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Scandal 5
The Nazareth Village Farm

A major report on Nazareth archaeology was published in the 2007 issue of the Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society (Vol. 25, pp. 19–79), too late for inclusion in the first edition of the book, The Myth of Nazareth. The study is entitled “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report,” and is authored by Stephen Pfann, Ross Voss, and Yehudah Rapuano. This extended 60-page article probably is the most significant contribution to the archaeology of the basin since Bagatti’s Excavations in Nazareth (1967/69). It is referred to below as the NVF (Nazareth Village Farm) report.

The Nazareth Village Farm lies on fifteen acres to the south and west of the ancient settlement area, which was on the valley floor. The NVF was obviously the site of ancient agricultural activity and terracing. Though it was too steep for ancient habitations (20% grade), it is here that an ambitious plan is now underway to recreate Jesus’ hometown, known as “Nazareth Village.” When complete, this project will contain streets and stone houses “inhabited by actors and storytellers in authentic garb, [who] will illuminate the life and teachings of Jesus. A Parable Walk, museum, study center and restaurant are also planned…” (according to the NVF publicity). According to the first page of the report we are considering in this Scandal Sheet, “For nearly two decades, the University of the Holy Land (UHL) and its subsidiary, the Center for the Study of Early Christianity (CSEC), has laboured to lay the academic foundation for the construction of a first-century Galilean village or town based upon archaeology and early Jewish and Christian sources.” As of 1999, an international consortium of Christian groups (called the Miracle of Nazareth International Foundation) raised $60 million for the project. Contributors in the U.S. include former President Jimmy Carter, Pat Boone and Rev. Reggie White, the former Green Bay Packer football star.

Most of the NVF report is chronologically “non-diagnostic,” that is, the terraces and other structures (e.g. watchtowers) are virtually undatable. However, several score pottery shards were itemized (among the hundreds which were found), and they reveal the eras in which those terraces were worked in antiquity. The critical last ten pages of the report (pp. 68–78) deal with the pottery. They were authored by Y. Rapuano, and it is his contribution to the report (because of its importance for dating purposes) that most concerns us.

Curiously, there were two (competing?) surveys of the NVF area conducted in the past, both in 1997. One was officially sponsored by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). [See ‘Nazerat (Nazareth) Area, Survey’ in Hadashot Arkheologiyot 1999; English p. 90, Hebrew p. 113]. This IAA survey concluded that “Sherds, mostly dating to the Late Roman period (2nd–4th centuries CE), were scattered on the surface.” This quite believable verdict is consistent with my researches on Nazareth, which show that the town came into existence between the two Jewish revolts (c.70–c. 130 CE). Note: the IAA report was authored by Mordechai Haiman, a respected Ph.D in archaeology. It makes no mention at all of evidence from the time of Christ. Incidentally, the Haiman survey was apparently carried out at the same time as the initial excavations by UHL/CSEC (April, 1997). Presumably, Haiman had access to precisely the same empirical information.

Perhaps the backers of the Nazareth Village Farm were unsatisfied with the IAA report, for a different survey report has appeared on the internet (unsigned and copyrighted by the University of the Holy Land, whose President is Stephen Pfann). This unofficial report is titled, “Summary of Excavations of the Nazareth Village.” (At the time of this writing, the UHL report is still available at http://www.uhl.ac/dig.html.) This revisionist report claims to find much evidence at Nazareth Village Farm dating both to the time of Christ and to Hellenistic times. Both of these eras, we recall, are entirely unmentioned in the IAA survey.

The conclusion of the UHL report is a marvelously imprecise sentence: “Potsherds were found on the surface of the terraces dating from various periods beginning with the early to late Roman period.” This phrase also occurs repeatedly in the recent 60-page NVF article (cf. pp. 19, 24, 28, 32, 56). However, we shall see (below) that the shards found at the NVF all date to the later Roman period, not to earlier times at all.

One may wonder what the phrase, “early to late Roman period” means. After all, if a potsherd is dated in this way, then is it Early Roman, Middle Roman, or Late Roman? The question is not merely academic, for upon it may hinge the existence of Nazareth in the time of Jesus.

Well, if a potsherd is characterized vaguely as “early to late Roman,” then it might actually be later Roman, entirely consistent with other evidence from Nazareth. What I am getting at is that the phrase “early to late Roman period” has absolutely no force as regards Early Roman times—none, at any rate, if the pottery came from later Roman times, as the official IAA report had already suggested.

All the shards dated by Rapuano in the NVF report are small—usually too small to confidently date an artefact. Sometimes the fragments are “tiny.” Yet Rapuano still ventures a dating for them. This may be one reason his report is peppered with tentative words such as possibly, probably, evidently, appeared to be, etc.

Most importantly, whenever Rapuano dates a shard to the Hellenistic period or to I CE (the eras most valuable in establishing Nazareth in the time of Jesus), he expresses doubt through one of the above tentative words. In short, Rapuano is (by his own admission) on shaky ground when claiming pre-70 CE evidence.

Problems of double-dating

Surprises await the person who patiently itemizes all of Rapuano’s findings. We recall that Bagatti, in an embarrassing but revealing lapse, assigned the same shard on one page to the Iron Age and on another page to Roman times (Scandal 2). Rapuano is capable of not one, but four similar gaffes. The fact that there are four cases of double-dating in this NVF report seriously undermines the confidence one can place in it and points to incredible sloppiness or absent-mindedness.

The cases of double-dating are as follows: (1) On page 75 of the NVF report Rapuano assigns Fig. 41:32 to “the third century to early fifth century AD.” But on the preceding page he has already dated the same shard (41:32) to the Ottoman period! The difference is one thousand years (or more), for the Ottoman period began in the 14th century.

(2) On page 73 of the NVF report (6th line), Rapuano itemizes artefact 41:4. He describes it as the “plain rim” of a bowl of Adan-Bayewitz Type 1E (“mid-third to early fifth century AD”), and states that the findspot was locus 31 of Area B2. On p. 75, however, the archaeologist writes that the findspot of shard 41:4 is Locus 7 of Area B2. Rapuano describes it differently than before, and now dates it from the “early second century to the later fourth century AD.” He completely forgot that he already looked at this shard!

(3) On page 77 of the NVFR (top line), Rapuano itemizes artefact 43:3 as “a small bowl with a cupped rim.” He states that the findspot was Locus 2 of Area C3. No dating is offered for the shard, which from the diagram is part of a rim. But later, even on the same page, the archaeologist again itemizes artefact “43:3.” The findspot is now Locus 5 of Area C3, and Rapuano dates it “from the end of the first century to the mid-third century AD.”

(4) On page 74 of the NVFR, under the section “B-2 – L-34”, Rapuano itemizes artefact 41:8 as “The tiny fragment of a rim, probably of a small bowl of the Roman period.” Farther down on the same page he writes: “Fig. 41:8 is the edge of the rim of what was evidently a Galilean bowl with a plain rim (Adan-Bayewitz Type 1E) dating from the mid-third century to earlier fifth century AD.”

From these cases we see that the archaeologist is, presumably, capable of looking at the same shard at different times, forgetting that he already examined it, and coming up with different dates, descriptions, and findspots for it. How curious! Needless to say, this hardly bolsters our confidence in his work, nor in the entire Nazareth Village Farm report.

What coins?

On page 39, the authors of the NVF report suddenly launch into a review of coin evidence from the rest of the Nazareth basin. We may wonder why a report, otherwise purely concerned with the Nazareth Village Farm, includes a discussion of coins at Mary’s Well (at the distant northern end of the basin), or of Bagatti’s numismatic finds in the Venerated Area. The answer is that the authors are here being revisionist as well. They bluntly allege that coins found at the northern end of the basin (Mary’s Well) “included a few Hellenistic, Hasmonean, Early Roman, Byzantine, Umayyad and Crusader coins.” But the archaeologist who dug at Mary’s Well (Y. Alexandre) never claimed coins dating before Byzantine times! (I have exchanged emails with the archaeologist on precisely this point.) In other words, in the review of those remote loci several reckless and unsubstantiated claims are made—claims which now support a village at the turn of the era.

The pottery

Rapuano itemizes about 75 artefacts, mostly small pottery shards. Of these, only 15 artefacts (20% of itemized finds) are furnished with a typological parallel, invariably to an artefact in the volumes of Adan-Bayewitz, Common Pottery in Roman Galilee. (1993). A parallel is essential, because it allows the reader to verify what would otherwise be the archaeologist’s unsubstantiated opinion. But we see that in 80% of cases, Rapuano’s itemizations are not accompanied by parallels. Hence the characteristics and dating of most of Rapuano’s evidence amount to no more than the (unverifiable) opinion of the archaeologist himself.

In eleven cases, Rapuano insists on a pre-70 CE dating. These claims represent the totality of the NVF evidence for a pre-70 CE Nazareth, and yet they are all without foundation in fact. It is revealing that in every one of these cases no typological parallels are available. Put bluntly, the NVF evidence for Nazareth in the time of Jesus rests on no more than Y. Rapuano’s opinion. He can point to no parallels in the published literature for his venturesome pre-70 CE claims.

As we have noted, without standard parallels to published literature an archaeologist’s claims must be considered non-diagnostic and are rejected as (arbitrary) opinions without substantiation. It can also be noted that Rapuano’s early datings conflict with the evidence from the rest of the Nazareth basin, as determined in the pages of The Myth of Nazareth.

Finally, it should be mentioned that in most of these early dating cases Mr. Rapuano admits uncertainty. In eight of the eleven cases he himself writes “tentatively,” “possibly,” “probably,” or “likely.” He simply is not sure! His own uncertainty shows us that we cannot seriously consider the presence of people at the site of the Nazareth Village Farm at the turn of the era.

Finally, in those relatively few cases where Rapuano actually offers a typological parallel, the dating range is fully compatible with a post-70 CE beginning for Nazareth. In other words, all the datings—when properly supported by a parallel—are consistent with a post-70 CE beginning for Nazareth. There is no real conflict between the NVF report (properly examined) and the emergence of the settlement after the First Jewish War. This is the main conclusion of this Scandal Sheet.

For the preceding reasons, Rapuano’s datings regarding the NVF pottery must be considered tendentious. In particular, there is no support for his early datings, those which would substantiate a village in the time of Jesus. Indeed, there is no evidence at all in the NVF report for a settlement before 70 CE.—René Salm


Scandal 6
A ‘House from the time of Jesus’?

Updated June 30, 2014

Scandal sheets
Coverups relating to Nazareth archaeology.

Scandal 1
Hidden tombs under the house of Mary
(the Church of the Annunciation)

Scandal 2
The shell game with Nazareth evidence

Scandal 3
Alleged Hellenistic finds

Scandal 4
“Herodian” and the misdating of Nazareth evidence

Scandal 6
A ‘House from the time of Jesus’?

Scandal 7
“Israel’s Evangelical Approach” and Nazareth

Scandal 8
The Nazareth coin boondoggle

Scandal 9
The 1962 forgery of the “Caesarea inscription”

Scandal 10
Nazareth archaeology leads to peer review breakdown

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The earliest Nazareth evidence