[Note: This post is also filed under the title “The Price-Ehrman debate—Pt. 3”.]
Ehrman’s first order of business in the debate was to tackle the archeology of Nazareth. In the days since then he has also expressed himself more fully regarding Nazareth on his weblog. So, I will address Ehrman’s debate comments on Nazareth here, and his other comments on Nazareth in a separate post to follow this series.
Without mentioning me by name, Ehrman asserted at the beginning of his opening statement: “One argument commonly found among mythicists is that since there was no Nazareth at the time of Jesus, it follows that Jesus of Nazareth could not have existed.” For the record, here’s what I wrote about this point at the end of my first book:
We have removed one idol from the temple—Jesus of Nazareth. He—whoever he was (or wasn’t)—certainly was not Jesus “of Nazareth” in Lower Galilee. Of that we can now be quite confident. It remains to be determined why the evangelists found it necessary to invent such a Jesus. (Salm, The Myth of Nazareth 2008:308)
Ehrman continued: “Archeologists have discovered the site of Nazareth. Its existence is not a debated point because they have found a house, pottery, a farm, coins dated to the days of Jesus…” In fact, Ehrman is wrong on each and every count. As Neil Godfrey has noted, it is clear that Ehrman still refuses to read my Nazareth books. This is obvious because I’ve devoted lengthy chapters exhaustively debunking precisely the claims that Ehrman signals:• The so-called “house” from the time of Jesus (NazarethGate, Chp. 10) is actually a Late Roman wine-making installation.
• The post-Iron Age pottery (The Myth of Nazareth, pp. 105 f & 175 f ) dates after 100 CE. It is possible that a few shards and oil lamps date to the second half of I CE. However, not a single published shard dates to the “time of Jesus,” nor to Hellenistic times.
• The farm (“Nazareth Village Farm”) is dated by its pottery to the second century CE and later. The original 2007 report on this venue was seriously flawed, and my published objections precipitated a complete rewrite. (See NazarethGate, Chp. 4.)
• The coins from the Nazareth basin are all Middle Roman and later (NazarethGate, Chp. 11). None date “to the days of Jesus,” as Ehrman asserts.
The last point deserves some comment, because Ehrman has in the past magnified false claims made regarding a number of coins found by Y. Alexandre at Mary’s Well in 1997–98. I refer particularly to his 2012 book Did Jesus Exist? (pp. 195–96) where Ehrman thinks that the coins came from the Nazareth Village Farm at the other end of the valley. In any case, he relied purely on hearsay in this matter. Ehrman wrote: “Alexandre has verbally confirmed that in fact it is the case” (emphasis added).
This methodology is highly problematic, as any scientist who cares about the facts knows. It is a striking example of how, for Ehrman, hearsay constitutes evidence. What about verification? What about a written report regarding the coins in question? Is this not contrary to all that historians preach and teach with abundant severity, namely, “to look at the evidence at hand… This is what separates expert from nonexpert” and so on?
These “Hellenistic” coins have caused a good deal of brouhaha. Until NazarethGate appeared last year they were among the most touted proof of Hellenistic presence in the area. However, as part of my research for the book, I commissioned professional photographs of the relevant coins from the Israel Antiquities Authority (one of which is published in the book). My astonishment at first seeing the photos cannot be described. The coins are so pitted and water worn that no writing, lines, or figures of any kind are visible. In some cases the entire surface is worn away, rendering it concave. And these are the coins that the numismatist (A. Berman) falsely submitted to Y. Alexandre as “Hellenistic,” with alleged designs including wreath, cornucopia, palm tree, anchor, star, etc!
Furthermore, the coins were without exception found in water channels built in Middle Roman times—this according to the excavator herself (Alexandre 2012:18—for the full details, please see NazarethGate, pp. 295–312). Obviously, then, the coins were not placed in situ before the time of Hadrian at the earliest!
The entire Mary’s Well coin imbroglio is bogus. These extraordinarily worn coins are in all likelihood Mamluk, as is the vast majority of those found at the site. (Only 23 of the 165 coins recovered from the channels have been claimed to date before 1173 CE.) There is no chance at all that they “date to the Hellenistic, Hasmonean, and early Roman period, that is, the days of Jesus” (pace Ehrman 2012:195, and cited above).
All this is apparently still unknown to Ehrman—because he refuses to recognize my work. He glibly touts these coins as Hellenistic evidence for the existence of Nazareth, supposing that he’s made a compelling case by merely mirroring the claims of colleagues who are ‘in the guild.’