The Church of England’s communications’ team puts together a daily digest of news (subscribe here). I was a bit surprised to find that today’s had a reference to a story in the Express that the house Jesus grew up in had been discovered. I was even more surprised to find the Express writing about something other than immigration (bad), Brexit (good), Diana (divine) or the weather (variable).
It turns out that this is a story that appeared in the Biblical Archaeology Review in 2015, and was recycled in Bible History Daily last year. A University of Reading archaeologist, Dr Ken Dark, has investigated the remains below the convent of the Sisters of Nazareth (a stone’s throw from the Basilica of the Annunciation, and traditional site of Mary’s family home before she moved in with Joseph).
His investigation confirms it is a 1st century dwelling, although reading between the lines of the story, he wants both to say “Did Jesus live here” for publicity, and the “We really can’t know” for academic integrity. It’s as good a way to have your cake and eat it as comes to an archaeologist, I guess.
It’s not dissimilar from the attitude of the sisters. When I was shown round the remains in 2004 a couple of years before his project began, the nun guiding our small group was very careful to hint at the sisters’ belief that this was Joseph’s family home (and therefore also Jesus’) without making anything like a definite claim. The photo above shows the edge of the cistern, having been well worn with repeated visits to draw water. The photo below shows a first century tomb (which I lent to James McGrath for the cover of his The Burial of Jesus.)
It is a fascinating site in its own right, irrespective of speculation about Jesus, but the simple truth is: it’s a first century home. Either it, or any excavated home of similar age, or any of the many houses which have never been found, could have been the family home where the carpenter lived, and presumably worked. It is intriguing that an academic archaeologist and a popular press as at home with alternative facts as real ones might equally speculate that this is the place where Jesus grew up.
I think that says something interesting about our society, its romantic take on history, and its fascination with Jesus that secularism hasn’t entirely eroded. I beg leave to doubt that it says anything well-founded about this particular set of well-preserved archaeological remains.