Ken Dark photo
By John Martin
Could ancient remains of a courtyard-style house in Nazareth be where Jesus grew up? There is “no good reason” to doubt it, says archaeologist Ken Dark of the University of Reading. “At the very least, it is a hugely important historical finding from the imperial Roman era,” he says.
When Dark and his all-British team began explorations around Nazareth in 2005, the goal was to learn more about how Nazareth developed and how it was affected by Christian pilgrimages. Scholars have long believed that the Sisters of Nazareth convent sits above the remains of a church dating from the Byzantine era in the 4th and 5th centuries.
A fragment written by a seventh-century monk set Dark and his team on the trail. Entering the cellar of the convent, Dark and his team found a church and two tombs matching a description in a text dating from A.D. 670 by a monk named Adomnán. The monk mentioned a church standing “where once there was the house in which the Lord was nourished in his infancy.”
The house was carved out of a hillside. After studying soil layers, the team concluded that the house was several centuries older than the Byzantine church. Dark believes this suggests a first-century structure.
There are few archaeological remains of first-century Nazareth. Dark believes the site is of great significance because an early Christian house was built over the original house, followed by another during the Crusades, and then the convent. It certainly makes a strong case for protection.
“Both the tombs and the house were decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine period, suggesting they were of special importance and possibly venerated,” Dark wrote in Biblical Archaeology Review.
The house carved out of the limestone is fairly typical of a first-century artisan’s home. “These were the typical homes of everyday people,” Dark said. He believes “the simplest reason for believing it is the home of Jesus is that the Byzantines believed it and they were a lot closer to the early Christian period than we are.”