The claim is that the House that Jesus lived in as a child has been discovered. Normally if the claim was in the tabloids I’d roll my eyes and move on. This is different, it has gained traction and is all over the place. Yes, the tabloids all ran with it, but so did many mainstream sites such as the BBC, The Times, CBS News, etc…
For example …
- BBC: ‘Strong case’ house in crypt was home to Jesus, says archaeologist
- CBS News: Is this house under a convent in Nazareth the boyhood home of Jesus?
Permit me to sum it all up for you briefly before we get into the details presented – No, it is not a “Strong Case”, it is wild speculation and some rather impressive gymnastics that qualify for a Gold in an Olympic scale mental gymnastics event.
Let’s conduct our very own archaeological dig into this by picking (at random) one of those sources. In this case it is the BBC one. I picked it because they are generally recognised as reliable.
What will we actually find?
BBC: ‘Strong case’ house in crypt was home to Jesus, says archaeologist
The story opens as follows …
There is a “strong case to be made” that a house excavated in Nazareth, Israel, was the childhood home of Jesus, according to an archaeologist.
Professor Ken Dark, from the University of Reading, has spent 14 years studying the remains of the 1st century dwelling beneath a modern-day convent.
Hit pause. My first immediate thought is to wonder if Ken dark a credible archaeologist?
It turns out that he is indeed. For example, here is his Wikipedia Page, and also for completeness, here is his page at Reading university. This perhaps explains why the mainstream media took this seriously; he has credentials.
One other point. The BBC is not rolling with “it is”, but they are instead being cautious and are instead simply reporting what he is claiming. Note the use of the term “according to“.
OK, moving on, let’s see if we can get to grips with this “strong case”.
What exactly is this “Strong Case”?
He has this …
He explained: “We know from written evidence this church was believed in the Byzantine period to have been built on the site of Jesus’ home and the dwelling preserved in its crypt.
“It’s almost certainly the Church of the Nutrition, which was dedicated to the upbringing of Christ, and mentioned in a 7th Century pilgrim’s account.”
In other words, read the tourist guide and in it you will find a description that tells you that here is the church that was supposedly built in top of the house of Jesus. All he has done is to accept the traditional religious claim. That’s not by any measure a “Strong claim”.
The fact that there is a 7th century version of this same claim, 600 years after the actual event, does not strengthen that case.
Is that it?
Nope, we also have this, and it is for this he earns his mental gymnastics gold …
He said whoever built the house had excellent knowledge of stone-working, the sort of thing expected of someone who would have been called a tekton, the ancient word for craftsman that was used to refer to Joseph in the bible.
Is he seriously claiming that most of the houses in Nazareth from the first century were crap, except for this one, this one is really excellent. Since Joseph was vaguely referred to as a craftsman then it just must have been his house.
I have so many questions, namely …
- How does he know that Joseph was a stonemason who built houses? Tradition is that he was a carpenter, not a stonemason. The Bible uses the word “τέκτονος” to refer to him (Matthew 13:55) – The Ancient Greek noun tektōn (τέκτων) is a common term for an artisan/craftsman, in particular a carpenter, wood-worker, mason, builder, teacher, or engineer. The term is frequently contrasted with an iron-worker, or smith (χαλκεύς) and the stone-worker or mason (λιθολόγος, λαξευτής)
Let’s assume he really was a stonemason, and remember Mr Dark’s case for even that is highly dubious.
- How exactly does he know that he was a good stonemason. He could have been crap at his job, and Peter down the street was good and this is Peter’s house?
This is in all probability a random house picked out and claimed to the “the house” by locals who wanted to cash in on all the pilgrims popping by. There is a very long and well-established tradition of locals conning pilgrims by dishing up the supposed things that the pilgrims are looking for. There were probably enough bits of the “True Cross” floating about at one time or another to enable you to build an entire cathedral out of them all.
Why is a professional serious archaeologist making this daft claim?
Basically because he has a new book and he is simply using this hype to plug it.
The be specific this book : The Sisters of Nazareth Convent A Roman-period, Byzantine, and Crusader site in central Nazareth
It in, the very last chapter is titled “Is this the house of Jesus?” and runs to just 10 pages.
That is is all probability a rehash of his 2015 paper titled “Has Jesus’ Nazareth house been found?“. You can find the full text for that 2015 paper here
Within that 2015 paper you find the exact same same pictures that are appearing in the media stories. To be wholly fair, it is a serious paper and the claim that it really is the house of Jesus is a teaser and not the main thrust of the paper.
At the end of that paper he makes this distinct point …
Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds. On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted. What we can say is that this building was probably where the Byzantine church builders believed Jesus had spent his childhood in Nazareth.
His argument there is that until somebody disproves it then we should believe it. Nope, not buying. You should not accept claims until there is sufficient evidence to justify the claim, and in this case, there is nothing except a tradition that comes from the 7th century, not the 1st.
In the end what this all boils down to is that we have vague and highly dubious religious claims and nothing more. What is there will be sufficient to convince those that believe, but for those that are skeptical … er … no.
Ken Dark knows this, but leans towards teasing to drum up some sales for his new book.