Monday, December 21, 2009

From Lowly Beginnings

Of all of the skeptical arguments marshaled against the historicity of the New Testament, few are as absurd as one promulgated by atheist Frank Zindler and propagated on the internet: that there was no town of Nazareth in the time of Jesus, and that the description of Jesus as having grown up there was a later fabrication, possibly based on a corruption of the Hebrew word for Nazarite. The basis for this argument was entirely an argument from ignorance, and not a very good one at that. Zindler’s points include the following:

• No "ancient historians or geographers mention [Nazareth] before the beginning of the fourth century.”
• Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud, nor in the Apocrypha and it does not appear in any early rabbinic literature.
• Nazareth was not included in the list of settlements of the tribes of Zebulun (Joshua 19:10-16) which mentions twelve towns and six villages
• Nazareth is not included among the 45 cities of Galilee that were mentioned by Josephus (37AD-100AD).
• Nazareth is also missing from the 63 towns of Galilee mentioned in the Talmud.

Apparently someone forgot to tell him that arguments from ignorance don’t prove anything, and that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. But what really makes this argument rather bizarre is that it has been known for a long time that the area around the modern city of Nazareth was inhabited in the periods before and after the time of Jesus. Some skeptics speculated that it was uninhabited for the period in which Jesus was a child, but not because of evidence that it wasn’t. It was based on the lack of solid evidence that it was, and apparently this was enough to try to throw more doubt on the historical details and setting of the New Testament, even though those details have been well confirmed by historians.

In any case, today the announcement was made of the discovery of a dwelling in ancient Nazareth from the time period of Jesus, in this article from the AP: “The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.” This points to the most obvious reason why Nazareth was left off of the lists of towns pointed out by Zindler - Nazareth was too small and insignificant. Even the response of Nathaniel to Philip in John 1:46 points to the lowly status of this little town: “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

This is yet another victory for the Gospels in the long-standing war of skeptics who have tried to undermine it on various grounds. Recently I spoke in a Sunday School class on the historical evidence for the NT, and mentioned the story of Sir William Ramsay, the skeptical archaeologist who set out to prove that the book of Acts was a late second- or early third-century forgery, and ended up becoming a Christian instead because of the overwhelming historical evidence supporting Acts.

In the middle of the Christmas season, it’s also worth reflecting on the background of the One who was born in a lowly manger in Bethlehem and lived his childhood in a poor Jewish village with no status and no prestige, the One who came to redeem the world, to exalt the humble and to tear down the proud. In a world that still values the prestige and honor of the “elites” above all else, it’s a reminder that ultimately it will not be the elites who will inherit the earth, but the meek.

2 comments:

Lily said...

Great post, John. I saw that story, about the house in Narareth that has been discovered. It seems as though Christmas has come early for those of us who love a timely archaeological discovery to add to the joys of the season.

~Lily aka Maggie aka a bunch of others...

Dan Rodger said...

Interesting article John, I had heard of this being out forward by some Atheists but hadn't really looked at in detail, good to see a solid response!

Thanks for visiting my blog, I would have liked to have kept discussing the reliability of the Gospels with Andre on my blog but he seems to have disappeared now. Thanks for your response. Shalom, Dan

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My ministry in Hungary involved teaching theology and training Hungarian church planters. I have a great interest in apologetics as well as missions.