Pt. 8: The chronology of a crime (final)

Reconstruction of Vardaman’s activity during the 1962 Caesarea excavation season

[This is a July 2014 update of the original post which was uploaded in Sept. 2013. Included here is new information on Vardaman’s field notes published in BASOR 371 (May 2014) in an article authored by O. Storvick and M. Govaars. Older entries from Vardaman’s notebook can be found at Govaars 2009:185-86. Suspicious facts are in red.]

Note: For much more extensive information on the Caesarea Inscription, see my 2015 book NazarethGate,
Chapter 12, “The Forgery of the ‘Caresarea Inscription.’” (pp. 314-76).
Select bibliography is at the bottom of this post.

Vardaman's 1965 book in which he writes about "the action of God in history" (p. 48).

Vardaman’s 1965 book in which he writes about “the action of God in history” (p. 48).

        On July 15, 1962, the excavation season began in Area A of Caesarea—an area north of the Crusader walls and near the seashore. The director of the excavation was Michael Avi-Yonah, with the support of Avraham Negev. Assisting were E. Jerry Vardaman from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS, Louisville, Kentucky), as well as Eliezer Oren, a young graduate student of archaeology. Vardaman had some students from SBTS along for the season. For some reason Avi-Yonah and Negev immediately go to Tel Aviv and leave Vardaman temporarily in charge.
        On July 16 Vardaman makes his first entry into his personal field notebook. (His field notes are selectively published at M. Govaars 2009:185-86).
        On July 17 Avi-Yonah apparently returns from Tel Aviv.
        On July 18 the fragment of a synagogue chancel screen is found in “D7” [of Area A] [Govaars 2009:44, 45, 186.] (As noted in the preceding posts, any synagogue artifact found in this excavation is suspect, for Govaars has shown that no synagogue existed in the area.)
        July 19, 20. Entries in Vardaman’s field notes. Either later on the 20th, or early on the 21st, Vardaman temporarily leaves the excavation and goes to Jerusalem. No reason is known.
        On July 22 Vardaman is back in Caesarea at 7:45 AM and resumes his duties in the excavation.
        On July 23 Vardaman along with E. Oren begin work at the new sector D, which is opened by a bulldozer removing three feet of topsoil in a long trench. (Govaars 2009:53, 186). This is the sector in which the “Nazareth” fragment of the priestly courses would be found.
        On July 25 Avi-Yonah uncovers a horde of Roman coins in Area A, an area where he thought a synagogue once stood.
        July 30, 31, Aug. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14. Entries in Vardaman’s field notes.
Fragment A with the word "Natsrath"filling the entire second line. (Ameling)

Fragment A with the word “Natsrath”
filling the entire second line. (Ameling)

        On Aug. 14, at Vardaman’s direction, one of his workers sifts through the debris in a wheelbarrow destined for the dump. This leads directly to the discovery of the “Nazareth” fragment of the Caesarea inscription (fragment A). The contention of this website and writer is that Prof. Vardaman himself “planted” the fragment in the wheelbarrow (or in the debris basket #9 which was emptied into that wheelbarrow). The details of this discovery are HERE and an explanation is given below.
        Vardaman’s last published field note is dated August 15, though the excavation officially continued for another week (ending on the 21st). Ten years later, the reason for Vardaman’s apparent early abandonment of the excavations surfaced in in a damaging letter by ASOR President G. E. Wright: Vardaman’s participation in the Caesarea excavation was “quietly stopped when the word was passed to the appropriate Israeli authorities.” Such an event is revealing. It apprizes us that someone was unhappy with Vardaman’s activity. That “someone” was influential enough to have Vardaman removed from the field. Equally revealing, this occurred precisely after the “Nazareth” fragment of the Caesarea inscription was discovered. This is far too coincidental to be mere chance. Someone, obviously, was aware of foul play and alerted the authorities, who acted quickly. The fact that Vardaman already had a history of bribery and criminal involvement (with the Jordanian authorities) places foul play squarely within the range of possibility.
        On or about Aug. 21 the excavation season ended.

What really happened

The careful review by Marylinda Govaars showed no synagogue in Area A of Caesarea.

The careful review by Marylinda Govaars showed no synagogue in Area A of Caesarea.

        There can no longer be any doubt regarding the genesis of “Nazareth” fragment A of the so-called “Caesarea inscription” (an inscription which we now know never in fact existed). Prof. E. Jerry Vardaman arranged for it to be forged (most probably in Jerusalem) during the weeks prior to August 14, 1962. We know this for several reasons: Vardaman was expelled from the excavation one week early, and he was expelled immediately after the “discovery” of the Fragment A mentioning Nazareth. To these facts of chronology considerations of evidence must be added: no two fragments match. Because they do not belong together there never was a “Caesarea inscription”!

Fragments B is entirely unremarkable (only one or two mems). Fragment C (long ago lost) has nothing sensational for it does not mention Nazareth. It is the fragment A which is the astonishing find. But what is most suspicious about this fragment is not the mention of “Nazareth,” but the obviously doomed attempt to match it to the other two fragments. This shows, beyond any doubt, that the motive of foul play is involved.

Regarding forgery, Vardaman had motive, knowledge, opportunity, and access. He had motive as a born-again conservative Christian whose morality was relative: if it helps “Jesus” then it’s okay. He had knowledge as a longtime excavator/scholar in Israel-Jordan, with intimate acquaintance of the Jerusalem market in antiquities and, no doubt, also of the forgery market. Vardaman had opportunity in that he made at least one special trip to Jerusalem (July 20–21) only three weeks before the “discovery” of the fragment A. Finally, he had unrestricted access to the site as director of the area of excavation in which the Nazareth fragment A was found.

        Vardaman had the forged fragment A made in Jerusalem and then, a few weeks later, had it planted in the field—either in an excavation basket or in a wheelbarrow laden with debris destined for the dump. Vardaman then directed a worker (Shalom Attieh) to sift through the wheelbarrow ‘one more time.’ In this way the Nazareth fragment was “discovered.”
        Vardaman then brought the astonishing fragment—important enough to influence early Christian history—to the immediate attention of the excavation director, Michael Avi-Yonah, and to the attention of everyone else.
        Avi-Yonah was enthused with the discovery (we know this by his continued acceptance of the genuineness of the fragment). But somebody already familiar with Vardaman’s remarkably devious character and history (e.g. in Shechem and Jordan) knew better and quickly alerted the Israeli authorities who immediately revoked Vardaman’s excavation permit—one week before the excavation ended.
        Later, then ASOR president G. Ernest Wright, himself a leading archaeologist, became aware of this incident and wrote that Vardaman’s termination was effected quietly.

Final comment on the forgery of the Caesarea inscription

        In order to avoid embarrassing a colleague (as well as embarrassing the Southern Baptist Seminary and Avi-Yonah) no one made a brouhaha about the discovery of the “Nazareth” fragment of the Caesarea inscription, or the immediate revocation of Vardaman’s license. Many important institutions had contributed money to the excavation, and Vardaman had a respected position at SBTS. Of course, a second reason for quietly admitting this artifact as authentic is that it supports the gospel story of Jesus “of Nazareth.” Thus over the last half century no one has bothered to raise issues of compatibility between fragments A and B of the “Caesarea inscription.” As Enrico Tuccinardi has shown, those two fragments obviously do not go together.
        The moral of the tale is this: faith-based conservatism, collegiality, and Vardaman’s unbridled drive to vindicate the Jesus story all have conspired to produce a forgery. In fact, there may be many forgeries associated with the 1962 Caesarea Maritima excavation—an excavation season which by rights should go down in history as one of the most unprofessional and problem-ridden excavations known to have taken place on Israeli soil.
        It is now time to remove the “Caesarea inscription” from the database regarding early Christianity. I invite any archaeologist and interested scholar to review this series of posts, to go to Caesarea and examine the extant artifacts if necessary, and to verify the facts as set forth on this website. S/he will find nothing which cannot be readily verified.
        The case speaks for itself. Fragment A is a forgery effected at the hands of Jerry Vardaman, and the “Caesarea inscription” never existed. There was not even a synagogue in Area A of Caesarea.
        Finally, we can now be sure that “Nazareth” is not mentioned in any marble plaque ostensibly witnessing to the move of a priestly family to Nazareth in the second century CE (ot at any other time). The town continues objectively unattested in Roman times, for it is not mentioned in any non-Christian source earlier than the seventh century CE.
        Dr. E. Jerry Vardaman almost changed history. He tried mightily to do precisely that—through bogus microletters, through a “new” chronology of Jesus, through the forged Caesarea inscription, and through bribery. Vardaman was one of those “super Christians” who think that any conduct is permissible, no matter how devious, if it is “for Jesus” and if it promotes the Bible as the inerrant word of God. The reputation of this miscreant has survived intact now for over fifty years since the perpetration of his crime. This is a testament to the refusal of Christian scholarship to deal honestly with the evidence of history and with the real evidence found in the ground.
        Let mythicists now confidently add the non-evidence for the Caesarea inscription to the archaeological non-evidence for Nazareth, in their accumulating indictment of Christianity as a world religion founded on deceit and a grand delusion.—René Salm


– Albright, W.F., “The names Nazareth and Nazoraean,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 1946.
          – The archeology of the Palestine and the Bible, New-York, 1932.
– Ameling, W. et al, eds. Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae: Volume II Caesarea and the Middle Coast 1121-2160. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011.
– Avi-Yonah, M. “Caesarea.” Israel Exploration Journal 1956:260-61.
          – “A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea.” In The Israel Exploration Journal 1962:137-39.
– Avi-Yonah, M. and A. Negev. “Caesarea.” In The Israel Exploration Journal 1963:146-48.
– Burrell, B. “Field O: The ’Synagogue Site.’” (Review of the 2009 book by M. Govaars et al, below.) BASOR 2010:93-94.
– Govaars, M. A Reconsideration of the Synagogue Site at Caesarea Maritima, Israel. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Drew Univeristy, Madison, NJ. 1983.
– Govaars, M., M. Spiro, and L. M. White. Field O: The “Synagogue” Site.” In “The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Excavation Reports.”
          Boston: ASOR, 2009.
– Govaars, M. and Vardaman, J. Photographs of Caesarea Maritima, Israel. Indianapolis, 2008.
– Guignebert, C. Jésus, Paris, 1933.
– Klein, S. Beiträge zur Geographie und Geschichte Galiläas, Kirchhain, 1909.
          – Neue Beiträge zur Geographie und Geschichte Galiläas, 1923.
          – Erets ha Galil, Jerusalem, 1945.
          – Sefer ha-Yishouv, Jerusalem, 1939.
– Leibner, U. Settlement and History in Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine Galilee, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009.
Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East, 1997. E. Meyers, Ed. in Chief. New York, Oxford Univ. Press. Article: “Synagogue
– Racy, R. Nativity: The Christmas Story, Which You Have Never Heard Before, Bloomington, 2007.
– Rigato, M. Il titolo della Croce di Gesù, Roma, 2005.
– Robin, C. Himyar et Israel, Comptes-rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Volume 148, Lyons, 2004.
– Rosenberg, S. “Hershel Shanks: Jerusalem Forgery Conference, Special Report.” (Review.) STRATA (formerly BAIAS) 2010:163-65.
– Rosenblatt, S. The days of my years: an autobiography, New York, 1976.
– Storvick, O. and M. Govaars. “Excavations at Caesarea Maritima and the Vardaman Papers.” In BASOR Number 371 (May 2014):163–84.
– Talmon, S. 1965. “The Calendar Reckoning of the Sect from the Judaean Desert.” In Scripta Hierosolymitana IV: Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls, C. Rabin and Y. Yadin, eds. Jerusalem: Magnes Press. Pp. 162–99.
– Taylor, J. Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins. Oxford, 1993.
– Vardaman, J. Chronos Kairos Christos I, Winona Lake, 1989.
          – Chronos Kairos Christos II, Macon, 1998.
          – “A new inscription which mentions Pilate as ‘Prefect.’” JBL 81:1 (1962), pp. 70-71.
          – Archaeology and the Living Word, Nashville:Broadman, 1965.
– Vardaman, J. and Garrett, J. L. The Teacher’s Yoke: studies in memory of Henry Trantham, Waco, Texas, 1964.
– Vaughn, A. and C. Rollston. “The Antiquities Market, Sensationalized Textual Data, and Modern Forgeries.” Near Eastern Archaeology 68:1-2
– Yardeni, Ada. The Book of Hebrew Script: History, Palaeography, Script Styles, Calligraphy & Design. London: The British Library, 2002.

About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website


Pt. 8: The chronology of a crime (final) — 1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *