Jesus' House? Structure May Be Where He Grew Up

The 1st-Century house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside.

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. [See Images of the 'Jesus' House and Nazareth Artifacts]

"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.

The story of the Jesus house Until recently few archaeological remains that date to the first century were known from Nazareth and those mostly consisted of tombs. However in the last few years, archaeologists have identified two first-century houses in this town. (The other house was discovered in 2009 and is not thought to be where Jesus grew up.) [The Holy Land: 7 Amazing Archaeological Finds]

The nuns' excavations of Jesus' possible home in the 1880s were followed up in 1936, when Jesuit priest Henri Senès, who was an architect before becoming a priest, visited the site, according to Dark. Senès recorded in great detail the structures the nuns had exposed. His work was mostly unpublished and so it was largely unknown to anyone but the nuns and the people who visited their convent.

In 2006, the nuns granted the Nazareth Archaeological Project full access to the site, including Senès drawings and notes, which they had carefully stored. Dark and the project's other archaeologists surveyed the site, and by combining their findings, a new analysis of Senès' findings, notes from the nuns' earlier excavations and other information, they reconstructed the development of the site from the first century to the present.

From simple dwelling to sacred site The artifacts found in the first-century house include broken cooking pots, a spindle whorl (used in spinning thread) and limestone vessels, suggesting possibly a family lived there, the archaeologists said. The limestone vessels suggest a Jewish family lived in the house, because Jewish beliefs held that limestone could not become impure. If a Jewish family lived here it would support the idea that this could have been Jesus' house.

The first-century house "had been constructed by cutting back a limestone hillside as it sloped toward the wadi (valley) below, leaving carefully smoothed freestanding rock walls, to which stone-built walls were added," Dark wrote in a Biblical Archaeology Review article.

"The structure included a series of rooms," he wrote. "One, with its doorway, survived to its full height. Another had a stairway rising adjacent to one of its walls. Just inside the surviving doorway, earlier excavations had revealed part of its original chalk floor."

Dark and his colleagues found that the house was abandoned at some point during the first century. After that, the area was used for quarrying and then later in the first century it was reused as a burial ground. Two tombs (now empty) were constructed beside the abandoned house, with the forecourt of one of the tombs cutting through the house, the researchers said.

Centuries after Jesus' time, the Church of the Nutrition was built around this house and the two adjacent tombs, but the church fell into disuse in the eighth century. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, when Crusaders were in control of the area, only to be burnt down in the 13th century, Dark said.

The fact that the house was protected explains its "excellent preservation," Dark wrote. "Great efforts had been made to encompass the remains of this building within the vaulted cellars of both the Byzantine and Crusader churches, so that it was thereafter protected," he said.

"Both the tombs and the house were decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine period, suggesting that they were of special importance, and possibly venerated," he wrote.

In addition to the archaeological evidence, a text written in A.D. 670 by abbot Adomnàn of the Scottish island monastery at Iona, said to be based on a pilgrimage to Nazareth made by the Frankish bishop Arculf, mentions a church "where once there was the house in which the Lord was nourished in his infancy" (according to a translation of Adomnàn's writing by James Rose Macpherson).

The tomb that cuts through the house was also venerated as being that of Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary. [Proof of Jesus Christ? 7 Pieces of Evidence Debated]

"The tomb cutting through the house is today commonly called 'the Tomb of St. Joseph,' and it was certainly venerated in the Crusader period, so perhaps they thought it was the tomb of St. Joseph," Dark told Live Science. "However, it is unlikely to be the actual tomb of St. Joseph, given that it dates to after the disuse of the house and localized quarrying in the first century."

What was Nazareth like?

Archaeologists also discovered a number of sites nearby that hold clues as to what Nazareth was like in Jesus' time.

Rulers in Rome began to take control of Israel during the first century B.C. But Dark and his team found evidence that, despite Rome's increasing influence, the people living in and near Nazareth rejected Roman culture.

The archaeologists surveyed a valley near Nazareth called Nahal Zippori, finding that people who lived on the northern side of the valley, close to the Roman town of Sepphoris, were more willing to embrace Roman culture than those to the south, nearer to Nazareth, who appear to have rejected it.

"This suggests that the Nazareth area was unusual for the strength of its anti-Roman sentiment and/or the strength of its Jewish identity," Dark said.

Dark and his team have published journal articles on their work in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly and The Antiquaries Journal. More publications on the team's archaeological work at Nazareth are forthcoming. It may be some time before scholars not affiliated with the project fully analyze the findings, and weigh in on the team's conclusions.

Original article on Live Science.

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People in the Middle Ages believed Jesus grew up in this first-century house in Nazareth, according to research.

March 1, 2012

-- This tomb, carved out of rock, could be "directly connected to Jesus' first followers, those who knew him personally, and to Jesus himself," according to researchers. Located beneath a modern condominium complex less than two miles south of the Old City of Jerusalem, this first-century burial, now named "patio tomb," is only 200 feet away from a second tomb, dubbed the "Jesus Family Tomb." Lying beneath a garden area in the same condominium complex, the burial was discovered in 1980. It contained 10 ossuaries, six of them inscribed with names associated with Jesus and his family. Critics dismissed the synchronicity of names as mere coincidence. "The object of our investigation was to determine whether the 'patio tomb,' still intact, might contain names or other evidence that would provide for us further data that might conceivably shed light on the adjacent 'garden tomb' with its intriguing cluster of names," James D. Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, wrote in a preliminary report published online in the "The Bible and Interpretation" website. He investigated the "patio tomb" with documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici.

Photo: Jacobovici at the entrance of the sealed "patio tomb"

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In 2010, Tabor and Jacobovici entered the sealed tomb without actually opening it. They had obtained a license from the Israel Antiquities Authority to explore it through a minimally invasive procedure. Using 8-inch, custom-made diamond tooth drills, the team drilled two holes into the basement floor above the burial. A robotic arm was custom made so that it could be introduced into the tomb through the holes. The robotic arm not only had a main camera mounted on its tip, but a snake camera with a light that could extend about 4 feet beyond the main probe "to allow filming of several of the ossuaries that were deep in the recesses of the niches," said Tabor. The camera also had the capability of shooting laser beams to obtain micro-centimeter measurements.

Photo: Robotic arm

The probe was successful and the researchers were able to reach all areas of the tomb. Typical of Jerusalem in the period from 20 B.C. until 70 A.D, the tomb had a single central square chamber with a very shallow "standing pit" area. It contained nine carved burial niches with skeletal remains and several limestone ossuaries, or bone boxes.

Photo: Map of the tomb

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One ossuary was finely carved with a decoration which the researchers believe is "a clear image of a fish, complete with tail, fins, and scales." According to Tabor, it has "a stick-like human figure with an over-sized head coming out of its mouth." He interpreted the drawing as a representation of the biblical story of Jonah and the "big fish." In the earliest gospel materials, the "sign of Jonah," as mentioned by Jesus, has been interpreted as a symbol of his resurrection. "As Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights, but emerged alive, Jesus would likewise emerge from the tomb/death," wrote Tabor. Jonah images only appear in the third and fourth centuries A.D., but never earlier, given the prohibition within Judaism of making images of people or animals. In this view, the fish would represent the oldest Christian art ever discovered, predating the earliest Christian symbol in the catacombs of Rome by at least 200 years. It would also represent the first archeological evidence related to faith in Jesus' resurrection from the dead -- "presumably by his contemporary 1st-century followers," said Tabor.

Image: CGI enhanced image of Jonah and the Big Fish

Another finely decorated ossuary contained an intriguing four-word Greek inscription. There are several ways to read the inscription, but according to Tabor, almost all of them have to do with resurrection, some linking directly to Jesus. The most likely readings are: "The Divine Jehovah raises up from (the dead)" or "The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place" or "God, Jehovah, Raise up! Raise up!" or "Lord, Jesus, Rise up! Rise up!" "We are dealing here with a family or clan that is bold enough to write out the holy name of God in a tomb, with a declaration about 'raising up' or resurrection -- something totally unparalleled in any of the 900 tombs from the period known in Jerusalem," wrote Tabor.

Photo: The unique four-line Greek inscription

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According to Tabor, the family buried in the tomb was undoubtedly Jewish. Apart from the Greek epitaph and fish image, "the style of the tomb, the ornamentation of the ossuaries, and everything else about it is nothing out of the ordinary," he said. Yet, taken together, the fish image and the inscription represents the earliest archaeological evidence of faith in Jesus' resurrection, the first witness to a saying of Jesus that predates the New Testament gospels, and the oldest Christian art ever discovered. "We are convinced that the best explanation for these unusual epigraphic features is its proximity to the Jesus family tomb," wrote Talbot. "What we apparently have is a family connected to the Jesus movement who reaches beyond the standard burial norms of the Jewish culture of the period to express itself individually in these unique ways," he said.

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