Did Nazareth Exist in the Days of Jesus?

One conspiracy theory commonly found on the internet and various non-scholarly books these days is the assertion that the town of Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus. Scholars of all stripes (both OS & NS) in the field of NT Studies and Early Christianity (not to mention archeologists) all scoff at this absurd claim. That Jesus is referenced on numerous occasions and in multiple independent sources from antiquity as, “Jesus of Nazareth” or the “Nazarene,” is ample proof for scholars of the existence of Nazareth in the days of Jesus. Although I should point out that the people pushing this claim are all mythicists. See my earlier post (Was Jesus a Myth?) for more details. Therefore it should come as no surprise that such mythicists willing to argue Jesus was a fabricated myth, in opposition to the overwhelming historical evidence that affirms otherwise, would also argue the equally absurd notion that the town he grew up in (Nazareth) was also a fabricated myth.

For some background on this claim, the mythicists will cite (correctly) that the town Nazareth is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament), the writings of early Jewish historians (e.g. Josephus) or other ancient rabbinical texts. Next, they claim (falsely) that the messiah was to be a Nazirite, which early Christians misunderstood to be a term referencing a place of residence, and therefore invented a town called Nazareth to fulfill the prophecy so that Jesus could be called a Nazarene. “Nazirite” and “Nazarene” – get it! They further argue that it was only in later decades after the fall of Jerusalem (130 AD) that some Jews settled a town and named it Nazareth, largely to take advantage of Christian pilgrims. This, they argue, is the town Nazareth that exists to this day.

First, there is no such messianic prophecy in the Hebrew Bible that says the messiah would be a Nazirite. Once more, even if there were such a prophecy, there is no way a Jewish writer would confuse the Nazirite Vow mentioned from Jewish scriptures, e.g. the story of Samson, with being a term for one’s place of residence. However, the most problematic fact for people espousing the claim that Nazareth did not exist is the overwhelming archeological evidence that conclusively show that it did indeed exist, and well before the days of Jesus. For instance, several ancient coins and pottery have been excavated in the town of Nazareth. Nevertheless, many mythicist counter this fact by adjusting their argument and proclaim the even more absurd notion that: Nazareth once existed, and then was abandoned prior to the time of Jesus, then it was re-inhabited centuries later (after Jesus). This just goes to show that any people who want to believe something contrary to evidence will not be convinced by anything, they simply distort the facts to conform to their pre-existing views.

That being said, even with this twisted line of reasoning when confronted with facts, the mythicists still have an even bigger problem. Mainly, that there are numerous pieces of archaeological evidence affirming the fact that not only did Nazareth indeed exist, but it existed in the days of Jesus too. Specifically, archaeologists have excavated small village farms that date to the time of Jesus. Additionally, of the 150 plus coins excavated from Nazareth, some do in fact date to the time of Jesus. Still need more? The Director of the Nazareth Archaeological Project, Ken Dark, has in the past strongly retorted such mythicist claims that Nazareth did not exist in the days of Jesus. Furthermore, just last year a small house was excavated in ancient Nazareth with pottery dating the dwelling to the first century — the time of Jesus. The overseeing archaeologist on this discovery was Yardena Alexandre, the Excavations Director at the Authority of Israel Antiquity. In a report from CNN Alexandre says:

“The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period, … Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains had been discovered (and) attributed to this period.”

Additionally, the consensus among archeologists in the field is that the evidence — i.e. this newly discovered home dwelling, along with the village farms, pottery remains and nearby tombs — all suggest that Nazareth in the days of Jesus was a small off the path town of around fifty households, located on about 4 to 5 acres of land and populated by Jewish residents of modest means. With these historical facts in mind, it is not surprising at all that Nazareth is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, by Josephus or any other ancient Jewish writings. The reality is that Nazareth was too small and insignificant a town to write about. In fact most readers outside the region of Galilee (assuming they could read) would probably have never even heard of it.

This is most likely why in Matthew’s Gospel he reports that “what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” As stated earlier, there is no citation of Nazareth in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). This is why Matthew says “what was spoken through the prophets” (plural) and NOT “prophet” (singular). Therefore he is not citing a specific passage or prophecy. Instead, what Matthew was likely referring to are the several Old Testament references to the despised character of the messiah, e.g. Psalm 22:6, 69:10; Isaiah 49:7; 53:3 & Micah 5:1 — just to name a few.  Similarly when Nathanael says in John’s Gospel, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, this is not a reference to the location, but rather to the maligned character of the place itself, i.e. a poor off the path and insignificant town — just as the historical evidence attests to. Matthew is thereby using the town that Jesus grew up in (Nazareth) as an illustration of what the prophets said and wrote about, e.g. that the messiah would be despised and maligned. In this case, for the place where he grew up and was raised.

In any event, I have bloviated on this topic long enough. It is time to wrap this post up. Therefore in conclusion, the evidence shows that it is a historical fact that the town of Nazareth did indeed exist. It existed prior to the time of Jesus, during the days of Jesus, after the time of Jesus — and it still exists today. Once more, the evidence showing the small, poor and insignificant nature of the town of Nazareth is perhaps the greatest evidence (in and of itself) for its very existence in the days of Jesus. Specifically, with everything we know today, this is not a place someone would make up as being the town where the messiah grew up and came from. Meaning that Jesus, whom Christians profess as the Messiah, really did grow up and come from Nazareth — just as all the evidence shows and multiple sources will attest.

Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this insightful.

JDN

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