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Archaeological Evidence of Christianity from Jesus' Time


Aug 19, 2003
I reckon this deserves a thread of its own.

Tomb exploration reveals first archaeological evidence of Christianity from the time of Jesus
http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-02-tom ... dence.html
February 28th, 2012 in Other Sciences / Archaeology & Fossils

The archaeological examination by robotic camera of an intact first century tomb in Jerusalem has revealed a set of limestone Jewish ossuaries or "bone boxes" that are engraved with a rare Greek inscription and a unique iconographic image that the scholars involved identify as distinctly Christian.

The four-line Greek inscription on one ossuary refers to God "raising up" someone and a carved image found on an adjacent ossuary shows what appears to be a large fish with a human stick figure in its mouth, interpreted by the excavation team to be an image evoking the biblical story of Jonah.
In the earliest gospel materials the "sign of Jonah," as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection. Jonah images in later "early" Christian art, such as images found in the Roman catacombs, are the most common motif found on tombs as a symbol of Christian resurrection hope. In contrast, the story of Jonah is not depicted in any first century Jewish art and iconographic images on ossuaries are extremely rare, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals.

The tomb in question is dated prior to 70 CE, when ossuary use in Jerusalem ceased due to the Roman destruction of the city. Accordingly, if the markings are Christian as the scholars involved believe, the engravings represent – by several centuries - the earliest archaeological record of Christians ever found. The engravings were most likely made by some of Jesus' earliest followers, within decades of his death. Together, the inscription and the Jonah image testify to early Christian faith in resurrection. The tomb record thus predates the writing of the gospels.

The findings will be detailed in a preliminary report by James D. Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, to be published online in bibleinterp.com on February 28, 2012.
"If anyone had claimed to find either a statement about resurrection or a Jonah image in a Jewish tomb of this period I would have said impossible -- until now," Tabor said. "Our team was in a kind of ecstatic disbelief, but the evidence was clearly before our eyes, causing us to revise our prior assumptions."

The publication of the academic article is concurrent with the publication of a book by Simon & Schuster entitled "The Jesus Discovery: The New Archaeological Find That Reveals the Birth of Christianity." The book is co-authored by Professor James Tabor and filmmaker/professor Simcha Jacobovici. A documentary on the discovery will be aired by the Discovery Channel in spring 2012.

The findings and their interpretation are likely to be controversial, since most scholars are skeptical of any Christian archaeological remains from so early a period. Adding to the controversy is the tomb's close proximity to a second tomb, discovered in 1980. This tomb, dubbed by some "The Jesus Family Tomb," contained inscribed ossuaries that some scholars associate with Jesus and his family, including one that reads "Jesus, son of Joseph."
"Context is everything in archaeology," Tabor pointed out. "These two tombs, less than 200 feet apart, were part of an ancient estate, likely related to a rich family of the time. We chose to investigate this tomb because of its proximity to the so-called 'Jesus tomb,' not knowing if it would yield anything unusual."

The tomb containing the new discoveries is a modest sized, carefully carved rock cut cave tomb typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 BCE until 70 CE.

The tomb was exposed in 1981 by builders and is currently several meters under the basement level of a modern condominium building in East Talpiot, a neighborhood of Jerusalem less than two miles south of the Old City. Archaeologists entered the tomb at the time, were able to briefly examine it and its ossuaries, take preliminary photographs, and remove one pot and an ossuary, before they were forced to leave by Orthodox religious groups who oppose excavation of Jewish tombs.

The ossuary taken, that of a child, is now in the Israel State Collection. It is decorated but has no inscriptions. The archaeologists mention "two Greek names" but did not notice either the newly discovered Greek inscription or the Jonah image before they were forced to leave. The tomb was re-sealed and buried beneath the condominium complex on what is now Don Gruner Street in East Talpiot.

The adjacent "Jesus tomb," was uncovered by the same construction company in 1980, just one year earlier. It was thoroughly excavated and its contents removed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. This tomb's controversial ossuaries with their unusual cluster of names (that some have associated with Jesus and his family) are now part of the Israel State Collection and have been on display in various venues, including the Israel Museum. These ossuaries will be in an exhibit running from late February through April 15 at Discovery Times Square.

In 2009 and 2010, Tabor and Rami Arav, professor of archaeology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, working together with Jacobovici, obtained a license to excavate the current tomb from the Israel Antiquities Authority under the academic sponsorship of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Because of its physical location under a modern building (making direct access nearly impossible), along with the threat of Orthodox Jewish groups that would protest any such excavation, Tabor's team determined to employ a minimally invasive procedure in examining the tomb.

Funding for the excavation was provided by the Discovery Channel/Vision Television/Associated Producers. Jacobovici's team at the Toronto based Associated Producers developed a sophisticated robotic arm to carry high definition cameras, donated by General Electric. The robotic arm and a second "snake camera" were inserted through two drill holes in the basement floor of the building above the tomb. The probe was successful and the team was able to reach all the ossuaries and photograph them on all sides, thus revealing the new inscriptions.

Beyond the possible Christian connection, Tabor noted that the tomb's assemblage of ossuaries stands out as clearly extraordinary in the context of other previously explored tombs in Jerusalem.

"Everything in this tomb seems unusual when contrasted with what one normally finds inscribed on ossuaries in Jewish tombs of this period," Tabor said. "Of the seven ossuaries remaining in the tomb, four of them have unusual features."

There are engravings on five of the seven ossuaries: an enigmatic symbol on ossuary 2 (possibly reading Yod Heh Vav Heh or "Yahweh" in stylized letters that can be read as Greek or Hebrew, though the team is uncertain); an inscription reading "MARA" in Greek letters (which Tabor translates as the feminine form of "lord" or "master" in Aramaic) on ossuary 3; an indecipherable word in Greek letters on ossuary 4 (possibly a name beginning with "JO…"); the remarkable four-line Greek inscription on ossuary 5; and finally, and most importantly, a series of images on ossuary 6, including the large image of a fish with a figure seeming to come out of its mouth.

Among the approximately 2000 ossuaries that have been recovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority, only 650 have any inscriptions on them, and none have inscriptions comparable to those on ossuaries 5 and 6.

Less than a dozen ossuaries from the period have epitaphs but, according to Tabor, these inscribed messages usually have to do with warnings not to disturb the bones of the dead. In contrast, the four-line Greek inscription contains some kind of statement of resurrection faith.

Tabor noted that the epitaph's complete and final translation is uncertain. The first three lines are clear, but the last line, consisting of three Greek letters, is less sure, yielding several possible translations: "O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up," or "The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place," or "The Divine Jehovah raises up from [the dead]."

"This inscription has something to do with resurrection of the dead, either of the deceased in the ossuary, or perhaps, given the Jonah image nearby, an expression of faith in Jesus' resurrection," Tabor said.

The ossuary with the image that Tabor and his team understand to be representing Jonah also has other interesting engravings. These also may be connected to resurrection, Tabor notes. On one side is the tail of a fish disappearing off the edge of the box, as if it is diving into the water. There are small fish images around its border on the front facing, and on the other side is the image of a cross-like gate or entrance—which Tabor interprets as the notion of entering the "bars" of death, which are mentioned in the Jonah story in the Bible.

"This Jonah ossuary is most fascinating," Tabor remarked. "It seems to represent a pictorial story with the fish diving under the water on one end, the bars or gates of death, the bones inside, and the image of the great fish spitting out a man representing, based on the words of Jesus, the 'sign of Jonah' – the 'sign' that he would escape the bonds of death."

Provided by University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Christ's disciples' remains 'discovered'
An amateur archaeologist and film maker claims to have identified what could be the remains of some of Christ's 12 disciples in a first century burial chamber buried beneath a block of flats in Jerusalem.
By Adrian Blomfield, Jeruslaem
8:08PM GMT 28 Feb 2012

A team led by Simcha Jacobovic, a Canadian documentary director, used a robot to photograph a number of limestone burial caskets, found below a block of flats, which may provide an unprecedented glimpse into Christianity's earliest days.

But the potential significance of the discovery is almost certain to be overshadowed by controversy, with Mr Jacobovic using it as new evidence to bolster his widely disputed claims to have identified the bones of Christ and his family at a nearby burial site.

The caskets, known as ossuaries, were inscribed with what some independent experts said could plausibly be the earliest Christian iconography ever documented.

One of the ossuaries carries an etching of a fish with what appears to be a human head in its mouth, perhaps an image of Jonah, the reluctant Old Testament prophet. The story was of major significance to early Christians and is referred to in the Gospels because Jonah spent three days in the belly of the giant fish that swallowed him, just as Christ spent three days in the tomb.

The fish was also seen as a sacred symbol by early Christians; not only did fish feature in a number of Christ's miracles, but many of the disciples were fishermen, while the Greek for fish – ichthys – is held to be an acronym for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Saviour".

Independent archaeologists say no Jewish tomb from antiquity is known to have carried a picture of a fish, giving further credibility to the theory that the etching is indeed Christian.

A second, adjacent ossuary is engraved with a Greek inscription that appears to refer to resurrection. It could be translated as "Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up." Some Israeli archaeologists, however, said that some contemporary Jewish communities, including the Pharisees and the Essenes, also believed in resurrection.

The tomb, like others uncovered in Jerusalem, would almost certainly date to before AD 70, the year the city was destroyed by a Roman army. As a result, if the bones are shown to belong to early Christians they may well have been contemporaries of Christ and perhaps even his disciples as the community in Jerusalem was considered to be small at the time.

Further investigation is likely to be tricky, however. Although the chamber was discovered in 1981, excavation has been impossible because of an edict by Jewish religious authorities who hold that it is sacrilegious to interfere with Jewish tombs.

After years of negotiation, Mr Jacobovic, himself an Israeli-born Jew, managed to win approval to lower a robotic arm beneath the tower block to photograph the ossuaries.

According to Mr Jacobovic and his colleague James Tabor, a biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina, the discovery gives greater credence to their controversial claim that a chamber they called "the Garden tomb" nearby housed the remains of Christ.

They have concluded that both tombs, which lie in the Jerusalem district of East Talpiot, are probably located on the rural estate of Joseph of Arimathea, who the Gospels say took charge of Christ's burial.

"These two tombs, both dating to around the time of Jesus, are less than 200 feet apart," they wrote in a report published yesterday. "Any interpretation of one tomb has to be made in the light of the other. As a result, we believe a compelling argument can be made that the Garden tomb is that of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."

Their widely challenged assertions rest on the discovery in 1981 of ossuaries in the Garden tomb that appear to carry names similar to those of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Two others carried the names of "Judah, son of Jesus" and a woman they claimed could have been Mary Madgalene, whom they suggested could have been Christ's wife in a theory given popular appeal in Dan Brown's novel the "Da Vinci Code".

But the Israeli archaeologists who discovered the ossuaries dismissed Mr Jacobovic's conclusions as nonsense, saying such names were common at the time.
Biblical scholars have also pointed out that, as a Galilean, Christ would not have been buried in Jerusalem, particularly not in a tomb that suggested considerable wealth given His humble origins.

Israeli archaeologists, who jokingly refer to Mr Jacobovic as "Indiana Jones", point out that he is a film maker with no academic qualifications beyond a bachelor's degree and say he has "cherry-picked" findings from experts on his team to create the flimsiest of cases.

"His Jesus theory is conjecture built upon deception built upon wilful misinterpretation in order to spin a moneymaking yarn and garner publicity," said one archaeologist who asked not to be identified in order not to link his name to the claims

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldne ... vered.html
One hesitates to scoff, but, really....

The idea of resurrection appears several times in the Old Testament, as in the valley of dry bones-''Dem bones,dem bones, dem dry bones!"

Jonah is a symbol of not simple resurection, but also of the inescapable nature of God's will.

Case not proved :!:
Re: Archaeological evidence of Christianity from time of Jes

ramonmercado said:
I reckon this deserves a thread of its own.
I posted another version of this story (on Leap Year Day!):

The Bible as History...
http://www.forteantimes.com/forum/viewt ... 36#1192036
Link is dead. The current link to the Bible as History thread is:


An amateur archaeologist and film maker claims to have identified what could be the remains of some of Christ's 12 disciples in a first century burial chamber buried beneath a block of flats in Jerusalem. ...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldne ... vered.html
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There was a saying amongst archaeologists at one time, about archaeologists in Israel. That they tended to dig, 'with a trowel in one hand and the Bible, in the other'.

I used to call it, 'quantum archaeology'. If you set out knowing what you expect to find, quite often, you'll appear to find it. This is not necessarily a good thing.

There can't be many places in the World, with more preconceived expectations, than Israel.
For an incisive look at archeology, look up "The Motel of the Mysteries" a work that skewers the rather fanciful theories espoused by some scientist.

Experimental archeology suits me better, see how it was done by doing it.
Saw this book, did not read it:

In The Myth of Nazareth (2008), René Salm demonstrated that Nazareth did not exist when Jesus and the Holy family should have been living there. He predicted that "evidence" would be "discovered" to show that he was wrong. His predictions were correct and in NazarethGate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus, Salm examines all the new claims of discoveries at Nazareth and shows that they all are the result of scientific incompetence, wishful thinking, and distortion of the facts--probably for economic reasons. For good measure, he demonstrates conclusively that the famous Caesarea inscription alleged to be the oldest documented attestation of the existence of Nazareth is a fraud perpetrated by a notorious apologist of the 1960's. The economic implications of this book are enormous.
Erm, well, Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 1, vii,14, cites Sextus Julius Africanus in 221 AD as describing Nazara and/or Nazaret as a town existing before JC, and writing that Christians were already visiting in the immediate decades after his death.

I think I'll personally take the evidence from Dr Ken Dark, British archaeologist and author of a 2023 book on exactly the subject of the thread title - the archaeology of first-century Nazareth, Jesus' hometown in Galilee - before anything by René Salm! https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Archaeology_of_Jesus_Nazareth/bpynEAAAQBAJ?hl=en OUP, ISBN: 9780192688996

Publisher blurb: "Archaeology of Jesus' Nazareth is the first book on the archaeology of first-century Nazareth: Jesus' hometown in Galilee. Requiring no previous knowledge of biblical history or archaeology, it outlines the latest archaeological evidence, placing the Gospels' account of Jesus' youth in the Bible, and origins of Christian pilgrimage, in a new context.

The book concentrates on the fascinating Sisters of Nazareth site in the centre of the present city. There, twenty-first century archaeological research identified a Byzantine pilgrimage church, which is likely to be the Church of the Nutrition - dedicated to the upbringing of Christ - the most important previously 'lost' early Christian church in the Holy Land. A seventh-century pilgrim said that a vaulted area under the Church of the Nutrition contained the actual house where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph. Intriguingly, below the Byzantine church at the Sisters of Nazareth site a vaulted area preserved what are probably the ruins of a first-century house.

Even before the Byzantine church was built, a - probably fourth-century - cave-church was constructed next to the first-century ruins, suggesting that they were assigned Christian religious importance. The similarities with the pilgrim's description raise the question of whether the Sisters of Nazareth house really could have been the childhood home of Jesus. The book draws to its conclusion by means of a discussion of this historical existence for Jesus and the implications of the archaeology of Nazareth for understanding the Gospels.

Coincidentally, I've just finished listening to an excellent audiobook by the biblical literary historian by Bart D. Ehrman, who at the height of the Da Vinci Code hype published (for non-academics) a book of analysis of the fictional claims vs the reality of the early biblical texts and practice - TRUTH AND FICTION IN THE DA VINCI CODE by Bart D. Ehrman, OUP 2006 ISBN-10: 0195300130 - which I can highly recommend even if one doesn't have any great interest in the themes expressed in The Da Vinci Code.

Professor Ehrman has a blog, and I just saw that he posted about René Salm and his 'Jesus didn't exist' schtick when he was touting it around back in 2012 From: https://ehrmanblog.org/tag/rene-salm/

"...In my post yesterday I began to explain why René Salm’s claim that Nazareth did not exist in the days of Jesus is dead wrong and is rejected by every recognized authority – whether archaeologist, textual scholar, or historian; whether Jewish, Christian, agnostic, or other . Here is my second and final post on the subject, again, with apologies to those who have read it already, lifted from my treatment in Did Jesus Exist?

..Salm also claims that the pottery found on the site that is dated to the time of Jesus is not really from this period, even though he is not an expert on pottery. Two archaeologists who reply to Salm’s protestations say the following: “Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery … reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources.” They go on to state: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic [that is, coins], and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenisitic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of ‘myth.’”

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