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Did Nazareth Exist?

One question I repeatedly get asked is about my opinion on whether the town of Nazareth actually existed.  I was puzzled when I started getting emails on this, some years ago now.  What I came to realize is that mythicists (i.e., those who think that there never was a man Jesus; he was invented, a “myth”) commonly argue that Nazareth (like Jesus) was completely made up. I still get the emails today – a couple within the past month.   I tried to deal with this issue at length in my book Did Jesus Exist?   But since I get asked the question still, apparently by people who haven’t read my book (!) – I thought I would repeat some of what I say there.  Here is an excerpt on the issue: Did Nazareth Exist - Jesus' Hometown One supposedly legendary feature of the Gospels commonly discussed by mythicists is that the alleged hometown of Jesus, Nazareth did not exist but is itself a myth.  The logic of this argument, which is sometimes advanced with considerable vehemence and force, [...]

2022-06-27T23:39:32-04:00April 1st, 2022|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

Mythicists: Did Nazareth Exist?

I am interrupting my thread on the relationship of Jesus to the Jewish law (I haven’t gotten very far: I’m still on Marcion!) because of what is most pressing on my mind right now, the debate I’m having this evening with Robert Price.  It is here in Milwaukee sponsored by a group called the Milwaukee Mythicists.  It’s a small group of people committed to, or (for some of them) at least attracted by, the idea that Jesus was not a real human being but is a myth invented by his later followers.  I suppose roughly speaking, most Mythicists are a subgroup of people who are atheist. Originally, for most of these people, Jesus was understood to be a divine being who lived in the heavenly realm (“outer space,” as some of them put it) who was crucified by demonic powers.  Later followers of Jesus historicized him and made him, in their myths, into a human being.  And then the stories emerged about him that we now have in our Gospels.  They are based principally on [...]

2020-04-03T03:00:47-04:00October 21st, 2016|Bart's Debates, Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Public Forum|

Bethlehem and Nazareth in Luke: Where Was Jesus Really Born?

Yesterday I discussed Matthew’s account of how it is that Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem, if in fact he “came” from Nazareth. Of course, critical scholars suspect Matthew has placed Jesus' birth there to fulfill Michah's prophecy (5:2) that a great ruler (the supposed messiah) would come from Bethlehem. For Matthew it is because Joseph and Mary were originally from Bethlehem.  That was their home town.  And the place of Jesus’ birth.  Two or more years after his birth, they relocated to Nazareth in Galilee, over a hundred miles to the north, to get away from the rulers of Judea who were thought to be out to kill the child.   (That in itself, I hardly need to say, seems completely implausible, that a local king is eager to kill a peasant child out of fear that he will wrest the kingdom away from him….) Luke has a completely different account of how it happened.  In Luke, Bethlehem is decidedly not Joseph and Mary’s home town.  The whole point of the story is that [...]

2020-04-03T13:58:56-04:00March 6th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Bethlehem and Nazareth in Matthew

In my last post I showed why it is virtually certain that Jesus’ home town was Nazareth.   All of our sources agree that he was from there, and it is very hard to imagine why a Christian story teller would have made that up.    But now the question is whether that was also his place of birth. The only two accounts we have of Jesus’ birth, Matthew and Luke, independently claim that even though he was raised in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem.   So isn’t that the more likely scenario?  Born in Bethlehem but raised in Nazareth?   You might think so, given the fact that this is what is stated in our only two sources of information, and that they independently agree about the matter (based on their own sources, the no longer existing M – Matthew’s source or sources – and the no longer existing L – Luke’s source or sources). But there are reasons for thinking that we cannot trust these accounts, for three reasons: THE REST OF THIS POST IS [...]

2020-04-03T13:59:03-04:00March 5th, 2015|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Was Jesus From Nazareth?

QUESTION: Do you think Jesus was born in Nazareth? A few weeks ago I went to both Bethlehem and Nazareth. I always thought Jesus was born in Nazareth but most there focused on Bethlehem as Jesus’s birth place. Is there strong evidence for either?   RESPONSE Yes, when you visit Israel today, or when you ask any Bible-believing Christian, or when you ask most any Christian, or most any other human being, you will hear that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.   The reason is not hard to find: the only references to Jesus’ birth in the New Testament squarely place his birth in Bethlehem.   There are, as many of you know, only two passages of the New Testament that narrate the events surrounding Jesus’ birth: Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.  And they both agree in placing it in Bethlehem. And yet there are compelling reasons for questioning that view, so that a large number of critical scholars – even prominent Roman Catholic scholars – think that it is more likely that Jesus was born in [...]

2020-04-03T13:59:12-04:00March 4th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

More on the Name “Nazareth”

My post on the archaeological proof that Nazareth did in fact exist elicited a number of responses, some of them asking for more details – especially about whether the name of the town could have been invented by someone who thought Jesus was a “Nazirite.”  I actually deal with that question in my response to mythicists in my book Did Jesus Exist?   There I deal with the arguments of mythicists Frank Zindler and G.A. Wells.  Here is what I say there: ************************************************************** Frank Zindler, for example, in a cleverly entitled essay, “Where Jesus Never Walked,” tries to deconstruct on a fairly simple level the geographical places associated with Jesus, especially Nazareth.  He claims that Mark’s Gospel never states that Jesus came from Nazareth.  This flies in the face, of course, of Mark 1:9, which indicates precisely that this is where Jesus did come from (“Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee”), but Zindler maintains that that verse was not originally part of Mark; it was inserted by a later scribe.   In my view, this making a [...]

2020-04-03T13:59:21-04:00March 3rd, 2015|Historical Jesus, Mythicism, Reader’s Questions|

Rene Salm at the SBL (2)

In my post yesterday I began to explain why René Salm’s claim that Nazareth did not exist in the days of Jesus is dead wrong and is rejected by every recognized authority – whether archaeologist, textual scholar, or historian; whether Jewish, Christian, agnostic, or other . Here is my second and final post on the subject, again, with apologies to those who have read it already, lifted from my treatment in Did Jesus Exist?   ***************************************************************************************************************** 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.” 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 [...]

2020-04-03T19:10:51-04:00November 29th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Rene Salm at the Society of Biblical Literature Meeting

Several people have sent me private emails asking why René Salm was put on the program at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting, given the fact that he is not a scholar and has no credentials in the field. For those of you who don’t know, Salm has written a book claiming that Nazareth did not exist in the first century, so that Jesus couldn’t be there. He argues this in part because he doesn’t think Jesus existed and so wants to discredit the Gospel stories by saying the Christian authors made the whole thing up. Several scholars (well, everyone who mentioned it to me) were outraged that Salm was allowed to be on the program. This meeting is of a learned society and is to be for scholars with established expertise. It is not to be a venue for people without qualifications to spout their wild theories. Salm claims that those who oppose him have a theological or religious bias against his views, but this simply is not true. EVERYONE who is an expert [...]

2020-04-03T19:10:59-04:00November 29th, 2012|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus, Mythicism|

Did Jesus Speak Greek?

Several of my recent posts have elicited comments from multiple participants (same comment, asked in a variety of ways). One of them had to do with the question of the language that Jesus would have spoken with Pontius Pilate during his trial. A number of people have asked “why not Greek”? The logic behind this question/solution is that Pilate as an educated Roman would have been fluent in Greek; and Jesus, living in “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where he probably engaged in a small business (carpentry) would have had to communicate with the non-Jews in his midst, and so probably could speak Greek as well. Moreover, he grew up in Nazareth not far from the urbane city of Sepphoris, and would have acquired Greek language and culture there. That is a common view among many students of the Bible. And so what’s wrong with it? As with most interesting questions, this one requires virtually an entire book to answer, so I will give only the short version, which is this: it is true that Pilate [...]

2021-01-20T01:04:49-05:00August 24th, 2012|Historical Jesus, Reader’s Questions|

Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 6

Q. Mythicists seems to often uses the interpolation theory to explain away NT texts that are inconvenient to their agendas. Yet it is also true that some NT scholars use interpolation theories to the very same end, even when there is apparently no textual basis for the interpolation theory. Explain how the mythicists appeal to interpolation is special pleading, whereas it is not when some NT scholars resort to such a theory (take for example the case of 1 Cor. 14.33b-36, which is displaced in some manuscripts but to my knowledge there are no manuscripts that omit it altogether). A.   A theory of interpolation argues that there are passages in the New Testament that were not originally there, even though they are still found in all the surviving manuscripts.   When a passage (whether several verses, a single verse, or part of a verse) is not found in one or more manuscripts, then the decision whether it was originally in the NT is based on textual criticism.  Scholars have to decide then which manuscript(s) more likely [...]

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