Did Nazareth Exist During Jesus' Life?


#1

I came across this website which claims that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus. I was wondering if anyone had any knowledge on this matter and could share it? :slight_smile:


#2

Just looking quickly though that site, I’m a little sceptical of its claims. (Apart from anything else, if it was a reasonable claim we would hear about it much more often!)

Archaeological evidence from either the site of modern Nazareth or close by, shows human settlement as far back as the Bronze Age, around 2000BC or so, at least - but a general lack of lots of evidence from the Assyrian and Babylonian era until the early Roman period, shows the settlement was destroyed (like so many were!) by the Assyrians in the 720s BC.

While it’s perfectly true that Nazareth was clearly pretty much abandoned after that, and outside the Bible there are no references to it until about 200AD, there is some evidence for occupation. A house that in all likelihood dates to the time of Jesus, was uncovered in 2009. The population probably wasn’t very large, however.

Now it is entirely possible that the Nazareth of Jesus’ time existed elsewhere, and it is equally possible that it is one of those inconsistencies in the synoptic gospels we can’t ever resolve anyway, even with all the archaeology.

Does it mean that Jesus didn’t exist? Hardly.
Does it matter if Nazareth didn’t? I’m not sure it does. It doesn’t change much after all. Remember that the early Christians were some times called ‘Nazarenes’ which must have been an appellation to have come from somewhere…


#3

“What good can come from Nazareth” would make sense if it was a former town that had been largely abandoned.

A few years ago, one might have said “What good can come from Detroit”?


#4

:banghead: This is all that comes to mind when reading this preposterous claims. Alas I am a Christian hence :blush: need to do more of this:gopray:


#5

Why would Pontius Pilate nail a plaque with Iesu Nazareno Rei Iudea written on it if he did not honestly think that Jesus came from a real town name Nazareth?

from an Israeli tourist info site:
Archaeological excavations indicate Nazareth was settled continuously from 900 – 600 BCE, with a break in settlement until 200 BCE, from which time it has been continuously inhabited.

So, in other words, yes, Nazareth has ben there a long time, well before Jesus lived there.


#6

Don’t look on that site you dumbass mother****er


#7

It wasn’t even a town - it was a very small hamlet.

The claim that Nazareth didn’t exist in the 1st century was rather popular back in the 19th century, when it was a sort of fad among a certain circle of scholars to claim the gospels were of little to no historical reliability because they were written very late (somewhere after AD 100). In fact, they would kinda say that the fact that the gospels mention Nazareth is proof that the gospels were written very late - because in their opinion, Nazareth did not really exist in the 1st century yet. They would cite things as Josephus failing to name the place as proof of their claim. Since then, this claim was (and is being) rehashed time and again by some people - a good number of which I’ll bet probably never did their homework. :smiley:

Since then, scholars have recognized that this argument isn’t as strong as once believed.

(1) The argument about Josephus and the Talmud not mentioning the area is essentially an argument from silence. In fact, their failing to mention it is precisely because the village would have been small and insignificant by ancient standards. We really only know about Nazareth today because Jesus lived in it.

(2) Little archaeological work has really been done in Nazareth. Nazareth is not like Yodfat (Jotapata), Sepphoris or Capernaum, settlements which existed once but are now just a heap of ruins - where you can freely conduct archaeological digs. Nazareth nowadays is a pretty big city*, with people (81,000 of them) living on it - there is a limit to where and what you can dig. For an analogy, it would be pretty much conducting an archaeological dig in the middle of, say, New York.

  • Nazareth pretty much became a big city mainly because of Jesus (

So far, from the little that has been dug up, we do have a few items that do fit the time period: coins from the late Hellenistic-early Roman periods (found at the site called Mary’s Well, near the Basilica of the Annunciation), the (remains of a) house that was discovered in 2009, tombs and agricultural installations like grain silos, millstones, cisterns, presses, and granaries discovered in the 1950s.


#8

Exactly. Seriously - why would the Gospel writers claim that Jesus was born in a place that no one had heard of unless He actually had been raised there? The parts of the Gospels that are in the closest (though not complete) agreement have to do with Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. Each and every one of them has Pilate’s men nailing a sign that states “Jesus of Nazereth, King of the Jews”. Why would Pilate have this written if it weren’t a claim when Jesus was alive?


#9

Fun fact: even the controversial John Dominic Crossan does not deny that Nazareth existed. In fact, I can’t think of no serious scholar that does. It’s mainly folks from the fringes and anti-Christian activists that rehash the old red herring about Nazareth not existing during the early 1st century. :smiley:

Here’s Crossan’s description of the archaeological data from Nazareth (The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant, pp. 15-16. Note that he was writing in the 90s, so the house that was discovered in 2009 is not described yet.)

Compare Nazareth as seen first through literary and then through archaeological lenses. Leaving aside Christian sources, Jack Finegan sums up what we have about it from earliest other texts. “In the Old Testament Jos. 19:10-15 gives a list of the towns of the tribe of Zebulon . . . but does not mention Nazareth. Josephus, who was responsible for military operations in this area in the Jewish War . . . gives the names of forty-five towns in Galilee, but does not say anything about Nazareth. The Talmud also, although it refers to sixty-three Galilean towns, does not mention Nazareth” (27). From Jewish literary texts, then, across almost one thousand five hundred years, nothing.

The very first mention of Nazareth in any non-Christian text comes from a fragmented inscription on a piece of dark gray marble excavated at Caesarea in August of 1962 and dating from the third or fourth century of the common era. In 70 C.E., during the First Roman-Jewish War, the Temple of Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the future emperor Titus, and, at the end of the Third Roman-Jewish War in 135 C.E., the defeated Jews were expelled from the territory of Jerusalem, renamed Aelia Capitolina by the emperor Hadrian. The surviving priests, divided from ancient times into twenty-four courses that took weekly turns in Temple service, were eventually reorganized and resettled in various Galilean towns and villages. A list of those assignments was affixed to the wall of Caesarea’s synagogue build around the year 300 C.E. The restored line reads: “The eighteenth priestly course [called] Hapizzez, [resettled at] Nazareth.” Both communal relocation and synagogal inscription served, no doubt, both to recall the Second Temple’s past and to await a Third Temple’s future (Vardaman; Avi-Yonah). But archaeology knows more about Nazareth than this rather late first non-Christian mention of its name.

Between 1955 and 1960 the Franciscan scholar Bellarmino Bagatti excavated at Nazareth beneath both the demolished older Church of the Annunciation and other Franciscan property extending north-eastward toward their Church of Saint Joseph. He summarized his discoveries by saying, “Chronologically we have: tombs of the Middle Bronze Period [c. 2000-1500 B.C.E.]; silos with ceramics of the Middle Iron Period [c. 900-539 B.C.E.]; and then, uninterruptedly, ceramics and constructions of the Hellenistic Period [c. 332-63 B.C.E.] down to modern times” (Bagatti 1.29-32). The remnants from those earlier occupations are, however, quite limited, while those of that final one are much more extensive. Thus, despite some hints of an ancient lineage, “It is in the second century B.C.E. that extensive remains are to be found, which suggests that this is the period of the refounding of the village. . . . This implies that the village was less than two hundred years old in the first century C.E.” (Meyers & Strange 57, 184 note 36). It was also and only in the late second century that the Jewish dynasty of the Hasmoneans succeeded in conquering the Greek city of Samaria, which blocked their northward thrust for control of the Plain of Esdraelon and annexation of Galilee. The refounding of Nazareth may well reflect that territorial expansion.

The tombs, both those discovered by Bagatti and others known from earlier explorations, would have been placed outside the village and serve, in fact, to delimit its circumference for us. Looking at their locations on the plans drawn up by Bagatti (1.28) or Finegan (27), one realizes just how small the village actually was and also that Bagatti’s excavations were located pretty much at its heart. The vast majority of the tombs are chambers with several burial shafts cut horizontally into the walls so that a body could be inserted head first. Because of those shafts or niches, they are called loculi graves in Latin or kokim graves in Hebrew. One tomb from the Nazareth necropolis, for example, had six balanced shafts on either side of the burial chamber and a thirteenth one in the back wall. Artifacts found when that tomb was excavated in 1923 span the first half millennium of the common era and indicate “that the village, even though it ran into difficulties in the war of 70, was never abandoned” and that “the tomb was in use for many centuries” (Bagatti 1.237). The use of such multishafted burial chambers is quite significant because, as Jack Finegan observed, “from about 200 B.C. [they] became virtually the standard type of Jewish tomb,” so that “it may fairly be said that this type of tomb virtually became the canonical form of the Jewish family grave” (28, 185). Another conclusion from archaeology, therefore, is that Nazareth was a very Jewish village in the Roman era.

Bagatti also discovered many grottoes inside the ancient village, as well as cisterns for water, presses for olives, vats for oil, millstones and silos for grain. The conclusion is “that the principal activity of these villagers was agriculture. Nothing in the finds suggests wealth” (Meyers & Strange 56).


#10

Actually, the gospels (of Matthew and Luke) say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Which, yeah, a number of scholars today dispute because they find the idea of Jesus the Messiah being born in the Davidic village too convenient - they think He had been in Nazareth all along.

But yeah, nowadays even the more ‘liberal’ scholars would not put the gospels beyond forty to fifty years after Jesus’ death (and resurrection). I mean in the past when people could claim the gospels were written well into the 2nd-3rd century, one could make the claim that Nazareth was simply an anachronism by the evangelists with a straight face, but now, the best you can do for the ‘Nazareth did not exist’ argument is simply that either (1) the gospel authors had either invented the place out of thin air or from their (mis)interpretation of OT scripture or (2) that all those references to Nazareth are somehow later interpolations.

The parts of the Gospels that are in the closest (though not complete) agreement have to do with Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. Each and every one of them has Pilate’s men nailing a sign that states “Jesus of Nazereth, King of the Jews”. Why would Pilate have this written if it weren’t a claim when Jesus was alive?

Technically, only John has the “Jesus the Nazorean” part (though all four agree that the sign at least read “King of the Jews/Judaeans”).

Funny enough, the gospels never really quite agree on how to spell the name. The one single reference of the name in Mark spells it as Ναζαρὲτ ‘Nazaret’ (1:9); the same for John (1:45-46). Matthew spells it as Ναζαρέτ ‘Nazaret’ in 2:23, but then he spells it Ναζαρὲθ ‘Nazareth’ in 21:11. Luke consistently spells it Ναζαρὲθ ‘Nazareth’ (1:26; 2:4, 39, 51; Acts 10:38). In addition, both Matthew and Luke refer to the place once, in the context of Jesus returning to the Galilee (Matthew 4:13; Luke 4:16) as Ναζαρά ‘Nazará’.

Matthew: Nazaret, Nazara, Nazareth
Mark: Nazaret
Luke-Acts: Nazareth, Nazara
John: Nazaret

As for the adjectival form ‘Nazarene’ (Ναζαρηνός Nazarēnos) or ‘Nazorean’/‘Nazorene’ (Ναζωραῖος Nazōraios), Mark generally prefers Nazarēnos (1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6) while Matthew (2:23; 26:71), John (18:5, 7; 19:19) and Luke (18:37; Acts 2:22; 3:6; 4:10; 6:14; 22:8; 24:5; 26:9) generally go for Nazōraios. However, Luke does have two instances where he uses Nazarēnos: once - in its vocative form Nazarēne - in a passage similar word-for-word with Mark’s (4:34 = Mark 1:24). (The other is in 24:19.)

Matthew: Nazōraios
Mark: Nazarēnos
Luke-Acts: Nazōraios, Nazarēnos (twice)
John: Nazōraios


#11

I agree. I have never heard anyone question the existence of Nazareth before this thread.


closed #12

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