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Mon, 27 Feb 2017
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The archaeology of Nazareth: A history of pious fraud?

Good morning. This presentation will be divided into two parts. The first part will consist of a brief survey of the most significant material finds from the Nazareth basin as they relate to the possible existence of a settlement there at the turn of the era. The second part will briefly discuss the question of "pious fraud" as this may relate to the history of Nazareth archaeology.

First, however, I would like to preface these remarks with a little background on myself and on some false assumptions regarding my work.

You may be aware that I wrote a book called The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus. It was published in 2008 by American Atheist Press. The book required eight years of research and has over 800 footnotes, seven appendices, and a bibliography that extends to hundreds of works. It's major thesis has since met violent and sustained opposition from scholars of virtually every stripe. The evidence in the book, however, has not yet been contradicted.

Not being an archaeologist myself, I am often asked: "How can you date evidence, Mr. Salm?" or: "How can you presume to correct professional archaeologists?" or: "How can you have any opinion on these matters?" However, there is a misunderstanding inherent in these questions, for I have never dated anything at all. I have simply identified the relevant archaeological experts and quoted their published datings: Hans-Peter Kuhnen on kokhim tombs, Varda Sussman on bow-spouted oil lamps, Roland Deines on Jewish stone vessels, Amos Kloner on circular blocking stones, and so on. The case regarding Nazareth does not rest on my opinion at all. Anyone who disagrees with The Myth of Nazareth is not disagreeing with me but is taking issue with the leading archaeological experts in the world. As we shall see, this is fatal for traditional conclusions regarding Nazareth.

Book 2

The myth of Nazareth, the invented town of the mythical figure known as Jesus


René Salm
"It is very doubtful whether the beautiful mountain village of Nazareth was really the dwelling-place of Jesus."
—T. Cheyne (Encyclopedia Biblica, "Nazareth," 1899).
A recent American Atheist column [1] contained surprising results of new research into one of the most important venues of the Christian story: the town of Nazareth. This topic has been contentious for many years, and it is no coincidence that significant research into the dubious origins of Christianity should first appear in this magazine, given what I consider the common sense and scientific acumen indigenous to Atheists. Of course, damaging material such as this puts the very stiff Christian neck in a scientific noose, as it were, and the Christian press has no interest in kicking the chair out from under itself. A nudge by well - intentioned Atheists at this critical juncture won't hurt... With the knowledge that Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus, we have our fingers wrapped around one of the chair legs and are now poised to give it a decided heave.

The column in the November-December issue of American Atheist was aptly titled "Why The Truth About Nazareth Is Important." This topic is indeed important, but not for the most obvious reason. After all, where Jesus really came from is hardly earthshaking. What must matter to all Christians, however, is the inescapable fact that the evangelists invented this basic element in the story of cosmic redemption. The proof is now at hand that "Jesus of Nazareth," a long-standing icon of Western civilization, is bogus.

There can be no return to the comforting familiarity of the past, for with the proof that Nazareth did not exist at the turn of the era, the gospels leave the realm of history and forever enter the realm of myth. It is a swift kick to the solar plexus of Christian inerrantism, the scholarly equivalent of a punch sending the opponent to the mat—perhaps even a knock-out.


Earliest human species possibly found in Ethiopia

© Kaye Reed
A close-up view of the mandible from an early Homo species, shown just steps from where Arizona State University graduate student Chalachew Seyoum from Ethiopia spotted it.
An ancient jawbone fragment is the oldest human fossil discovered yet, a bone potentially from a new species that reveals the human family may have arose a half million years earlier than previously thought, researchers say.

This find also sheds light on the kind of landscape where humans first originated, scientists added.

Although modern humans are the only human lineage alive today, other human species once roamed the Earth. These extinct lineages were members of the genus Homo just as modern humans are.

For decades, scientists have been searching Africa for signs of the earliest phases of the human family, during the shift from more apelike Australopithecus species to more human early Homo species. Until now, the earliest credible fossil evidence of the genus Homo was dated to about 2.3 million or 2.4 million years ago.

Now researchers have found a human fossil in Ethiopia about 2.8 million years old. The scientists detail their findings in two papers online today (March 4) in the journal Science.

"There is a big gap in the fossil record between about 2.5 million and 3 million years ago — there's virtually nothing relating to the ancestors of Homo from that time period, in spite of a lot of people looking," research team co-leader and study co-author Brian Villmoare, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas,told Live Science. "Now we have a fossil of Homo from this time, the earliest evidence of Homo yet.


Medieval mass burial site discovered beneath Paris supermarket

© Denis Gliksman, Inrap
More than 200 bodies were recently unearthed in several mass burials beneath a Paris supermarket.

The bodies, which were lined up head to feet, were found at the site of an ancient cemetery attached to the Trinity Hospital, which was founded in the 13th century.

Though it's not clear exactly how these ancient people died, the trove of bodies could reveal insights into how people in the Middle Ages buried their dead during epidemics or famine, the researchers involved said.

Supermarket renovations

The burials were discovered during renovations to the basement of the Monoprix Réaumur-Sébastopol supermarket, located in the second-arrondissement neighborhood of Paris. As workers lowered the floor level of the basement, they found a shocking surprise: the bodies of men, women and children, neatly arranged in what looked to be mass graves.

The site was once the location of the Trinity Hospital, which was founded in 1202 by two German noblemen. The hospital was conceived not just as a place to provide care for the sick, but also as one where weary pilgrims and travelers could rest and enjoy themselves, according to a 1983 presentation given at the French Society on the History of Medicine.


Archaeologists believe they've identified the house that the mythical Jesus grew up in

© Ken Dark
People in the Middle Ages believed Jesus grew up in this first-century house in Nazareth, according to research
Archaeologists working in Nazareth — Jesus' hometown — in modern-day Israel have identified a house dating to the first century that was regarded as the place where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph.

The house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside. It was first uncovered in the 1880s, by nuns at the Sisters of Nazareth convent, but it wasn't until 2006 that archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus' time, believed Jesus was brought up.

Whether Jesus actually lived in the house in real life is unknown, but Dark says that it is possible.

"Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds," Dark wrote in an article published in the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review. "On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted."

Jesus is believed to have grown up in Nazareth. Archaeologists found that, centuries after Jesus' time, the Byzantine Empire (which controlled Nazareth up until the seventh century) decorated the house with mosaics and constructed a church known as the "Church of the Nutrition" over the house, protecting it.

Crusaders who ventured into the Holy Land in the 12th century fixed up the church after it fell into disrepair. This evidence suggests that both the Byzantines and Crusaders believed that this was the home where Jesus was brought up, Dark said.

Comment: While it is interesting that the Byzantines and Crusaders both believed that this was the house of Jesus, it could easily have been false, a myth created to help build up the Jesus story.


Study finds Aboriginal legends linked with cyclical cosmic catastrophes

© argus/Shutterstock
Aboriginal legends could offer a vast untapped record of natural history, including meteorite strikes, stretching back thousands of years, according to new UNSW research.

Dr Duane Hamacher from the UNSW Indigenous Astronomy Group has uncovered evidence linking Aboriginal stories about meteor events with impact craters dating back some 4,700 years.

Dr Hamacher, an astrophysicist studying Indigenous astronomy, examined meteorite accounts from Aboriginal communities across Australia to determine if they were linked to known meteoritic events.

His study, published in the latest edition of peer-reviewed journal Archaeoastronomy, found "definitive links" between known meteorite craters and local Aboriginal traditions.

One of the meteorite strikes, at a place called Henbury in the Northern Territory, occurred around 4,700 years ago.

Dr Hamacher said the level of detail contained in the local oral traditions suggested the Henbury event had been witnessed and its legend passed down through generations over thousands of years - a remarkable record.

Comment: For more history on ancient civilizations, legends and the nature of cyclical cosmic catastrophes see: The Secret History of the World and its sequels, Comets and the Horns of Moses and Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


3000-year-old tomb unearthed in Luxor, Egypt

© NBC News
Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities says American archeologists have discovered a 3000-year-old tomb with beautifully painted walls belonging to a nobleman who guarded the temple of the ancient deity Amun. Tuesday's statement says the tomb, found near the southern city of Luxor, dates back to the New Kingdom of the 18th Dynasty — the most famous of ancient Egypt dynasties.

The nobleman's name was Amenhotep. Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh el-Damaty says the tomb contains "stunning scenes with bright colors" painted on the walls. He says the scenes depict the tomb owner and his wife in front of an offering table, as well as scenes of daily life, such as hunting. The ministry says the tomb was discovered by the American Research Center's team. It gave no date for the discovery.

Source: Associated Press


Lost city discovered in Honduras

© Dave Yoder/National Geographic
"A 'were-jaguar' effigy, likely representing a combination of a human and spirit animal, is part of a still-buried ceremonial seat, or metate, one of many artifacts discovered in a cache in ruins deep in the Honduran jungle."
A team of archaeologists has reportedly discovered a lost city deep within the remote jungles of Honduras - a lost city that had never been explored founded by a culture we know little about.

As first reported by National Geographic on Monday, Christopher Fisher, an archaeologist from Colorado State University, and his colleagues traveled to the site based on long-standing rumors that it was the location of a city referred to in legend as the "City of the Monkey God."

Cult of the Were-Jaguar?

The city, which belonged to a culture so mysterious that experts have not even found a name for it, was extensively mapped by Fisher's team, who found plazas, earthworks, mounds and even an earthen pyramid at the site, according to the website. The expedition, which lasted through last Wednesday, also uncovered a collection of stone sculptures and dozens of artifacts.

In the article, Fisher called the find "incredibly rare," especially since it was in perfect condition and had not been targeted by looters. He went on to speculate that the statues, which were found at the base of the pyramid, were "a powerful ritual display" and most likely an offering.

Among the more than 50 artifacts found there included ceremonial seats known as metates and carved vessels that had been decorated with snakes, vultures and other figures. One of the finds was the head of what the archaeologists believe was a "were-jaguar" sticking out of the ground. It is believed to be depicting a shaman in a transformed-spirit like shape, National Geographic said.

The research team believes that many more artifacts have been buried underground at potential burial sites, and many of the objects discovered were catalogued but not excavated. The lost city was first identified during an aerial survey of the La Mosquitia region in 2012, the report noted, and in order to protect the ruins from looters, their exact location is not being disclosed.


Herders spread Indo-European languages

© Dmitry_Chulov/iStockphoto
Highly mobile pastoralists likely contributed to the spread of the language group that evolved into English, say researchers.
Nomadic pastoralists from the Great Steppe helped spread the large group of languages that includes English, an analysis of ancient DNA confirms.

The findings, reported today in Nature, gives weight to one of two competing hypotheses about where this language group came from.

"These results provide support for a steppe origin of at least some of the Indo-European languages of Europe," write the researchers in their paper.

Although English, Spanish, Russian, Urdu and Persian may sound very different, linguistic analysis suggests they all came from a common source, says lead author archaeo-geneticist Dr Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide.

One idea is that this language group, now spoken throughout Europe, South Asia and the Middle East, spread with Neolithic farmers who migrated west from places like Turkey into Europe around 8000 years ago.

Another idea is that these languages must have emerged later because they include words for transport, such as wheel, a phenomenon that didn't emerge until later. Likely sources were the highly mobile cultures in the Great Steppe north of the Black Sea. These nomadic people were cattle herders who could have easily have brought language with them.

"They domesticated the horse in the Steppes around 5000 years ago and were probably using oxen-drawn carts to get around," says Haak.

But, he says, the subject has been controversial.

"The debate has been stuck for a while and has almost becomes a religious thing where you have believers of one side or the other," says Haak.

Archaeological evidence supports the 'Great Steppe' hypothesis, but until now, there has been a lack of evidence that herders migrated in large enough numbers to influence language, he says.


DNA evidence: cultural connections between Britain and Europe 8,000 years ago

The ancient British were not cut off from Europeans on an isolated island 8,000 years ago as previously thought, new research suggests.

Researchers found evidence for a variety of wheat at a submerged archaeological site off the south coast of England, 2,000 years before the introduction of farming in the UK.

The team argue that the introduction of farming is usually regarded as a defining historic moment for almost all human communities leading to the development of societies that underpin the modern world.

Published in the journal Science, the researchers suggest that the most plausible explanation for the wheat reaching the site is that Mesolithic Britons maintained social and trade networks spreading across Europe.

These networks might have been assisted by land bridges that connected the south east coast of Britain to the European mainland, facilitating exchanges between hunters in Britain and farmers in southern Europe.

Called Einkorn, the wheat was common in Southern Europe at the time it was present at the site in Southern England -- located at Bouldnor Cliff.

The einkorn DNA was collected from sediment that had previously formed the land surface, which was later submerged due to melting glaciers.