In other words, the NVF scholars were choosing arbitrarily early dates for a few objects, and resting their Jesus-case on what amounts to mere preference. Significantly, in my book I show that the rest of the material from the Nazareth basin dates after the time of Jesus. So, an early dating for the NVF objects in question is not consistent with the evidentiary profile for the area."

What is your take on this?
When we go to that source we see this:

an article entitaled "Nazareth, Faith, and the dark option an update:"

By René Salm

American Atheist has always championed the no-nonsense view of religion, and readers may note with a certain pride that this magazine has now emerged as a leading—if not the leading—advocate for the wholesale revision of Christian beginnings. Atheists have never shirked the challenge to take on the goliath of establishment Christianity, and today that challenge must include the controversial archaeology of Nazareth, which Frank Zindler has called “the Achilles’ heel of a popular god.” Readers will recall two articles in previous American Atheist issues on this topic [1], articles which preview and alert readers to my recent book, The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus (American Atheist Press, March 2008). The opposition has now responded with the literary equivalent of a scream, and I’d like readers to know that the popular Christian god is in a heap of trouble and may be teetering.

How is that for strident? There's no question these guys are in a war, they fighting an evil enemy, they are the good guys (or course) they have the truth. It's pretty clear from their article that their real arguments revolves around commercial interest who seek to make money off of the "Jesus home town" thing. That has nothing to do with Pfan's excavation. If you look at the history of this site these same guys have been spewing the same propaganda for years. they have produced a mounds of lies about it. Most of the Google picks are from these sites, the same people the same lies. They are all basically filling in the data for the two major atheist authors, Rene Salm, The Myth of Nazareth And Frank Zindler. Zindler is is currently the editor of American Atheist Magazine and Director of American Atheist Press. A member of scientific organizations such as New York Academy of Science. No indication he has any degree in Archeology. I am not able to find any credentials for Salm. The best article I've found defending the idea of habitation in the time of Christ, and arguing specifically against the original work of Zindler and Salm is an article on an apologetic site by a Kyle Butt. I'll come back to him latter in this article. The guy that wrote the article and runs the magazine is the guy who wrote the book. So the source that uses the book for documentation is the author of the book. He's obviously going to have a pretty biased take on things.

They always ignore the previous findings, they never reveal that they first used Pfan as their own before they understood him. They pretend the pot shards are the only pro Naz evidence and totally ignore the terraces, the houses, the first two excavations that are just written off because they were done by Franciscans. In the day (1930s--50s) Franciscan archaeologists were authoritative scholars. This was before the new atheist refused to believe anything a religious person says. These are the same guys and the same Orwellian movement that run around going "we don't to know what theolgoians we know they are stupid."

This is hardly scholar stuff. So who is the alleged scholar making the statements about Pfan's findings? You don't just look in a text book to determine the dating of pot shards. I no longer have the original stuff I used to use on Nazareth, nor the article on Pfan's work but as I recall there's a lot more to it than just some pottery. There were prior excavations to his that arleady determined Nazareth was inhabited. Some of my research can still be seen on my old site Doxa. From that article:

First of all it's important to realize that Nazareth was only four miles from a major metropolis. It's hard to believe it wasn't inhabited until so late being that close to a major city.

There two mentions in Antiquity:

"Despite the Hellenization of the general region and the probability that Greek was known to many people it seems likely that Nazareth remained a conservative Jewish village. After the Jewish war with the Romans from AD 66-70 it was necessary to re-settle Jewish priests and their families. Such groups would only settle in unmixed towns, that is towns without Gentile inhabitants. According to an inscription discovered in 1962 in Caesarea Maritima the priests of the order of Elkalir made their home in Nazareth. This, by the way, is the sole known reference to Nazareth in antiquity, apart from written Christian sources... (next paragraph) Some scholars had even believed that Nazareth was a fictitious invention of the early Christians; the inscription from Caesarea Maritima proves otherwise." Paul Barnett[BSNT], Behind the Scenes of the New Testament, IVP:1990, p.42:

Also from my original article:

occupied since 7th century BC

"Despite Nazareth's obscurity (which had led some critics to suggest that it was a relatively recent foundation), archeology indicates that the village has been occupied since the 7th century B.C., although it may have experienced a 'refounding' in the 2d century b.c. " ([MJ]A Marginal Jew--Rethinking the Historical Jesus, (vol 1), p.300-301)...cites Meyers and Strange, Archeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity, Abingdon:1981. pp.56-57

Galyaah Cornfeld, Archaeology of The Bible Book by Book .(NY: Harper and Row 1976) p. 284 "What concretely about first century Nazereth? In the first two centuries AD it was a modest village built on Rocky soil in a valley far from the main trade routes [this was before Sarapis was discovered]...Two excavations, one led by Fther P. Viaud the other by Bagatti led to the discovery of the traditional site of the annunciation to Mary and the place which Jesus frequented as a growing lad...excavations of inscriptions there bear witness to a Jewish Christian cult of Mary from the very earliest times..." Some of those inscriptions also go back to the middle of the first century and identfy the place as the that of Jesus' boyhood home!

Excavations of Naz
Nazaraeth The Village of Jessu, Mary and Joseph

Franciscan cyerspot

The church of the Annunciation stands over the extreme southern end of the ancient village. Having examined the site occupied by the church of 1730, the outline of the Crusader church became clearer. In the northern nave the Crusaders had left the rocky elevation of the grotto and between two pilasters had made a stairway to the shrine. The excavations of 1955 unveiled the plan of the Byzantine church. Orientated as that of the Crusaders, it had 3 naves, with a convent to the S and an atrium to the W. It was 40 m. in length. Delving under the Byzantine construction the franciscan archaeologists found plastered stones with signs and inscriptions, which certainly formed part of a preexisting building on the site.

Excavations of the church led the pre Pfan archaeologist to conclude the place was already inhabited since pre Christian times. There's a lot about Pfan's work on that site too. I suggest the reader read the original article.

The mythers have been so angered they have over the years published a huge amount of Bull about this topic. most of what you find on Goggling it is their propaganda. For example the site "Nazareth the town that theology built' is nothing but pure hog wash. The arguments on that site are so contradictory that he starts out making arguments from sensible 'the gospels don't tell us much about Nazareth" as though that disproves it's existence. then he also says the Gospels don't mention the major city it's near, Sepphoris, as though that somehow disproves its existence! Not mentioning Nazareth disproves Nazareth and not mentioning a place we know for a fact did exist also disproves Nazareth?

A source so unlikely it can't possibly be confused with Christian apologetic, the left leaning Guardian publishes an article about the discovery of Roman Baths at Nazareth, implying it was a Garrison town.

The American excavators are convinced that what Shama has exposed is an almost perfectly preserved Roman bathhouse from 2,000 years ago - the time of Christ, and in the town where he was raised. In a piece of marketing that is soon likely to be echoing around the world, Shama says he has stumbled across the "bathhouse of Jesus". The effects on Holy Land tourism are likely be profound, with Nazareth becoming a challenger to Jerusalem and Bethlehem as the world's most popular site of Christian pilgrimage.

Professor Richard Freund, an academic behind important Holy Land digs at the ancient city of Bethsaida, near Tiberias, and Qumran in the Jordan Valley, says the significance of the find cannot be overstated. Over the summer he put aside other excavation projects to concentrate on the Nazareth site. "I am sure that what we have here is a bathhouse from the time of Jesus," he says, "and the consequences of that for archaeology, and for our knowledge of the life of Jesus, are enormous."

Kyle Butt M.A.
(Yes I see it, it's no joke)

The town of Nazareth is “located in the southern end of the hills of Lower Galilee at about 1200 feet above sea level” (McRay, 1991, p. 157). Nazareth is about four miles southwest of Sepphoris. During the time of Christ, Sepphoris was the capital of Galilee, a major center of political and economical activity, and home of Herod Antipas (DeVries, 1997, p. 318). Primary research was done on the city in the mid-1950s by Bellarmino Bagatti. He discovered that the village during the time of Jesus was “an agricultural settlement with numerous winepresses, olive presses, caves for storing grain, and cisterns for water and wine” (1969, p. 25). McRay noted that pottery found in Nazareth dates “from Iron Age II (900-600 B.C.) to the Byzantine period (330-640), including Roman pieces from the time of Christ” (p. 158). Bagatti stated:

The entire village of Nazareth has very many subterranean cavities, some used as
The Church of the Annuciation in Nazareth
stores, some used as tombs. The earliest documentation is indicated both by their form and the ceramics found therein. The latter put us in the presence of tombs already existing in the Middle Bronze Period, and silos already in use in the Iron Period (1969, p. 25).

So it was inhabited before Christ, the people went away, then came back after the time of Christ? For the atheist propaganda to be true that would have to be the case. In fact this is the theory proposed by the atheist propagandist Rene Salm, the Myth of Nazareth. He bases that on his asserton that no artifacts are found between 700bc t0 50 AD. His argument is argument from silence and it's disproved not only by Pfan but all three excavations found evidence of first century habitation. In 2009 achaeolgoical evidence of a house was found at the site.

In December of 2009, Nazareth made worldwide headlines. Archaeologist Yardena Alexandre and her colleagues uncovered a small structure that they dated to the time of Christ (Hadid, 2009). The Israel Antiquities Authority official press release hailed this discovery as the first of its kind in which a residential structure was uncovered. The announcement noted the importance of the discovery, and quoted Yardena:
The discovery is of utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CE Nazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period (as quoted in “Residential Building...,” 2009). (ibid)
Salm's book was in 2006 so he didn't know about the data. Now the problem is this data was done by pottery too but there's no reason to think Yerdena's Pottery dates are wrong.

The dating method used by Yardena and her team, of matching pottery from the site to other pottery in an attempt to properly identify the time frame of the dig, is one of the most frequently used dating methods in archaeology. McRay mentioned this dating method as one of the most effective:
The potters of antiquity were careful imitators but reluctant innovators.... At any rate style did seem to change from period to period, slowly but decisively, and we are now able to observe those changes in style and from them establish a chronology. The methodology is not exact, but within reasonable limitations it does provide a workable typology upon which to construct a fairly reliable chronology (1991, p. 32). (ibid)

This means a whole different set of pottery and a different team of archaeologists analyzing them. These are not Christians so it's not likely there's a bias to interpret them wrong, if we should accept that notion about Pfan's excavation. If his group messed up its not likely these other guys did so as well.

Another major dating method is lamps. Salm plays fast and loose with the lamp evidence. He adopts the date range that does his theory the most good and ignores that fact that a lot of evidence exists to date the lamps at the earlier range which would put habitation in Nazareth as late as 37 bc that would destroy his theory that they went away and came back. As Butt points out, even we accept the latter range as does Salm that still implies habitation in the time of Christ.

The incipience of a village is not equivalent to the arrival of the first settlers at the site. No village springs up overnight. It requires a certain amount of time—perhaps a generation or two—to come into existence.... The presence of tombs [in Nazareth] indicates both permanence and population, and it is strongly suggestive of a “village.” Thus, the earliest tomb at Nazareth is a significant clue regarding the existence of a village. Determining its date will be an important goal of these pages. The period of tomb use can be revealed by dating funerary artefacts found in situ (pp. 156-157, italics in orig.).
There are lamps found in the tombs. These are the bow spouted lamps that indexed in dating from their use in Jerusalem.

Thus, according to Salm’s reasoning, tombs show the presence of a village, and settlers in the area could/would have been in the area possibly two generations before that village came into existence. Using Salm’s personally concocted date of A.D. 25 for the earliest date of the lamps, that means that the earliest tomb could possibly date to A.D. 25. And, if settlers were in the area two generations before that (using 40 years as a generation), that would put people in the area in about 55 B.C. Taking that into account, there is absolutely no way that Salm can prove that Nazareth was not inhabited during the time of Christ. The most he can do is suggest that, if his arbitrarily chosen dates are adopted, it seems improbable. Yet even this “improbability” does not accord well with the ranges of dates that are often adopted for such artifacts as the “Herodian” lamps. (Butt article)
Archaeologist Craig Evans, author of Jesus and His world: the Archaeological Evidence argues against the myther assertions.

Craig A. Evans is Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College, Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. The author or editor of more than fifty books and hundreds of articles, Evans is a regular guest on many national media outlets, including Dateline NBC, The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, and BBC. He is an internationally distinguished authority and lecturer on the historical Jesus. For more information, visit
Evens is the only real scholar of academic ranking unlike Salm whose credentials aren't listed, and Zindler who is not an archaeologist. His book is highly authoritative but written to be accessible tot he layman. The publisher's blurb:

In this provocative work, world-renowned scholar Craig A. Evans presents the most important archaeological discoveries that shed light on the world of Jesus of Nazareth. Evans takes on many sensational claims that have been proposed in recent books and peddled in the media, and uses actual archaeological findings to uncover the truth about several key pieces of Jesus' world. For example, what was the village of Nazareth actually like in the time of Jesus? Did synagogues really exist, as the Gospels say? What does archaeology tell us about the ruling priests who condemned Jesus to death? Has the tomb of Jesus really been found, as has been claimed? Evans's engaging prose enables readers to understand and critique the latest theories--both the sober and the sensational--about who Jesus was and what he lived and died for.

Evans writes a Huff post article in which he defends the standard thesis of Jesus really existing and growing up in Nazareth.

Evans article in Huff Post
Posted: 03/26/2012 7:30 am
The archaeological evidence shows that Jesus grew up in a small village, Nazareth, about four miles from Sepphoris, a prominent city in the early first century C.E. This city had a Greco-Roman look, complete with paved, columned street, but its inhabitants were observant Jews. The evidence further shows that Nazareth was linked to a network of roads that accommodated travel and commerce. The quaint notion that Jesus grew up in rustic isolation has been laid to rest. The youthful Jesus may well have visited Sepphoris, whose theatre may have been the inspiration for his later mockery of religious hypocrites as play-actors.

The evidence for the existence of synagogue buildings in the time of Jesus is now quite strong. Archaeologists have identified at least seven such buildings that date before the year 70. It is in the context of the synagogue that Jesus would have matured in the religious tradition of Israel and heard Scripture read and interpreted. Although some historians think rates of literacy in the first-century Roman Empire were quite low, archaeological finds, such as the tablets found in Vindolanda, England, near Hadrian's Wall, or the thousands of graffiti etched on the scorched walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum, suggest that at least a crude literacy was widespread and reached all levels of society. This evidence, along with the Gospels' portrait of a Jesus who debates scribes and ruling priests, asking them if they had ever read this or that passage of Scripture, suggests that Jesus, founder of a movement that produced and collected literature, was himself literate.
The presence of churches before AD 70 is very significant because that's prior to the fall of the temple and its' prior to the circulation of the Gospels on a wide scale. They didn't grow up over night. A bunch of believer's would not say 'let's go out in the desert and pick a spot, say it was Nazareth and build a bunch of churches. There had to be a group of people living there already and the spot had to already be identified with Jesus. It would take time for a community to spring up.

For that matter why would Gospel writing creating a fictional character make up that he was from a fictional place no one had ever heard of when his birth and life were suppossed to be related to given prophesies that tied him to places like Bethlehem? Why make up that he also was born in Bethlehem and then went to fictional Nazareth when they could say he grew up in Bethlehem? It couldn't be fear that his family would be traced and not found there, becuase according to the Jesus mythers the Gospels were all like second century. There would be ample room to argue his family had been forgotten. Or better yet just make up they were known! How could it be checked? Would ancinet world Jim Rockford's or Fran Cannon's go out to the desert to prove Jesus didn't exist? So why stick him with a fictional origin then try to tie his birth to a real place?

The mythers are stuck with trying to tie Jesus to a fictional puzzle that doesn't have all the pieces.

Here's where you can find my old original piece on Doxa. Link
there's a lot there about Pfan's excavation, and some about the earlier one's.

another one I did on this blog, probably a lot of overlap.


Reading both parts of your post, I still did not learn too much about the findings there.

I'm neither interested in Jesus nor in religuous wars, I'm interested in facts. Hence, it would be nice if you could provide some links to unbiased archeological reports supporting Pfann's datings.

It is not a question of proving the other side wrong, it is a question of manipulating history to match personal preferences. Any good scientist should work on a neutral base to provide unbiased evidence for the generations following us. It should be up to the reader to evaluate facts on her/his own, not to the scientist to super-impose her/his pre-determined opinion.

Greetings from Augsburg

Bernhard Schornak
Metacrock said…
The original article I put up about it is long gone. That was like six computers ago. It was 1999. In fact the website for doxa has been totally overhauled several times since then too. The original link to Pfan's site with his data is long gone. that's the one atheists originally tried to use as their own becasue they misunderstood what he mean by calling Nazareth a "sing family dry farm."

He mean a large extended family with 35 separate domiciles. There's still a bit about his findings on the version of the article that is still on Doxa.

sorry but I don't everything has to be at our finger types. I've given a good clue about what to look for. People can go look for it.

Metacrock said…
Any good scientist should work on a neutral base to provide unbiased evidence for the generations following us. It should be up to the reader to evaluate facts on her/his own, not to the scientist to super-impose her/his pre-determined opinion.

Pardon me. I'm not a scientist.Ok I'm not pretending to do scinece here ok?

I have a larger understanding of critique than 'scinece.'

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