Sunday, December 5, 2010

Was Nazareth Inhabited in the Time of Christ? Examination of Arugments by Kenneth Humphreys

Part I


excavation of house discovered in Naz. 2009

Back around 2001 when I really made a major commitment of my time and resources to internet apologetic, or whatever this is I do, there was a huge presence of an argument that Nazareth was not inhabited in the time of Christ, so Jesus could not have grown up there, therefore, this lends credence to the idea that Jesus didn't exist. I wrote one of the few major responses, a page backed by my actual contact with the major archaeologist who excavated the stie in that in the late 90s or so (there's a new version on Doxa but no new material). With much publicity of my page the issue sort of faded into the background. Now it's back. There is more Jesus myth propaganda being made of this issue than ever before. The issue is still as hallow and the proof of Nazareth's existence still as obvious as ever.

There are three major atheist arguments:

(1) No historical mention of Nazareth.

(2) Tombs near by Preclude Jewish Habitation

(3) The Geography is wrong.

In this first section I will deal with argument one.

The argument always seemed silly to me becuase if you are going to make up a fictional guy and pass him off as historical, my have him come from a fictional town? To this atheists answer, writers always put fictional characters in real places. That's quite common. Exactly! Why invent the place he comes from? They did it with Superman but he's not being passed off as real. What is the major atheist evidence that Nazareth didn't exist? It's based upon argument from silence of course. No, actually there are two major arguments one is based on silence and the other is positive.

(1) no record of Nazareth being inhabited until the middle of the second century.

from a reader to blog "Facing the Challenge:"

To say that there is no proof that something does not exist as a way to support the supposed truth of the bible is misleading. The burden of proof is on you, the believers. You say Jesus and God exist. Show us.
How about the embarrassing fact that the town now called Nazareth, contains no artifacts to suggest habitation in the area until at least midway through the second century? But wasn't Jesus born and raised there? You'd think we would have found some of their wares lying around. Not only that, but the caves in the area had previously been used as a necropolis, or city of the dead. Jewish law prohibits followers to live adjacent to a necropolis.
David Couchman (facing the challenge)
summarizes atheist argument:

According to the Bible, Jesus grew up in Nazareth. There is no evidence that the town now called Nazareth was inhabited before the middle of the second century - that is, more than a hundred years after Jesus was supposed to live there.

My foil in this discussion shall be one of the major atheist websites on the Issue: Nazareth the Town that Theology Built." The sight is by a Kenneth Humphreys, it's a chapter from his book Jesus Never Existed. His page is par to of the website of the same title and it's basically his book on the web.

Here's where argument from silence comes in:

Humphreys argues that Nazareth is not listed anywhere as a city in that era. As though there could never a place so small and obscure that there can't be a record of it. Of closure just as there are millions of people in first century Palestine we will never know existed, there are probably hundreds of villages we will never know existed. To prove this point he quotes (actually just alludes without even footnoting or documenting) (1) Joshua (as though if it wasn't inhabited before the exile it could never be) the (2) The Talmud (he doesn't document that he even looked at the Talmud--of course he can't show evdience that something it's there, without making us read the whole thing, he should at least foot note the source of the Talmudic the looked in so we have some idea that he at least got a copy). (3) Paul doesn't mention it. Then he claims (4) No ancient historian mentions it. This is clearly argument from silence because there's no positive reason to think it wasn't inhabited, the only reason is that the sources are silent.

As we will see the summary of those sources is more than just silent it's inaccruate. It is not true that no ancient historian mentions it.

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:

Patristic writer Heggespius, a Jewish-Christian writers of the second half of hte second century writes about it:

Patristic Evidence

Franciscan cyerspot

(this sorce no longer works) (visisted 2001-04)

Even the judeo-christian historian Hegesippus (late second century) gives witness to these next-of-kin of the Lord when speaking about a persecution of the Christians by Emperor Domiziano (81-96 AD) and whose writings are quoted by Eusebius (IV cent. AD) in his History of the Church (III,19.20,1-6). Jiulius the African (250 AD) mentions how the descendents of Jesus were jealous in keeping alive the memory of their forefathers (a passage quoted by Eusebius in his History of the Church I,7,13-14). During the persecution in Asia Minor of Emperor Decius (249-251) a christian maryr, Conon, is brought to trial and he proclaims in judgement: "I am from Nazareth of Galilee, I am descendent of Christ to whom I give worship since my forefathers". The Apochryphal writings too expand this vision about the next-of-kin of the Lord. They gather the oral traditions of the first Church about Jesus' family, especially his childhood years, Mary's and Joseph's daily life with Jesus amongst them.

Notice Humphreys begins dating the habitation of Naz. at late second century. This is in harmony with the standard Myther time table, but it also counters Heggisepius. Although it's not logical to think that the place would have sprang up from nothing in parallel to the life and times of the guy who mentions it.

Now Humphreys demonstrates his incredibly bad logic. He tries to aruge that the NT wirters were somehow biased because they don't mention a major metropolis which is just four miles away (I know it's four miles from the PBS website from Jesus to Christ, linked site by UT professor White discusses the excavations).

Humphreys on website--(link above)

None of this would matter of course if, rather like at the nearby 'pagan' city of Sepphoris, we could stroll through the ruins of 1st century bath houses, villas, theaters etc. Yet no such ruins exist.
caption to picture
No, not Nazareth but Sepphoris, a 45 minute walk away – and which does not get a mention in the gospels!

[Humphreys continues]

In short order, Christian apologists fall over themselves to explain 'But of course, no one had heard of Nazareth, we're talking of a REALLY small place.' By semantic downsizing, city becomes TOWN, town becomes VILLAGE, and village becomes 'OBSCURE HAMLET'.

Yet if we are speaking of such an obscure hamlet the 'Jesus of Nazareth' story begins to fall apart.

The reasons this is horrible logic, while he's constructing this would be brilliant analysis of the dishonesty of Gospel writers, what he's ignoring is the obvious fact that here is a major city right next to the village, just a few miles away, and there's hardly a mention in history of that era! We didn't' know much about it until we excavated it. He tries to sell it as some kind of plot implying that Jesus grew up in Sepphoris and this was transfomred into tiny Nazareth for some really stupid reason because it just makes it all the more difficult to ground Jesus in fact if his home town is made up too. Why do it? He assumes a place could not be so small on one wants to talk about it. He's also assuming a small place can't be next to a big place. Also notice how whining his arguments are. He's basically just whining because we don't have good ruins to prowl though, as though the fact of Nazareth being small proves it couldn't exist.

My evidence for the recent nature of our knowledge on Sepphoris comes from a site, the URL of which has changed. PBS, Frontline, From Jesus to Christ. I visited their site on this point backin 2006.

From Jesus to Christ: Frontline, PBS

Tradition pictures the world of Jesus as a peaceful and pastoral place, governed by the ancient rhythms of field and farm. But recent archaeological evidence has revealed a different environment, one influenced by city life and marked by political unrest and protest.

These discoveries began to emerge twenty-five years ago, when a team of archaeologists, including Eric and Carol Meyers, began to excavate a city located less than four miles from Nazareth, easily accessible in an hours walk. The city is Sepphoris. It was destroyed in a political feud in about 4 BCE -- the approximate date of the birth of Jesus -- and it was rebuilt during the time that Jesus was growing up nearby. Known as the "ornament of the Galilee", Sepphoris was wealthy, sophisticated and predominately Jewish. An elaborate system of water works kept residents supplied with fresh water; satellite villages such as Nazareth may have kept it supplied with food.

The quotes are now gone from the site. They do talk about the city, however, Eric Meyers of Duke says he believes it wasn't as developed in Jesus' day. As Jew Jesus would have been excluded from much that the city had to offer. Meyers believe the theater wasn't there and that the city did not reflect a Roman flavor until the time of Herod Antipas, after Jesus.

Humphreys does not includ Dr. Pfann in list of sources. This is a serious mistake, it shows us that he has not actually read anything Pfann other than my page.He does deal with Pfann even though he doesn't make clear what he read. He demonstrates a total lack of objectivity and a real adversarial approach, not only in refusing to list him in the sources but labeling him "christian hero no 2" (Baggatti is no 1). I'll get to that in a minute. What is it that Pfann says that makes his work so important that leaving him out is a crucial mistake? Pfan was the archaeologist who excavated Nazareth in the last major excavation, which was in the late 90s. He proved beyond doubt that Nazareth was inhabited in the time of Christ.. Before him there was a previous excavation by the Franciscans (Father Bellarmino Bagatti) in the 50s that also proved it was inhabited.

Dr. Stephen Pfann

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!

There have been a wave of excavations since the 1730,Brother Benedict Vlaminck 1982,889 and 1907-l909, Father Prosper Viaud, O.F.M., directed further excavations.Bellarmino Bagatti 1955. "Excavations in fact not only revealed the sanctity of the site but also the remains of the ancient village of Nazareth with its silos, cisterns and other cave-dwellings. No construction survived the impetus of time." (Franciscan Cybrespot: Nazareth, Basilica of the Annunciation Archaeological excavations). So even the 55 expedition found evidence of habitation.

Franciscan Cybresopt
Among these architectural remains the archaeologists found various graffiti and among them one of special interest. Scratched on the base of a column appeared the greek characters XE MAPIA (read: Ch(air)e Maria). Translated as: "Hail Mary". Recalling the angel's greeting to the Virgin, this inscription is the oldest of its kind known to us. It was written before the Council of Ephesus (431) where devotion to Mary received its first universal impulse. Other graffiti, all jelously conserved at the adjacent museum, confirm the Marian nature of the shrine. One in armenian reads "beautiful girl" (referred to Mary) and another one in greek reads "on the holy site of M(ary) I have writen".
Significant because it places the connection with Mary before the crusaders. The Jewish Christians would not have gone out into the desert to create a shrine to Mary in the second century. There would already have to be something to cause pilgrims to connect to Mary.

Neverthless it was Dr. Pfann who really did the one modern, major, professotional excavation of the habitations. The excavation began with expossed ground by a hospital. Pfann found an ancient wine press, agricultural terraces. Clealry signs of habitation. No one goes out into the desert far from everything to agricultural terraces and a wine press. Pot shards (always clear evidence of habitation) date from early to late Roman period, (2nd Century BC to 1st Century AD). The excavations began 1997, they lasted four successive years. They also found in irrigation system, watch tower and a quarry. No one would go put these things in the middle of nowhere and list long distances from them.The Stone quarry was probably of a latter era and used to build the chruch. Pfann theorizes that these comprise a single families farm that produced a variety of crops. Humphreys uses this phrase about the single farm to assert that it's not valid, it's just one family. He conjures up images of four people. Two parents, two kids (although he doesn't actually use a number). Pfann is talking about an extended family like in the ancient near east, living in a string of different units and everyone is a cousin. He's talking about like 30 family groups all related as one extended family.

University of the Holy land sponsors a site that shows photographs of the major highlights of the excavation and the city today. This site points out that the major problem that leads to criticism of the findings is the lack to housing discovered. That is connected to the discovery of the quarry and the church.

The problem comes when one paints the picture, as has been done, of a town of two hundred and fifty inhabitants who lived in the caves of a rocky hill (bringing into question the feasablity of the synagogue of the Gospel story). Why is the evidences for walled houses and buildings virtually lacking from the earlier excavations if recent excavations have revealed first century quarries which provided cut stones for building the town? The answer lies in the construction of the Byzantine Church. The ruins of Roman period Nazareth were the most available source of stone for building the Byzantine Church. After the stones were robbed out from the ruins, all that was left behind was one of the best preserved set of basement systems found in the Galilee. For the evidence in Nazareth itself see this powerpoint.

The official final publication of these excavations has just appeared recently in the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society vol. 25 (2007) pp. 19-79: S. Pfann, R. Voss, Y. Rapuano, “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report”. The summary of the ceramic finds from this rather lengthy article has been provided by Antonio Lombatti here. (Ibid, see above link)

Archaeologists have no found a house at the site that dates to Jesus' era.

By Diaa Adid |
The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.
The Jews of Nazareth dug camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority. But the hamlet was so far off the beaten path that the caves were apparently not needed, she said.

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," Alexandre added, as workers carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.
Pfann was not involved in this dig, it was conducted by
Yardenna Alexandre.

Bible. org
A recent Israel Antiquities Authority excavation in Nazareth has resulted in the discovery of a residential building dating to the time of Jesus. The site is located next to the Church of the Annunciation, and was discovered as archaeologists carried out excavations in preparation for the construction of the International Marian Center of Nazareth. During the course of excavations, researchers discovered the remains of an early Roman-period structure, as well as several artifacts including pottery fragments and pieces of chalk vessels.

The fragments of chalk vessels that were discovered are particularly important, as these indicate that the residents were Jewish—chalk vessels were only used by Jews in this period because such pieces were unsusceptible to becoming ritually unclean. The discovery of this structure is the first such residential structure to be discovered in Nazareth from this period. Further examination of the structure is expected to shed light on daily life in the Jewish village during the time of Jesus.

In Part 2 I'm going to go through Humphrey's site and show how he deal with Pfann's work. We will see his approach is immature, biased, adversarial and un-scholarly.


anne carly abad said...

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?

Metacrock said...

Pfann had a lot more to go on than just pottery. The Israeli antiquities guys are not any more objective.

Metacrock said...

Looking at the site you document, it's one of the most biased pro myther sties I've ever seen. I'm going to do a major piece on it. Thanks giving me such good material.

Metacrock said...

my new article on the subject is here.