A British researcher claims to have excavated what was the childhood home of Jesus Christ, in a new book.
Professor Ken Dark, an archaeologist from the University of Reading, has spent 14 years studying the remains of a 1st Century dwelling under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel.
The stone and mortar dwelling, which was first uncovered in the 1880s, was partially cut into a limestone hillside in the city by a skilled craftsman – likely Joseph, father of Jesus, he says.
The dwelling was probably a courtyard house, with living and storage rooms beside a courtyard, and a roof-terrace for outside domestic activities.
The nuns whose order owned the convent above undertook excavations up until the 1930s, in the belief that it was Jesus’s childhood home, based on the assertion of a famous biblical scholar Victor Guérin in 1888, but never found any proof.
More excavation work took place at the site between 1936 and 1964 by a Jesuit priest, after which it was ‘almost forgotten by scholars’ until Professor Dark started a new project in 2006.
He published an article in 2015 based on initial findings from the site, suggesting its identity as the home of Mary and Joseph.
Subsequent analysis has confirmed that it dates back to the 1st Century, strengthening the suggestion that it was once indeed the home of Jesus.
Pictured, the stone and mortar dwelling, which was first uncovered in the 1880s, under the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel
The house is thought to be located beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which is across the road from Church of Annunciation in Nazareth
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT ‘JESUS’S HOME’
Artefacts at the site included broken cooking pots, a spindle whorl and limestone artefacts.
The limestone items suggest a Jewish family lived there as Jews believed that limestone could not be impure.
The house has been cut out of a limestone hillside and having a series of rooms and a stairway. One of the original doorways has survived as has part of the original chalk floor.
The house is located beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which is across the road from Church of Annunciation in Nazareth.
Subsequent generations after the first century took great care to look after the site.
The house was decorated with mosaics in the Byzantine period, suggesting that they were of special importance.
Joseph is well-known to have been a carpenter but was also referred to in the New Testament as a tekton – a craftsman who would have been capable of building the home.
‘Five years of intensive research on the fieldwork data has consolidated the evidence for the first-century house and fourth-fifth century churches, shedding new light on them,’ Professor Dark told MailOnline.
‘It has become clear that whoever built the house had a very good understanding of stone-working.
‘[This] would certainly be consistent with what we might expect from the home of a tekton (the term used for Joseph in the Gospels) which although usually translated as carpenter, actually means a craftsman associated with building.’
Twenty-first-century work has ‘completely reinterpreted and re-dated the site’ and new archaeological features – including walls – have been identified.
A rock-cut stairway next to one of the walls led up to a second storey or flat room, while a doorway was preserved between the same room and a smaller room.
‘The stairway was constructed skilfully using part of a natural cave and another part of the cave was used to support the ceiling of the room,’ said Professor Dark.
These features show that whoever built the room had a good knowledge of the properties of the local stone and how to work it, he added.
The structure had a floor of compressed chalk and was found with pottery and limestone vessel fragments.
The first-century house at the Sisters of Nazareth site showing the rock-cut doorway and to its left part of the natural cave
The Holy Family painting in church Convento de Capuchinos (Iglesia Santo Anchel) by unknown artis of 18. century. Joseph is believed to have constructed the home
Occupation at the Sisters of Nazareth site began in the early first century AD, or just possibly the late first century BC.
Following Jesus’ death and the spread of Christianity based on his teachings, a cave-church was constructed in the hill adjacent to the first-century house, around the fourth century.
This cave-church was elaborately decorated with mosaics and had fittings related to public worship, including a screen made of white marble.
Another larger surface-built church was then built, probably in the fifth century, above both the first-century house and fourth-century cave church.
After burial ceased at the site, perhaps in the fourth century, a cave-church was constructed in the hill adjacent to the first-century house. Pictured, the fourth-century and later cave church at the Sisters of Nazareth site
The plan of the building, it floor and the associated objects suggest that this was a domestic structure
This second church was also decorated with mosaics and had marble column capitals and architectural decoration.
Once constructed, the initial fourth century church would have preserved the site until the bigger church was built a century or so later.
‘The later church was the largest in fifth- to seventh- century (that is, Byzantine) Nazareth,’ Professor Dark told MailOnline.
‘Whoever built that with the house preserved, and probably venerated, in its crypt must have thought it pretty significant site in religious terms, especially given what texts tell us the Byzantines perceived to be other places of religious importance in the centre of Nazareth.’
The first-century house showing one of its rock-cut walls. The position of the scale indicates the line of a crusader-period vault
THE CHURCH OF ANNUNCIATION
Churches were built on both the Sisters of Nazareth site and the Church of the Annunciation site in the fifth century.
Both no longer exist, but both were replaced by medieval churches which were again both later destroyed.
The Church of the Annunciation site was subsequently rebuilt in the modern period and has an impressive cathedral-sized church on it today.
The Sisters of Nazareth site was used for ordinary domestic houses after the medieval church there was destroyed, but then re-used for the Sisters of Nazareth convent in the late nineteenth century.
The convent remains in use today.
The Sisters of Nazareth convent is in the centre of modern-day Nazareth, on a side street very close to the famous Church of the Annunciation – which has been rebuilt over the centuries to the version that stands today.
The original Church of the Annunciation was built on the site believed to be that where the angel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus, around the same time as the fifth-century church built over the house’s remains.
This suggests that the fifth century church over ‘Jesus’s home’ was considered ‘at least as important’.
Also, only one other Byzantine church of the many built in the Holy Land was constructed over to preserve a first-century house – the church above the supposed house of St. Peter at Capernaum, which is another site associated with Jesus and the Gospels.
‘This suggests that displaying a house in this way was something really unusual and significant,’ said Professor Dark.
‘It also begs the question of how did the church builders know these were first-century houses unless some tradition about them remained?
‘None of this, of course, proves that the first-century house was that where Jesus was brought up, but it considerably strengthens the case since it was first reported in 2015,’ he told MailOnline.
The ancient house was first identified as significant in the 1880s after the chance discovery by nuns of an ancient cistern.
Exterior of Church of the Annunciation in the city of Nazareth in Galilee northern Israel as seen today. The Church of the Annunciation we see today had to be rebuilt over the centuries
Professor Ken Dark from the University of Reading examining pottery. His book is called The Sisters of Nazareth convent: A Roman-period, Byzantine and Crusader site in central Nazareth
Excavations were ordered, which lasted from the 1880s until the 1930s.
Following the nuns’ work at the site, it was then investigated by Henri Senès, a Jesuit priest based in the Pontifical Biblical Institute at Jerusalem.
Senès, a former architect, made detailed drawings of the many structures discovered by the nuns and undertook his own excavations at the site.
But although he worked there between 1936 and 1964, he published no academic paper or book on the site or his findings.
Consequently, the site was largely ignored as it was seen as ‘insignificant’, according to Professor Dark, who started a research project to reinvestigate the site in 2006, including artefacts in the convent museum.
Professor Dark details the project in his new book, The Sisters of Nazareth convent: A Roman-period, Byzantine and Crusader site in central Nazareth.