I have been talking about the question (which I bet never occurred to you before!) of whether there actually ever *was* a Nazareth in the days of Jesus.  Many “mythicists” who deny that Jesus existed use as part of their argument that Nazareth itself was made up.  I’ve discussed this view over two posts to show how the arguments are highly problematic, in particular those mounted by Reneé Salm based on what he claims are archaeological facts.

Here I continue by showing what the archaeologists themselves have had to say about it.  This too is taken from my 2012 book Did Jesus Exist: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.




There is an even bigger problem however with Salms’s view, however.  There are numerous compelling pieces of archaeological evidence that in fact Nazareth did exist in Jesus’ day, and that like other villages and towns in that part of Galilee, it was built on the hillside, near where the later rock-cut kokh tombs were built.   For one thing, archaeologists have excavated a farm connected with the village, and it dates to the time of Jesus.[1]  Salm disputes the finding of the archaeologists who did the excavation (it needs to be remembered, he himself is not an archaeologist but is simply basing his views on what the real archaeologists – all of whom disagree with him — have to say).  For one thing, when archaeologist Yardena Alexandre indicated that 165 coins were found in this excavation, she specified in the report that some of them were late, from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries.  This suits Salm’s purposes just fine.  But as it turns out, there were among the coins some that date to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and the early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus.  Salm objected that this was not in Alexandre’s report, but Alexandre has verbally confirmed that in fact it is the case: there were coins in the collection that date to the time prior to the Jewish uprising.[2]

Salm also claims that the pottery found on the site that is dated to the time of Jesus is not really from this period, even though he is not an expert on pottery.  Two archaeologists who reply to Salm’s protestations say the following:  “Salm’s personal evaluation of the pottery … reveals his lack of expertise in the area as well as his lack of serious research in the sources.”[3]   They go on to state: “By ignoring or dismissing solid ceramic, numismatic [that is, coins], and literary evidence for Nazareth’s existence during the Late Hellenisitic and Early Roman period, it would appear that the analysis which René Salm includes in his review, and his recent book must, in itself, be relegated to the realm of ‘myth.’”[4]

Another archaeologist who specializes in Galilee, Ken Dark, the Director of the Nazareth Archaeological Project, gave a thoroughly negative review of Salm’s book, noting, among other things, that “there is no hint that Salm has qualifications – nor any fieldwork experience – in archaeology.”  Dark shows that Salm has misunderstood both the hydrology (how the water systems worked) and the topography (the layout) of Nazareth, and points out that the town could well have been located on the hill slopes, just as other nearby towns were, such as Khirbet Kana.  His concluding remarks are damning: “To conclude: despite initial appearances this is not a well-informed study and ignores much evidence and important published work of direct relevance.  The basic premise is faulty, and Salm’s reasoning is often weak and shaped by his preconceptions.  Overall, his central argument is archaeologically unsupportable.” [5]

But there is more.  As it turns out, another discovery was made in ancient Nazareth, a year after Salm’s book appeared.  It is a house that dates to the days of Jesus.  The discovery was reported by the Associated Press on December 21, 2009.  I have personally written the principal archaeologist, Yardena Alexandre, the excavations director at the Israel Antiquity Authority, and she has confirmed the report.  The house is located on the hill slopes.  Pottery remains connected to the house range from roughly 100 BCE to 100 CE (i.e., the days of Jesus).  There is nothing in the house to suggest that the persons inhabiting it over this time had any wealth: there is no glass and no imported products.  The vessels are made of clay and chalk.

The AP story concludes that “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… populated by Jews of modest means.”   No wonder this place is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Josephus, or the Talmud.   It was far too small, poor, and insignificant.  Most people had never heard of it and those who had heard didn’t care.  Even though it existed, this is not the place someone would make up as the hometown of the messiah.  Jesus really came from there, as attested in multiple sources.

But again I reiterate the main point of my chapter.  Even if he did not come from there, so what?  The historicity of Jesus does not depend on whether Nazareth existed.  In fact it is not even related to the question.  The existence (or rather, non-existence) of Nazareth is another mythicist irrelevancy.



[1] ‘Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997-2002): Final Report’,” Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 25 (2007) 16-79.

[2] Salm, “A Response to ‘Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997-2002): Final Report’,” Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 26 (2008) 95-103.  The responses were compelling.  Stephen J. Pfann and Yehudah Rapuano “On the Nazareth Village Farm Report: A Reply to Salm” (in the same issue of the journal, pp. 105-8) and Ken Dark, “Nazareth Village Farm: A Reply to Salm,” (same issue) pp. 109-11.

[3] Pfann and Ruuano “Village Farm,” p. 108.

[4]  P. 108.

[5] P. 145

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2023-12-24T10:44:31-05:00December 27th, 2023|Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

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  1. jsgleeson December 27, 2023 at 8:45 am

    How do the archeologists know that what they found is Nazareth, as opposed to some other hamlet in Galilee from the time of Jesus?

    • BDEhrman December 28, 2023 at 12:51 pm

      It’s because of the continuity of the place over the centuries (where the current city is) and because it is located right where it should be according to ancient references. What they’d really like is a city sign (Welcome to Nazareth, Home of the Nazarenes!), but, alas, they didn’t have those back then.

  2. karlpov December 27, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    We know about the myriad NT textual variants. What about the OT/Tanach? Are there variants of interest in pre-Masoretic texts?

    • BDEhrman December 28, 2023 at 12:58 pm

      Regrettably, our Hebrew Bibles today are based principally on just one manuscript from around 1000 CE. We don’t have any pre-Masoretic Hebrew texts, apart from those found, e.g., among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of those are very much like the Masoretic text (the Isaiah scroll). Others not so much. The text of Jeremiah among the Scrolls is closer to the Greek translation (the Septuagint) that is about 15% shorter than the Masoretic text.

  3. Tomos December 27, 2023 at 3:56 pm

    Hi Dr Ehrman I hope you have had a lovely Christmas and just wanted to start out by thanking you for all you have done on this blog and educating me on the New Testament! I remember asking you about the letters of Peter but I was just wondeirng about Matthew, Mark and Luke. If I remember correctly I know how you’ve said in the past how you think the gospels were written anonymously and whilst there are certainly reasons to think they aren’t written to their authors such as Matthew because he quotes Mark verbatim even in places such as when Jesus calls matthe to follow him etc. As someone who isn’t versed in Koine Greek or any biblical language would it be right to say that unlike 1 and 2 Peter (which we previously discussed) the fluency and high level which the gospel authors write their gospels matches what we know about the alleged authors personal high statuses with Matthew being a tax collector and Luke a Physician etc. Which differs with 1 and 2 Peter as you said because it is written in high level greek but allegedly by a lower class fisherman who wouldn’t have been able to write like that?

    • BDEhrman December 28, 2023 at 1:01 pm

      Interesting question. People often (almost always!) think that if Matthew was a tax collector he must have been highly literate. How else could he do his job? But the reality is that tax collecting corporations were highly structured organizations and most “tax collectors” were the guys who banged on your door demanding money. They needed to be able to count money, but that doesn’t require reading skills, let alone the ability to compose literature. Nothing in the Gospel itself, of coure, indicates that the author of “Matthew” was a tax collector named Matthew. so too with Luke. Nothing in the Gospel or Acts makes one think he was a physician. If he was, he would have probably been able to read. But in the ancient world that has little relevance for whether he could produce high-level literary compositions.

      • Tomos December 28, 2023 at 2:54 pm

        Ignoring the problems raised from accepting the traditional authorship what made people come up with the idea that Matthew was a tax collector and that Luke was a physican if there is no reference to that in their gospels traditionally attributed to them then?

        • BDEhrman January 1, 2024 at 2:54 pm

          That the author of Matthew was a taxcolletor and of Luke a physician. No, no allusion of any kind in either Gospel.

  4. RD December 27, 2023 at 5:04 pm

    Are the archaeologists pretty much convinced that this site is indeed the Nazareth of Jesus’ time? Are there any other clues beside the pottery, coins, farm, and house that indicate that this specific site is Nazareth? Bing mentions a description of the courtyard house found in a 7th century account “De Locus Sanctis.” I assume though that there were other towns/hamlets in the vicinity with similar characteristics?

    • BDEhrman December 28, 2023 at 1:07 pm

      They’re pretty sure it’s Nazareth because if is where the town is indicated as being located in other sources and because of its near-continuous habitation from antiquity.

  5. Matt_Tricity December 27, 2023 at 5:24 pm

    Hello Dr Ehrman, I’ve been reading an book by Theophile de Giraud called The Childfree Christ which argues that the early church was anti-natalist. I know Gnostic groups held such beliefs, but is it fair to say this of early Christianity? For example, de Giraud begins his book with the following quotes:

    But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! – Matthew 24:19

    Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed! – Luke 23:29

    If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26 (He argues that Jesus seeks the demolition of the family.)

    Kind regards, Matthew

    • BDEhrman December 28, 2023 at 1:09 pm

      Jesus himself was not a proponent of what today we might call “family values,” mainly because he thought the kingdom was coming soon and people needed to spread the word, which meant abandoning their families if need be. But even though he himself was celibate he did not condemn marriage or child-bearing. And sayings such as “let the little children come to me” may well be authentic.

  6. ravenbran December 28, 2023 at 1:52 am

    This is off-topic. I posted a question for Esther Hamori on one of her guest posts, but I’m afraid it got lost in the holiday rush, so I’ll ask you. What the heck is going on in Exodus 4:24-26? In Exodus 3, we have God talking to Moses via the burning bush, and later it seems that God speaks to Moses and Aaron as a disembodied voice, but then in Chapter 4, God suddenly turns into a corporeal hit man and decides to attack Moses with intent to kill. Zipporah rescues her husband by grabbing a flint and circumcising her son, having somehow decided that that’s what the attacker wants her to do. Quite a piece of mind-reading, but why does she think that? This has puzzled me for a long time, ever since I was a kid and read Exodus for myself after seeing The Ten Commandments. I could see why that part didn’t make it into the screenplay!

    • BDEhrman January 1, 2024 at 2:45 pm

      It’s one of the truly bizarre passages in the OT (which has its share of bizarre passages!). We can’t read into her mind, of course, but it appears that somehow the story is trying to explain how it is that circumcision is a rite that provides protection against supernatural danger — the chosen people are circumcised and so avoid the divine anger, going back to Moses himself. But, yeah, it’s not an easy one to make sense of.

      • ravenbran January 3, 2024 at 1:54 pm

        Thank you! That does clarify the meaning of the story somewhat. It kind of looks like some wording got left out of this version of the story. It would have been nice if, while God was giving instructions to Moses earlier on, he had told him to circumcise his sons. Then Moses could have blamed the whole kerfuffle on Zipporah (“Honest, Lord, I told her to circumcise him!”). I can’t believe she didn’t bring this whole episode up to him later, during times of stress.

  7. wpoe54 December 28, 2023 at 3:39 pm

    I am reading that archaelogists suggest that the residents of Nazareth in the time of Jesus were conservative Jews, to the point they would not use human excrement as fertilizer, that there is a line between the farming practices that appears between Nazareth and Sepphoris, which was more liberal.

    One idea is that Nazareth was influenced by Essene beliefs (Qumran being the main outpost but there being rural areas adhering to their ideas of purity).

    I’m wondering if Jesus’s beliefs might have been influenced by Essene ideas he was exposed to as a youth, even if it was to rebel against them in his ministry.

    Any thoughts?

    • BDEhrman December 29, 2023 at 4:01 am

      I’m afraid I haven’t followed the most recent archaeological findings, but I think the link to Essenes is almost always one of those things where we “connect the dots” in ancient sources without simply acknowledging we’re missing 99% of the dots. (As when scholars say: Essenes were celibate; Jesus was celibate; therefore Jesus was probably an Essene; or Here’s a highly intelligent writing from the third century; Origen was a highly intelligent writer in the third century; this writing is probably from Origen).

  8. wpoe54 December 28, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    It seeems archaelogists have identifed quarries that the people of Nazareth may have supported. I’m wondering if the idea of Jesus (and/or Joseph) working with their hands, rather than it being carpentry, was to work with stone in the quarries. I suspect people of the Gospel writing era would have know about the quarrying of people from Nazareth.

    Any thoughts?

    • BDEhrman December 29, 2023 at 4:06 am

      I doubt if the Gospel writers themselves would have any idea at all about the local situation in nazareth, a small hamlet unknown to 99.99% of the Roman populatoin; these writers were decades later living in different parts of the world. It’d be kinda like an author in France in the 1980s having some local knowledge of my mom’s birthplace, Burlington Kansas.
      But as to whether Jesus could have worked with stone, it’s possible. The word to describe him in Mark 6, TEKTON, could be used of stone masons. In this case, though, since there wsa no high culture in Nazareth, I’d assume working with stone would have meant something like fashioning rough stone for the one-room houses there or making oil presses.

  9. PeterR December 29, 2023 at 8:13 am


    Please excuse my ignorance, but do you have any idea how many times archaeologists will have a run at digging in a place such as Nazareth (as opposed to somewhere such as Rome)?

    Are they only granted permission once, or is likely that they’ll go back several times over the next few decades?

    • BDEhrman January 2, 2024 at 4:23 pm

      As long as they get funding! The do ave to apply for permits, and that can be tricky. But usually these things end when the funds dry up or the head of the dig gets interested in other things.

    • crt112 January 26, 2024 at 5:30 am

      If its any help James Tabor – one of Bart’s colleagues – seems to regularly get involved in archaeological digs in Israel, including Nazareth. Teams often seem to include plenty of volunteers

  10. Jimmy December 29, 2023 at 11:40 am

    Hi Bart, did houses or any other structures have something like street address in Israel in the time of Jesus ?

    Would A tax collector at that time need at least rudimentary writing skills to keep track of who paid their taxes and when/how much?

    • BDEhrman January 2, 2024 at 4:33 pm


      And no, not necessarily. When I was a door-to-door salesman in high school I knew which houses I had visited with my wares without writing down their addresses. I just remembered. Tax collectors had districts and at the lowest level simply banged on doors if necessary to get the dosh.

  11. JoeWallack January 1, 2024 at 10:24 am

    “Even though it existed, this is not the place someone would make up as the hometown of the messiah. Jesus really came from there, as attested in multiple sources.

    But again I reiterate the main point of my chapter. Even if he did not come from there, so what? The historicity of Jesus does not depend on whether Nazareth existed. In fact it is not even related to the question. The existence (or rather, non-existence) of Nazareth is another mythicist irrelevancy.”

    Jesus Bart, the logic has to work both ways. If Nazareth did not exist that does not prove that “Jesus” did not exist, sure. But if Nazareth existed, that does not prove that Jesus existed.

    What is generally agreed here is that there were tombs at Nazareth. So Jesus would have been coming from the tombs at the start and end of GMark. Is it possible this was intended literary contrivance?

    You refuse to criticize the Christian belief in the impossible because that would be disrespectful but you are all over the “Mythicist” belief that it’s possible Jesus did not exist, like Lechner on Miggs, even though it is possible that Jesus did not exist.

    • BDEhrman January 3, 2024 at 4:29 pm

      Of course not, you’re right! I exist whether or not Lawrence Kansas does. As to tombs, they were, of course, everywhere.

      There is a VERY big difference between saying the second law of thermodynamics cannot be broken and that Jesus certainly existed….

  12. hsourceofthebible January 6, 2024 at 1:26 am

    One important point worth noting is that — wə·nê·ṣer yi·šāy is what motivated Mark 1. We see that Matthew drops Nazareth from the John the Baptist narrative and instead just says Galilee. My belief is that they were going for “Branch of Jesse” for the Messiah. Notably Luke who fully paints John as typologically derived from Samuel. But why?? This is because Samuel ANOINTS David. Mark is going for the Baptism to be a way of saying Jesus is anointed “King of the Jews” not just by Samuel’s modern day replacement but by God. This anointment is needed to justify Isaiah 11, Malachi as Prophecy. Thus the Baptism doubles as the Messianic anointing in some ways. Mark 1 says — “Jesus of Nazareth became the Messiah” when he was anointed by John and he is the branch of Jesse and fulfills prophecy. The Baptism of Jesus is important also as it begins his ministry, meaning that he was not preaching before this. Previous versions of the text may have implied that Jesus was Nazarois or Nazirite, or just “Branch” of Jesse. A preacher from the Davidic line was anointed by a Holy Prophet as Messiah. This is the Baptism.

  13. ThatChristianGuy123 May 31, 2024 at 8:55 am

    Will you ever do an article on John the Baptist reach the criterion of embarrassment

    • ReligionProf May 31, 2024 at 9:21 pm

      I’m not sure who this question was for and what you mean, but since I have a couple of guest posts about John the Baptist I thought I should ask.

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