René: There was a claim of a house from the time of Jesus…
Brian: Yeah, in 2009, I believe.
René: I devote a long chapter [in the book NazarethGate] to that. Actually, it’s a wine-making installation. Very clear… There’s no doubt about it.
[This might be a good time to] address a common criticism: that I’m not an archeologist. You know, people say, “Well, René, how can you have an opinion?” And what I say is that I don’t have an opinion. I don’t make any judgments myself. I am scrupulously careful to quote the opinions of the experts, of the archeologists who have studied the stone vessels, who have studied the oil lamps, who have studied the pottery, who have studied the coins—if there are any claimed (and there actually have been some claimed recently). And it always turns out—when you go to the experts and you look at the evidence claimed from Nazareth—[that] the evidence turns out to be Middle Roman, or Late Roman, or even Byzantine. And some of it turns out to be Iron Age, because there was a settlement there in the Iron Age and in the Bronze Age. It was destroyed by the Assyrians when they invaded in the late eighth century BCE. A lot of towns were destroyed. My own opinion is that the name of that town was “Japhia,” which today is very close by. In fact, it’s now a part of bigger Nazareth.
[22’00”] Brian: The Church of the Annunciation, which is still there I think, dates back to 570. But even a holy site didn’t exist until Constantine created Christianity. Where did the Christians themselves decide they were going to place it, and where did they get their info?
Rob: Constantine did not create Christianity. He just popularized it.
Brian: They’re creating these places. Where is that?
Rob: Right, right…
René: And actually it was his mother. Don’t forget Helena. She was really… Well, she was like a Christian three times over. We know she came down and visited Palestine. She was such a devoted Christian! And it’s right around that time that a lot of places were identified overnight. I suspect that it was she who identified the little village of Nazareth and said, “Okay, this is the place!” I don’t know what the name of that settlement was beforehand, or even if it was big enough to have a name. You know, it might have been a two-horse town. And she comes through and says: “Okay, we’re going to make this Nazareth.”
Brian: Did she also do Bethlehem, too? I mean, there’s the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and they make a lot of claims for it as well.René: Yeah, Helena went down to Bethlehem and she may have identified that site, too. Because Bethlehem did not exist at the turn of the era either. That’s a whole ’nother can of worms for the tradition. And I’m not the one who originated that thesis. Aviram Oshri, who is a bona fide Israeli archeologist, has done work in Bethlehem, and he says “This town did not exist at the turn of the era.” There is another Bethlehem, as it happens, way up in Galilee. And so some Christians are trying to say, “Well, maybe Jesus came from this other Bethlehem” which is only seven miles from Nazareth. Anyway, since I don’t believe Jesus really existed, none of this really makes a big difference.
There is a story to go along with Bethlehem. I won’t go into it, but that is a mythical place in ancient—we’re talking Iron Age—lore. Bethlehem was not the “house of bread” the way the name is usually translated, but the “house of the god Lahmu.” It had a very important place in the mythology and religion of the Bronze and Iron Ages. So, for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem is actually a very interesting question that I hope to investigate pretty soon.
[25’13”] Rob: We’re talking to René Salm. He is the author of The Myth of Nazareth. And we have a lot to talk to René about. But I want to make one thing clear, if you would for me. You are not extrapolating different conclusions from the actual archeologists… Do the archeologists themselves agree more or less on a founding date for Nazareth? And, if they do, this seems to me to be a big deal. This seems to be damning evidence. Is that fair to say, that the archeologists themselves are in agreement with your theory of the founding of Nazareth?
René: Oh no, no… They’re not at all in agreement. The archeologists are, in general, not saying anything. It’s diplomatic for them not to say anything, because they acknowledge… They cannot deny the massive quantity of work that I’ve done. I mean, there’s now a thousand pages by my pen on Nazareth archeology. So, nobody can deny that I’ve made a case, whether they agree with it or not. But the few who have actually openly said anything have been negative, with the recent exception of one or two people who, strictly off the record, are willing to concede that Jesus has a Nazareth problem. And, I’ve also received (and I can’t mention names for obvious reasons)… I’ve received support, sympathetic support, from minimalists—I think that’s the best way to categorize them. You know, there’s a camp of skeptics relating to the Old Testament also—mostly in Europe. And they’ve been very sympathetic to my work. These are the scholars who deny the Exodus, they deny the conquest of Israel, they deny the entire historical basis of what’s presently used to prop up the Jewish State. This is a whole different area. It’s happening concurrently with New Testament mythicism. So, both Judaism and Christianity today are facing very serious challenges.
René: I believe that Christians and Jews are going to have to have to face these challenges because scholarship is not slowing down. It’s growing exponentially. Almost every week I go online, or I go to the library, and I’m finding scholars all around the world—Australia, Europe, North America—who are undermining the New Testament in one way or another. And right now the focus seems to be moving to the second century CE, because the New Testament is moving to the second century. The cutting-edge scholars are showing that the texts of the New Testament are not first century at all, the way it has been thought for so long. That the Pauline epistles were actually authored by Marcion is now being taken more seriously. Several books that have come out in the last couple of years claim that. I know Robert Price also has claimed that Marcion wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. Hermann Detering, whom I think fondly of, is a cutting-edge scholar in Germany. He goes farther than Price and would claim that most of what we call the Pauline epistles were written by Marcion or his school.Brian: Now, who’s Marcion again—for the folks that may not know?
René: Yeah… He was an arch-heretic who flourished in the middle part of the second century. He was a very wealthy ship-owner who was a gnostic and claimed there were two gods. He claimed that the god of the Jews, Yahweh, was the lesser god—what we call the demiurge—and that there was another god, outside the creation, who is a superior god. He claimed that Jesus came from the superior god. And so, Marcion essentially took Christianity out of the Jewish background.
It appears that Marcion was the first to find Paul’s epistles—and also, incredibly, the first to come up with a gospel about Jesus. I think this thesis is correct. Several scholars have argued that all of the synoptic gospels date after Marcion, which is an incredible about-face—because it means that even the Gospel of Mark dates after about 125 CE.
Brian: Hmm… That’s certainly considerably later than what the standard scholarship would say, which is about 70 to 80 CE.
René: Yeah… Right. And also, even more damning, it means that the original gospel was written by an arch-heretic and a gnostic.
Brian: Well, Origen—the famous Church Father—was excommunicated. Was Marcion as well?
René: Yes, he was. And he attempted… He gave a sizable amount of money to the Roman Church. He went to Rome, and he gave them a whole bunch of money. They accepted it, and then they returned it when they actually got to studying his gospel and what his theology was all about. They returned it. And one interesting thing is that this has very strong parallels with what happened to Simon Magus. He supposedly tried to bribe Peter. If you read the Acts of the Apostles, I think it is, [Simon] told Peter, “Look, I want the power of the Holy Ghost, too… Let me give you money and you give me the power.” The word simony comes from that.
René: So, some are thinking: “Well, this may have come from Marcion.” You know, this is pretty close to home here. So it all ties in.
Brian: That’s really something. I hadn’t heard that up to now.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ home is not Nazareth: it is Capernaum
[32’45”] Rob: Take us back to the actual geography in the biblical tradition. Let’s assume that Jesus did exist… If he was supposed to be born in Bethlehem, why did they call him a “Nazarene”? Was that his father’s supposed hometown? Was that where he moved after college? How does that fit in?
René: I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?
Rob: We’re looking for the difference between Bethlehem and Nazareth, Galilee… Is one a province, one a town? I always assumed that Nazareth was a province. But it sounds like Nazareth was a town in the province of Galilee. But if Jesus was born in Bethlehem, why is he called a Nazarene? In the biblical tradition, what is the reason? Is that where Joseph was from? Did Jesus move there later? How does that work in the tradition?René: Right. Well, you’ve mentioned a whole bunch of problems here. Are you still there…?
René: We have a different version in the Gospel of Luke than we do in the Gospel of Matthew. The Gospel of Luke seems to have Jesus in Nazareth all the time. It’s the Gospel of Matthew that has Jesus go down to Bethlehem as a result of the census that never existed. It’s ludicrous that the Romans would have a census mandating that everybody had to go to the town where they were born. I mean, they were much too practical to do that. And most people couldn’t even read back then. [Chuckling.]
Brian: It was too impractical for the entire empire to do this.
René: Instant chaos! And the records that we have—you know, the Romans kept good records… The records that we have are that there was a census about ten years later. So, the evangelists got this wrong. And, like I say, Bethlehem didn’t exist at the time. But Nazareth was presumably a mythical town when the evangelists were writing—that is, if Helena, Constantine’s mother, was the one who identified it.
The reason they mentioned Nazareth… The reason they had Jesus from Nazareth, is that the original term was “Nazarene.” “Jesus the Nazarene.” This is the phrase that the Gospel of Mark uses. I believe that Mark was the first [synoptic] gospel.
René: Mark does not use “Nazareth.” “Nazareth” does not appear in Mark’s gospel. Now, I have to amend that… There is one verse (Mark 1:9) where “Nazareth” does exist. Several years ago I put it out there that this is an interpolation. There are strong reasons why that is so. One is that in the whole rest of the gospel, Jesus’ home is Capernaum. If you look at Mark, you’ll see his family lives in Capernaum, that’s where Jesus is doing most of his preaching… And everywhere else in the gospel, except for Mark 1:9—where English editions (and all modern editions, German, whatever language), where they say “Jesus of Nazareth”—the Greek in Mark says “Jesus the Nazarene.”
Brian: Is that in Israel, too?
René: Yes. Capernaum is on the Sea of Galilee. It’s just twenty or so miles from Nazareth. That’s where Mark has Jesus’ family. Now, interestingly enough, the Gospel of Marcion—the first gospel that Marcion brought to Rome about 140 CE, and the gospel that actually predated Mark—has Jesus coming into Capernaum. And that gospel also doesn’t mention Nazareth. So, everything is showing that Marcion’s was in fact the first gospel and that Capernaum was the original hometown of Jesus.