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Recent Reports on Galilean Archaeology–Ken Dark

June 11, 2013

On 29 May the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins (CSCO; University of Edinburgh) sponsored a fascintating set of presentations by Dr. Ken Dark (University of Reading), an archaeologist with considerable experience and expertise in Galilee.  He first presented on his work in Nazareth, reporting on evidence of the cultural orientation of the first-century site (demonstrably Jewish), and also on indications that the site included at least one “courtyard” type house, suggesting a moderately well-off household.

His second presentation was on his more recent work on the western shore of Lake Galilee.  There he posits first-century evidence that the area was more thickly populated than at present, and that there were various local agricultural and fishing industries located there.

To get further summaries of his presentations, go to the CSCO blog-site here.

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  1. Hi,

    When we read the NT, we see that the Jesus of the Gospels stays much closer to the Sea of Galilee region as his home region. Let’s remember that our current identification of Nazareth is largely built on one of the Empress Helena Augusta 4th century identifications. Which, unless there was specific and strong corroboration, must be allowed as extremely tentative and only of mild evidentiary value.

    Beyond that, our current Nazareth identification flunks the NT smell test of Luke 4:29:

    Luke 4:29
    And rose up, and thrust him out of the city,
    and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built,
    that they might cast him down headlong.

    Since there is no spot around the Nazareth Basin region today that can match the account. And the apologetic attempts to explain the verse (e.g. maybe a cliff that got razed?) do not sit well. If we take the NT seriously and respect Lukan history and geography (think William Ramsay and Adrian Nicholas Sherwin-White and Colin J. Hemer) this is an extremely important consideration.

    Perhaps we should be looking for Nazareth afresh. As in the possible Har Nitai identification, not too far from Migdal.

    When Army Ranger Kevin Kluetz surveyed the region looking for sites consistent with the New Testament accounts, especially those with archaeological ruins that had not been excavated, two sites in Galilee were possible consistent with the Luke 4:29 account, Har Nitai and Arbel .

    Har Nitai is covered with unexcavated ruins

    Yours in Jesus,
    Steven Avery
    Bayside, NY

    • Steven,
      It’s not wise to comment without having studied Ken Dark’s findings. E.g., he notes that the archaeological evidence indicates a “wadi” that apparently ran right through lst-century Nazareth, which is presently covered over. He has what he takes as clear evidence of a lst-century settlement where Nazareth is thought to have been. Let’s not argue from fixed positions but go with the evidence.

      • Hi,

        Thank you Professor Hurtado. Please understand that I was not concerned with the mythicist mishegas. The likely fact of an ancient settlement in our present Nazareth, the point of the archaeology being discussed, should be accepted. (We know that spot was likely settled in the 4th century when identified, and, except for destructions and razings, like the Jewish wars refs of Josephus, or a new city like Brasilia, inhabitation tends to be continuous).

        The question above is simple, are there any significant markers, geographical, literary, New Testament continuity, etc. that can corroborate the Helena identification?

        The fact that Josephus does not mention a town close to Sepphoris is mentioned by the mythicists, and is a minor point. Origen in Caesarea also does not tell us the locale of Nazareth, even though the current identification would be fairly close. Granted, those are silences, of minor but interesting significance.

        Without solid corroboration, and with severe New Testament difficulties (even the continual walking such a great distance from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee New Testament corridor … especially though the missing cliff) and with an alternative site to be studied, why is our current Nazareth considered a settled identification? The missing cliff is a big problem, you need a steep drop to do real bodily harm (and execution, as implied).

        My conjecture. We have an over-concern about the skeptic-mythicist attack. Why don’t we simply accept the obvious historicity of Nazareth by the New Testament evidences (corroborated especially by the incredible Caesarea Maritima inscription. And Julius Africanus and more) and ignore the bleating.

        And then go on to search for the real Nazareth, or at least demonstrate the current identification with more pizazz than we have now. Again, other than Helena and the post-Helena traditions, is there anything at all to demonstrate our current locale? A Helena identification is evidence of the 1st century, but not, considering her track record, not particularly strong evidence.

        Steven Avery
        Bayside, NY

      • Steven,
        Just a few points in response. First, the Gospels don’t present Jesus based in Nazareth and moving back & forth to Lake Galilee area. Instead, the impression given is that when Jesus starts his mission he makes his base at/near Capernaum. So, the distance between Nazareth and Lake Galilee isn’t an issue.
        Second, our basis for identifying Nazareth isn’t Helena, but earlier. See, e.g., Joan E. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), who is quite critical of a lot of traditional identifications, but accepts Nazareth, as do the overwhelming number of archaeologists and others who have looked at the matter.
        So, with this, let’s tie up this thread for now.

  2. As far as I can see, there was nothing at all “hellenized” about Capernaum. The archaeology shows a rural settlement with roughly built housing and no public buildings except the synagogue (of which all we know is a peak at the foundations), in complete contrast to Magdala, Tiberias and Sepphoris.

  3. Is the isolation of Nazareth from Sepphoris clearly settled in your mind?

    Is there an interpretation of the road-evidence that might lead to the conclusion that there was a closer connection than Dark allows?

    I have been very interested in the theory that Jesus had relatively easy access to Sepphoris. I had concluded that the theory had some indirect evidence in its favor, because Peter and the other fishermen lived in the Hellenized city of Capernaum and Jesus’ chose to “headquarter” there during his Galilean ministry.

    These Jewish businessmen and this Jewish rabbi seemed to move freely — and effectively — in a non-Jewish setting.

    • Bobby: I’m dependant on archaeologists for the evidence, and Dark insists that there is no evidence of a road connecting lst-century Nazareth and Sepphoris. So, suppositions/claims about a lively connection/influence seem unsupported by the evidence.
      Likewise, Capernaum was hardly a fully “Hellenized” city: That would be much more the case for Tiberias. The Jesus of the Gospels stays pretty much in Jewish territory, addressing fellow Jews almost exclusively.

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