While reading yesterday’s New York Times, I was startled to see this headline in the first (“A”) section:
Well, I thought, “may” might denote some doubt about the existence of the historical Jesus or about whether he did what scripture describes, but that wasn’t the case. It turns out that the article in question was about the discovery of the remains of a synagogue where a Jesus whose deeds are not in question may have taught.
Here’s the upshot: in 2004 a Catholic priest, Father Juan Solana, was looking for a place in Israel to build a center where pilgrims could rest and congregate. He acquired land near the Sea of Gaililee to build a large hotel, and during the construction the unearthed the remains of a first-century synagogue. From there the article simply accepts that it may have been connected with Jesus, but casts no doubt about the Biblical accounts of Jesus’s deeds.
Here are some excerpts from the Times piece; I’ve put statements about the acceptance of Jesus’s deeds in bold:
But their spades struck history only a little more than a foot below the surface: a stone bench that, it soon became evident, was part of the remains of a synagogue from the first century, one of only seven from the Second Temple period known to exist, and the first to be found in Galilee. A local coin found in a side room of the synagogue was dated from the year 29 — when Jesus is thought to have been alive.
Those involved in the project say it immediately brought to mind a biblical verse, Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went all through Galilee, teaching in its synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, and curing the sicknesses and the ailments of the people.” The site of the dig was only about five miles from Capernaum, a known center of Jesus’ activities.
. . . Dina Gorni-Avshalom, the archaeologist who manages the dig on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the synagogue and the reading table provided researchers with extraordinary insight into the nature of the link between the Jews of the north and the temple in Jerusalem, as well as the connection between Judaism and early Christianity. On top of that, she said, there was sufficient “circumstantial evidence” to assume that Jesus may have set foot there.
Maybe I’m carping a bit here, but shouldn’t there have been a caveat to the effect that “historians are divided about whether Jesus really did the things that the Bible describes”? And really, how much confidence do we have that Capernaum was “a known center of Jesus’ activities”? After all, how would it sit with Times readers if Manchester, New York was described as “the known place where the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smitgh the golden plates”?