Digging Back Toward Jesus
Biblical Archaeology Uncovering Evidence About Places and People's Lives in Gospel Times
By Bill Broadway
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2003; Page B09
Many Christians were upset when Israeli antiquities experts recently declared a 1st-century inscription bearing Jesus's name a fake, seemingly depriving them of the earliest archaeological proof of Jesus's existence.
Those who take such a view misunderstand the point of biblical archaeology, said Craig A. Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia and an expert on ossuaries, the small burial boxes like the one discovered last fall in which was carved in Aramaic: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."
"Archaeology isn't so much about proving the Bible," said Evans, an evangelical Christian who said he thinks the James inscription ultimately could be proved authentic. The importance of archaeology is that it "clarifies and contextualizes the story of the Bible."
What many people don't realize, Evans and other scholars said, is that archaeologists in recent years have been searching for -- and finding -- contextual clues to the world inhabited by Jesus and his followers.
"We don't even have much direct archaeological evidence that [Jesus] walked this earth," says Hershel Shanks, editor of Washington-based Biblical Archaeological Review and host of "An Archaeological Search for Jesus," a new five-part video/DVD series featuring more than 20 leading archaeologists and biblical scholars. "What we have is lots and lots of evidence about the world he lived in."
Some of the most notable discoveries have been in the northern part of Israel known as the Galilee, an agriculturally rich area where Jesus grew up and spent most of his three-year ministry.
That evidence shows, among other things, that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew -- a perspective at odds with beliefs that Jesus rejected Judaism to form a new religion or taught a pagan-influenced humanist philosophy, Shanks and other scholars said. It also indicates that Jesus was a cultured sophisticate, not the peasant naif portrayed in many Sunday school texts.
Foremost have been excavations at Sepphoris, a magnificent 1st-century city four miles from Nazareth; at Capernaum, a fishing village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus's ministry was based; and at what may have been Bethsaida, home of three apostles and the third most-mentioned town in the Gospels.
There's lots more, so do read it all.