Monday, February 23, 2009

Two Bethlehems

The Naked Archaeologist on the History International channel presented a program recently that suggested that the Bethlehem of tradition might be the wrong Bethlehem as the birth place of Jesus. Bethlehem of Galilee is now suspected to be the birth site rather than Bethlehem of Judea. The Galilean Bethlehem is only 6 miles from Nazareth, the home of Joseph and Mary.

What's wrong with this Bethlehem? Well, the Old Testament prophets had predicted the Savior would be born in Bethlehem of Judea. That would preclude the Messiah from being born in Galilee.

So, was there a cover-up by the early Christians? Quite the historical mystery seems to be unfolding ever since Aviram Oshri, a senior archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, began digging in 1990. He said,

"I had never before questioned the assumption that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. But in the early 1990s, as an archaeologist working for the IAA, I was contracted to perform some salvage excavations around building and infrastructure projects in a small rural community in the Galilee. When I started work, some of the people who lived around the site told me how Jesus was really born there, not in the south. Intrigued, I researched the archaeological evidence for Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Jesus and found nothing. This was very surprising, as Herodian remains should be the first thing one should find. What was even more surprising is what archaeologists had already uncovered and what I was to discover over the next 11 years of excavation at the small rural site--Bethlehem of Galilee."

An article on the website from 2005 says:

But while Luke and Matthew describe Bethlehem in Judea as the birthplace of Jesus, "Menorah," the vast database of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), describes Bethlehem as an "ancient site" with Iron Age material and the fourth-century Church of the Nativity and associated Byzantine and medieval buildings. But there is a complete absence of information for antiquities from the Herodian period--that is, from the time around the birth of Jesus.

Hmmm. An absence of information. Of course we already know that the birth story of Jesus has been worked and re-worked many times, adding and subtracting 'data' to make it mesh with the prophecies.

Oshri doesn't mince words; he says:

"It is possible that, because of the hostility the Jews had toward Christians in this period, the residents of Bethlehem of Galilee fortified the site which they held to be the birthplace of the Christian Messiah."

But at some point in history, all traces linking the Galilee site to the Nativity disappeared.

"They did not die out; they were killed off, deliberately" Oshri told Sky News, suggesting a reason for the cover-up of sorts.

Murder as a cover-up? Worse than Watergate! suggests that the 6 mile Bethlehem makes more sense especially for a 9-month pregnant woman on a donkey. They say:

"The status of a woman in 1st century Palestine was only slightly above that of a slave. Only Joseph would be required to register with the authorities, because only men paid taxes. The presence of his fiancée or wife would be redundant. Mary would hardly have made the 100 mile trip while 9 months pregnant unless it was absolutely necessary. Joseph would have traveled alone."

Oshri said: "Basic medical knowledge tells you that a heavily pregnant woman could not ride a donkey that kind of distance without losing her baby."

Archaeological research that is being done at Bethlehem of Galilee can be seen at this link

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