Someone challenged me recently about the historical accuracy of the accounts of the birth of Jesus. “There’s no evidence that a place called Nazareth even existed at that time in first century history!”, he said.
Well – strange as it may seem…he has got a point. Nazareth isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament, or the Jewish Talmud and it doesn’t crop up in Roman historian Josephus either. Frank Zindler has noted that it doesn’t get a mention in ancient history till about the 4th century. And skeptics have taken this fact – and turned it against the reliability of the Christian Gospels.
Yet – absence of evidence…is never evidence of absence.
Archaeology has allowed scholars to build up a profile of the town of Ancient Nazareth. It was…
“small…about sixty acres, with a maximum population of about 480 at the end of the first century.” – James Strange, University of South Florida
If Nazareth is not described in any historical documents before the 4th century – how does he know that? Archaeologists have found clues that allow a picture of Nazareth to form.
FIRST – when the Temple fell in AD70, priests were no longer needed there because it had been destroyed and so they were sent out to different towns and villages to minister there. Even as far north as Galilee.
Archaeologists have found a list written in Aramaic describing twenty-four families of priests that were relocated. And one of them was registered as having moved to Nazareth.
SECOND – archaeological digs have uncovered first century tombs in the vicinity of Nazareth. Jewish burials tended to happen outside of the town…and so these tombs would mark the outer limits of the town.
“From the tombs….it can be concluded that Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.” – Jack Finegan, Professor Emeritus of New Testament History and Archaeology, Berkeley
THIRD – pre-Christian remains were found in 1955 under the Church of the Annunciation in present day Nazareth.
“Such findings suggest that Nazareth may have existed in Jesus’ time, but there is no doubt that it must have been a very small and insignificant place.” – Ian Wilson, Archaeologist
Well it demonstrates the historical underpinning of the Gospel accounts of Jesus. It is part of the mass of circumstantial evidence at our disposal today in the 21st century that allows our brain to say – okay. This New Testament document is historical – and I am going to read it as such.
You know – skepticism about Jesus isn’t just a 21st century phenomenon. John’s Gospel records that on one occasion, Philip went looking for Nathaniel and encouraged him to meet the
“…very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” John 1:45, NLT
And Nathaniel’s skeptical reply?
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathaniel. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” John 1:46, NLT
Put your skeptical mind at ease. Come and meet Jesus in the New Testament Gospels, today.