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Has Jesus’ childhood home been found?

The Holy Land is littered with places of pilgrimage associated with biblical events and figures. The cities associated with David, the places related to the life of Jesus and, of course, the city of Jerusalem itself attract millions of visitors every year. People want to follow in the footsteps of their heroes. But despite the traditions and churches that claim to identify the places where Jesus was born, crucified and resurrected, there are still gaps in the map of religious tourism. For example, while we know Jesus is from Nazareth, do we know where he grew up? A new book claims to have identified Jesus’ lost childhood home under a convent.

According to the New Testament, Jesus’ parents were both from the city of Nazareth. Shortly before his birth, however, a census decree demanded that Mary and Joseph return to Bethlehem, the hometown of Joseph’s family, and the rest, as they say, is history. While some scholars doubt the historical correctness of Bethlehem’s history, it is widely believed that there was a man called Jesus who grew up in Nazareth. After beginning his missionary work, Jesus returned to his hometown only once and received a cold welcome there. At one point people try to stone him.

During Jesus’ lifetime, Nazareth was a small town about six kilometers from the somewhat more cosmopolitan town of Sepphoris. Some have estimated that only around four to five hundred people lived in Nazareth during Jesus’ time, although today Nazareth is much more urbanized. For pilgrims, the imposing Basilica of the Annunciation is a must-see destination because it marks the site where – according to Roman Catholic tradition – the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was expecting a child. Orthodox Christians follow an early Christian tradition that describes the Annunciation taking place near a well and have a separate church elsewhere in the city. The basilica is the oldest religious site there: a sanctuary was founded under the aegis of Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. None of these religious buildings, however, tell us where Jesus grew up.

However, just 100 meters from the basilica, there is another religious center, the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. The nuns settled there at the end of the 19th century and, during the construction of the convent, they discovered a sequence of underground structures that take the visitor back through time. These layers include the remains of a Crusader-era church, a Byzantine cave church, Roman-era tombs, and a first-century house. Although the nuns carried out preliminary excavations themselves, archaeological exploration did not begin in earnest until 2004, when a five-year survey of the largely neglected site began. In his recently published book, The Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth: a site from Roman, Byzantine and Crusader times in central Nazareth , Ken Dark, professor of archeology and history at the University of Reading and former director of excavations under the convent, argues that the first-century house may well have been Jesus’ childhood home.

The house itself is quite unremarkable. As Dark put it, “It’s not pitifully poor, but there’s no sign of great wealth either. It is very ordinary. There is obviously no inscription, house name, or graffiti that identifies the former occupants, but Dark has two reasons to suspect that Jesus lived here. The first is the skill and quality of the construction of the house. Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, is described as a Tekton or craftsman. While we generally identify Joseph as a carpenter, the term has a broader meaning which can refer to stoneworkers or even metalworkers. Whoever built the house in the first century was an experienced craftsman. The quality of the masonry and the techniques used to build the house are up to the caliber of workmanship one would expect from someone who has done this job for a living. It’s in line with what one would expect, but it’s far from convincing proof.

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The second reason for identifying it as an important site is its location. A Byzantine church was built over the house between the fifth and seventh centuries. The fact that the house was protected during these periods of later construction suggests that subsequent generations thought there was something special about it. Dark argues that the Byzantine Church was almost certainly the Church of Nutrition, an ancient pilgrimage site built over the home of Mary and Joseph. A description of the church from a seventh century pilgrimage diary further supports its claim. When you put the pieces together, it seems likely that this is where fifth century Christians thought Jesus had grown up.

But were they right? Dark is correctly measured in his assertions. Speaking to CBS, Dark said, “On the one hand, we can put forward a totally plausible case that it was Jesus’ childhood home. But on the other hand, to prove that it is beyond the scope of proof. One wonders if it would ever be possible to prove it. “

What we seem to have, therefore, is the house in which the late ancient Christians believed Jesus had grown up. Whether or not we think they are right is a whole other question.

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