“The Myth of Nazareth”
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The 1962 forgery of the so-called “Caesarea inscription”
The following is a summary of investigative research which took place during the summer of 2013. It presents new material relative to the “Caesarea inscription”—now in quotation marks because of the stunning revelations below. Those revelations which show that the inscription never actually existed. It must be viewed as an invented construct of Christians who have wished to authenticate the existence of Nazareth in Roman times, and also of Jews who in 1962 wished to authenticate the existence of a synagogue in Caesarea at the site of the “discovery.”
A complete and detailed series of fifteen entries is to be found on my companion Mythicist Papers website beginning here.
The “Caesarea inscription” has been considered—since its discovery in 1962—as one of the most telling pieces of evidence for the existence of the settlement of Nazareth during Roman times. The inscription ostensibly records a list of twenty-four priestly families who migrated from Judea to Galilee. Conservative scholars immediately dated that migration to the first century CE, assuming it took place after the First Jewish Revolt. In fact, a migration after the Second Jewish Revolt is more likely (Horsley, Leibner). More recent research has even shown that the migration of priestly “courses” never actually took place. It was a self-authentication exercise by priests in rabbinic times. They wished to link their present homes in the Galilee to pre-destruction Judean roots (Trifon). Conservative scholars have ignored these untoward findings. However, the truth regarding the inscription is far more radical, for no one has heretofore suspected that the inscription is itself a forgery. This conclusion is announced now for the first time on this website and on my companion weblog Mythicist Papers.
At the beginning of the Summer 2013, spurred by a fellow mythicist who was unsuspectingly using the “Caesarea inscription” as evidence for the existence of Nazareth, I decided to dig a little more deeply into the nature and genesis of this curious artifact. An Italian scholar in Europe, Enrico Tuccinardi, had already written an article on the inscription published in the 2010 Cahier of the Cercle Ernest Renan (Paris). I read his article and asked Mr. Tuccinardi for permission to translate it into English for my Mythicist Papers website. He agreed and became a collaborator in the exciting revelations to follow. For those who may wish to read Tuccinardi’s article in six parts, it begins here.
The “Caesarea inscription” is in three fragments. Fragment A is the one with the word Nazareth chiseled in its entirely. This is the fragment whose discovery caused such a stir, for until that time no ancient proof for the village existed—only attestations in Christian writings. From the beginning, however, one circumstance regarding the discovery of this fragment stood out for me as particularly suspicious: the scholar who found it was the late Jerry Vardaman, a notorious character known to the world as the pseudo-forger of microletters on ancient stones and coins. His involvement with the fragment A was a colossal red flag.
My suspicions were well founded. As Mr. Tuccinardi in Italy, a colleague in Israel, and myself proceeded to investigate what had been published about this inscription, it gradually became apparent to us that many additional circumstances were extraordinary. None of the three fragments had a verifiable findspot. One (fragment C) was lost. Fragment B itself appeared to have been tampered with. The three fragments did not match one another in color, size of lettering, or line spacing. Furthermore, no evidence could be found for a synagogue in the vicinity where these fragments were allegedly recovered (Govaars). Without a synagogue, of course, there would be no reason for such fragments to be present in that location, for such inscriptions only existed in ancient synagogues. All these indications led to the conclusions that Michael Avi-Yonah (the director of the 1962 excavation) was quite sloppy, and that Jerry Vardaman (his assistant) was less than candid as regards his astonishing “Nazareth” discovery.
In late August 2013, Mr. Tuccinardi discovered shocking new information regarding Jerry Vardaman. This was in the form of two letters written in 1972, ten years after the Caesarea excavation. The first letter is from the director of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the widely respected G. Ernest Wright. He inveighs against Vardaman’s character and abilities, accusing him of bribery, gross incompetence, and a complete lack of moral fibre. I have never read a more damning assessment of one scholar by another.
The second letter is a response by the SBTS director, William E. Hull. It advises Dr. Wright that Vardaman had been relieved of his post at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY)—no doubt as a result of Wright’s letter. Unfazed, Vardaman then assumed a professorship at Mississippi State University where he subsequently founded the Cobb Institute of Archaeology.
However, it was clear that both the circumstances of discovery of the “Caesarea inscription”, as well as the character of the discoverer were suspicious. To this I soon added a detailed timetable of Vardaman’s activity during the 1962 excavation season. He was absent from the excavations for long stretches of time, his whereabouts unknown. He was in Jerusalem at least once. Most curious, he left the excavation one week early and precisely on the day in which the “Nazareth” fragment was found. All this was remarkably suspicious in that it would fit the profile of someone who (1) engaged a forger in Jerusalem to produce the fragment A, and (2) someone who was relieved of his excavation permit on the same day as the “Nazareth” fragment was found.
The clincher lay for me in a statement from Wright’s 1972 letter. In it he says that “[Vardaman’s] attempt to dig at Caesarea some years ago was quietly stopped when the word was passed to the appropriate Israeli authorities.” Here was clear indication that the reason Vardaman left the excavation suddenly and prematurely was that the Israeli authorities quietly intervened. That was the very day of discovery of the “Nazareth” fragment. Evidently, someone in a position of influence was obviously suspicious and alerted the authorities. We must remember that Vardaman already had a history of bribery and of entanglement with the Jordanian police. The Israeli authorities in this instance took no chances and quickly removed Vardaman from the excavation.
There can no longer be any doubt regarding the genesis of the “Nazareth” fragment A of the so-called “Caesarea inscription” (an inscription which we can now affirm never existed). Prof. E. Jerry Vardaman arranged for it to be forged in Jerusalem during the weeks prior to August 14, 1962. He then planted the forged fragment A in an excavation basket or wheelbarrow laden with debris destined for the dump. Vardaman casually directed a worker (Shalom Attieh) to sift through the wheelbarrow ‘one more time,’ and in this way the Nazareth fragment was “discovered.” Vardaman then brought the astonishing fragment—important enough to influence early Christian history—to the immediate attention of the excavation director, Michael Avi-Yonah, and to the attention of everyone else. However, someone knowledgeable of Vardaman’s compromised history was suspicious. He alerted the authorities who intervened and immediately removed Vardaman from the excavation, one week early.
The incompatibility of the three fragments, the very suspicious circumstances of discovery, the reprehensible character of the discoverer, and the damning letter of Dr. Wright all show beyond any reasonable doubt that the fragment A with the word “Nazareth” is a forgery perpetrated by the known lawbreaker Jerry Vardaman.
It is no longer possible to view the list of priestly courses from Caesarea as a valid historical artifact. The “Caesarea inscription” must henceforth be removed from the evidence for the town of Nazareth in Roman times.—René Salm
Uploaded Nov. 4, 2013.
Updated June 30, 2014.
Coverups relating to Nazareth archaeology.
Hidden tombs under the house of Mary
(the Church of the Annunciation)
The shell game with Nazareth evidence
Alleged Hellenistic finds
“Herodian” and the misdating of
The Nazareth Village Farm Report
A ‘House from the time of Jesus’?
“Israel’s Evangelical Approach” and Nazareth
The Nazareth coin boondoggle
Nazareth archaeology leads to peer review breakdown
Fact or faith?
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