Excavating Cana; Can archaeologists prove that water was turned into wine?

Occasionally, the title of a story makes me take a second look and say "what?" So it was with a recently published article from the Washington Times (April 17, 2006) and published in the World Peace Herald entitled "Cana excavation aims to unearth miracle of Jesus" by Jay Bushinsky. According to the article, excavations are taking place in the ancient village of Cana where Jesus changed water into wine.

Now, what is interesting about the headline is that it contradicted by the article itself. The headline suggests that the archaeologists conducting the excavation somehow believe that they will unearth archaeological evidence that will either prove or disprove the miracle recorded in John 2: 1-10. But the article shows that the archaeologists conducting the excavation don't have that as a goal, and largely acknowledge that such proof or disproof of miracles is not possible using archaeology.

Yardenna Alexandre, a British-trained Israeli archaeologist, has been excavating a site she associates with the Roman-era village in which the miracle is said to have occurred.

* * *

Miss Alexandre emphasized that her scientific work was not inspired or motivated by the miracle associated with Cana.

"Archaeology cannot prove or disprove miracles," she said. "But it can provide a realistic background of the biblical narrative. ...

"My vision is that the rest of the site will be excavated and become visible and accessible to pilgrims and tourists from all over the world who are interested in seeing Cana as it was at the time of Jesus," Miss Alexandre said.

Now, I have often told skeptics that it is not possible to use archaeology to prove or disprove the existence of miracles. Usually, I ask the question: what do you expect archaeologists to find? The remains of breadcrumbs from the feeding of the 5,000? Footprints from when Jesus walked on water? Miracles are not the type of things that archaeology can prove or disprove. I find Ms. Alexandre's statement confirming that belief comforting.

However, there is certainly room for archaeology to provide the background for the area in which the events took place. So it was in this case because the archaeologists found 11 large clay storage jars stashed in underground hide-outs hewn out of the bedrock by the village's Jewish inhabitants, apparently to evade the Roman legions of the future emperor Vespasian. The fact that the pots were made of poor materials may suggest why the wine ran short.

Many of Cana's houses contained ritual baths and stone vessels indicating its inhabitants were Galilean Jews at the time of the miracle described in the Gospel of John. No imported or glass vessels were found, a factor that attests to its Jewish identity and economically modest circumstances.

That may explain why the wine ran short there after the first three days of a weeklong Jewish wedding mentioned in the biblical narrative.

While there is no reason to believe that any of the stone or clay jars found in Cana were the ones that held the water that Jesus turned into wine, there certainly is no reason to conclude that they could not have been the very same jars. Yet, while archaeology cannot confirm whether these were the same jars, it does provide more information about Cana that can help enrich our understanding of the area where Jesus did, in fact, perform his miracles.


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