Jesus’ House? 1st-Century Structure May Be Where He Grew Up by Owen

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Jesus’ House? 1st-Century Structure May Be Where He Grew Up

People in the Middle Ages believed Jesus grew up in this first-century house in Nazareth, according to research. 
Credit: Photo copyright Ken Dark

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Archaeologists working in Nazareth — Jesus’ hometown — in modern-day Israel have identified a house dating to the first century that was regarded as the place where Jesus was brought up by Mary and Joseph.

The house is partly made of mortar-and-stone walls, and was cut into a rocky hillside. It was first uncovered in the 1880s, by nuns at the Sisters of Nazareth convent, but it wasn’t until 2006 that archaeologists led by Ken Dark, a professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, dated the house to the first century, and identified it as the place where people, who lived centuries after Jesus’ time, believed Jesuswas brought up.

Whether Jesus actually lived in the house in real life is unknown, but Dark says that it is possible.

An honored tomb

Tomb attributed to Joseph, Mary's husband

After the house was abandoned the area was used for quarrying. Then, later in the first century, two tombs were built beside it. The forecourt of the tomb seen here cuts through the abandoned home. Today archaeologists know that this tomb was built sometime after the house was abandoned. However in the Middle Ages people thought that this tomb belonged to Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary. It was decorated with mosaics and venerated along with the house. (Photo copyright Ken Dark.)

“Was this the house where Jesus grew up? It is impossible to say on archaeological grounds,” Dark wrote in an article published in the magazineBiblical Archaeology Review. “On the other hand, there is no good archaeological reason why such an identification should be discounted.”

Jesus is believed to have grown up in Nazareth. Archaeologists found that, centuries after Jesus’ time, the Byzantine Empire (which controlled Nazareth up until the seventh century) decorated the house with mosaics and constructed a church known as the “Church of the Nutrition” over the house, protecting it.

Nahal Zippori

nahal zippori, nazareth, jesus home

The Nazareth Archaeological Project (which ran from 2004-2010) surveyed the hinterland of Nazareth, investigating a wide valley called Nahal Zippori, which is seen here. The archaeologists discovered several new sites which date to the early period of Roman rule. Archaeologists found that Nazareth, and the sites near it, had more locally made pottery as well as limestone vessels allowed under Jewish purity laws. The archaeologists found that sites closer to the town of Sepphoris had more imported pottery. (Photo copyright Ken Dark.)

Crusaders who ventured into the Holy Land in the 12th century fixed up the church after it fell into disrepair. This evidence suggests that both the Byzantines and Crusaders believed that this was the home where Jesus was brought up, Dark said.

The story of the Jesus house

Until recently few archaeological remains that date to the first century were known from Nazareth and those mostly consisted of tombs. However in the last few years, archaeologists have identified two first-century houses in this town. (The other house was discovered in 2009 and is not thought to be where Jesus grew up.) [The Holy Land: 7 Amazing Archaeological Finds]

A city of rebels

A scene from Nazareth, Israel.

It appears that during the first century A.D. Nazareth, and its environs, was a conservative Jewish community that rejected Roman culture. Sepphoris, on the other hand, was more willing to embrace Roman culture including its imported goods. This image shows modern-day Nazareth.

The nuns’ excavations of Jesus’ possible home in the 1880s were followed up in 1936, when Jesuit priest Henri Senès, who was an architect before becoming a priest, visited the site, according to Dark. Senès recorded in great detail the structures the nuns had exposed. His work was mostly unpublished and so it was largely unknown to anyone but the nuns and the people who visited their convent.

In 2006, the nuns granted the Nazareth Archaeological Project full access to the site, including Senès drawings and notes, which they had carefully stored. Dark and the project’s other archaeologists surveyed the site, and by combining their findings, a new analysis of Senès’ findings, notes from the nuns’ earlier excavations and other information, they reconstructed the development of the site from the first century to the present.

Close proximity

The Basilica of Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel.

Today archaeologists know of two houses at Nazareth that date to the first century AD. One was discovered by the nuns in the 1880’s and people in the Middle Ages believed that it was the home where Jesus grew up. The second house was discovered in 2009 during a rescue operation carried out by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists. Both houses are located near the Basilica of the Annunciation seen here.  

From simple dwelling to sacred site

The artifacts found in the first-century house include broken cooking pots, a spindle whorl (used in spinning thread) and limestone vessels, suggesting possibly a family lived there, the archaeologists said. The limestone vessels suggest a Jewish family lived in the house, becauseJewish beliefs held that limestone could not become impure. If a Jewish family lived here it would support the idea that this could have been Jesus’ house.

The first-century house “had been constructed by cutting back a limestone hillside as it sloped toward the wadi (valley) below, leaving carefully smoothed freestanding rock walls, to which stone-built walls were added,” Dark wrote in a Biblical Archaeology Review article.

To Commemorate Jesus’ Birth

Located in the holy city of Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, a Byzantine basilica, was built on top of the cave where, according to a tradition firstdocumented in the second century, Jesus was born. Helena, mother of Christian Emperor Constantine, is said to have intended the basilica to commemorate Jesus’ birth. Shown here, the entrance to the Church. 

“The structure included a series of rooms,” he wrote. “One, with its doorway, survived to its full height. Another had a stairway rising adjacent to one of its walls. Just inside the surviving doorway, earlier excavations had revealed part of its original chalk floor.”

Dark and his colleagues found that the house was abandoned at some point during the first century. After that, the area was used for quarrying and then later in the first century it was reused as a burial ground. Two tombs (now empty) were constructed beside the abandoned house, with the forecourt of one of the tombs cutting through the house, the researchers said.

Centuries after Jesus’ time, the Church of the Nutrition was built around this house and the two adjacent tombs, but the church fell into disuse in the eighth century. It was rebuilt in the 12th century, whenCrusaderswere in control of the area, only to be burnt down in the 13th century, Dark said.

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