First-Century House Excavated in Nazareth

The Israel Antiquities Authority announced today that for the first time archaeologists have found a building in Nazareth from the time of Jesus.  The residential dwelling was revealed in excavations adjacent to the Church of the Anunciation and dates to the Early Roman Period (40 BC – AD 70).

According to the excavation director, Yardenna Alexander:

The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CE Nazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period.

The full press release is here (temporary link), and it includes a couple of photographs (zip).

The AP reports:

The dwelling and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres (1.6 hectares). It was evidently populated by Jews of modest means who kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
[. . .]
At the site, Alexandre told reporters that archaeologists also found clay and chalk vessels which were likely used by Galilean Jews of the time. The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which was used by Jews at the time to ensure the purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels.
The shards also date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to 100 A.D., Alexandre said.
The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the family who lived in the dwelling were “simple,” but Alexandre said the remains did not indicate whether they were traders or farmers.
[. . .]
Work is now taking place to clear newer ruins built above the dwelling, which will be preserved. The dwelling will become a part of a new international Christian center being constructed close to the site and funded by a French Roman Catholic group, said Marc Hodara of the Chemin Neuf Community overseeing construction.
Alexandre said limited space and population density in Nazareth means it is unlikely that archeologists can carry out any further excavations in the area, leaving this dwelling to tell the story of what Jesus’ boyhood home may have looked like.

Expect a media frenzy with the timing of this story a few days ahead of Christmas.  A minor sidenote: this discovery should put to rest the theory of at least person who has claimed that since Nazareth is mentioned in the first century only in the New Testament, the city did not exist at that time.  It is true that Nazareth is not mentioned in Josephus and other contemporary sources, but that is only an indication of how insignificant the town was.


2 thoughts on “First-Century House Excavated in Nazareth

  1. Once again, the IAA's penchant for hype overrides the demands of accuracy and circumspection.

    They say: "Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period."

    What they really mean probably is that no built structures have been found before. However, the Franciscans, before the construction of the present basilica, excavated plenty of rock-hewn, subterranean spaces — almost certainly the substructures of modest dwellings — with associated Roman-period ceramics. Also, I myself helped excavate behind agricultural terrace walls at nearby Nazareth Village — again, with associated Roman pottery.

    The IAA release also maintains that the Jews of Nazareth "kept camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders". I'm sorry, but is there no other narrative that dovetails with digging a space into the bedrock — like wanting a basement or an extra storage room?

    I'm pretty sure this archaeologist is the same gal who made such a fuss about unearthing stone vessels in Kafr Cana a couple of years ago, as if that proved anything except that the people who lived there were Jews (which I guess we already knew). Oh, yes: They, too, were digging hiding places to escape the Romans. Funny about that…

    OK, maybe I'm in a "bah, humbug" mood, but sometimes these hyped, over-reaching IAA announcements just rub me the wrong way.

    By the way, I have been unable to access the IAA website at all, for the longest time — via links, Google, whatever. Anyone else having this problem?

    TOM POWERS / Jerusalem

  2. Tom – thanks for your comments. We agree on many things. I think it's significant that they found a structure; this is more valuable than caves and pottery. It's also helpful to visitors, who have more trouble visualizing a house based on pottery sherds than professional archaeologists do. I'm not suggesting that I am disagreeing with you about this; your point about "no settlement remains" still stands.

    The link works for me.

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