The Archaeological Evidence For Jesus
by Craig A. Evans
It’s March, Easter approaches, and new books about Jesus have appeared. It is an interesting and diverse batch this time around. Bart Ehrman’s "Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth" (Harper) very ably assembles the evidence, showing that claims that there never was a historical Jesus fly in the face of common sense and more than sufficient evidence. "The Jesus Discovery" (Simon & Schuster) by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobivici argues that a south Jerusalem tomb (called the "Patio Tomb" because it is accessed via the patio of a condo) belonged to a first-generation Christian family. Tabor and Jacobovici think they have found an inscription that alludes to Jesus resurrected and ascended to heaven. Archaeologists are not convinced; some are complaining that the authors have grossly misinterpreted the evidence. Ehrman’s interpretation of the evidence is convincing; Tabor’s and Jacobovici’s is not.
How to interpret this evidence is what my own book is all about: Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Westminster John Knox Press). I begin by explaining what archaeology is: the excavation and study of the remains of material culture. In the case of Jesus it means the excavating and interpretation of remains from the first century B.C.E. and C.E. in Israel (Galilee to the north and Judea and Jerusalem to the south). It means correlating what we discover with relevant written records (such as the writings of the New Testament and the writings of Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian). It often means applying space-age technologies. It is hard work and it is very rewarding.
The archaeological evidence shows that Jesus grew up in a small village, Nazareth, about four miles from Sepphoris, a prominent city in the early first century C.E. This city had a Greco-Roman look, complete with paved, columned street, but its inhabitants were observant Jews. The evidence further shows that Nazareth was linked to a network of roads that accommodated travel and commerce. The quaint notion that Jesus grew up in rustic isolation has been laid to rest…
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