Israel Day Ten: Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers
Today’s article “Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers” creates a parallel between New Testament narratives and archaeology. The author, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, highlights the ways in which both archaeology and biblical texts are multi-faceted and reveal a number of perspectives. While I disagree to some extent with the overarching statements that Crossan makes about biblical texts, I am becoming increasingly aware of the ways in which archaeologists and governments pull away some levels of archaeology to reveal others. Interestingly, this “pulling away” of layers was quite evident both yesterday and today as we explored some of the sites around the Sea of Galilee. At the beginning of the trip, it seemed to me that the focus on archaeology in Jerusalem was on the Second Temple Period, when Jews still worshipped in a standing Temple. However, upon entering the Galilee region it seems to me that most sites are much more focused on the time period around the 1st century, the time of
Jesus. At least, the sites that have artifacts that could belong to the 1st century emphasize these finds in particular. This phenomenon seemed particurlarly evident at Capernauam. The ruins of the city contained remains from the Byzantine period, and even as early at the 13th century BC according to Murphy ‘O Connor, the site is set up in particular to highlight finds of the 1st century, particularly structures that Jesus himself may have known of or even used. Central to the ruins of Capernaum is the house of St. Peter, which enjoys a status as the centerpiece of the site, highlighted by a modern church that hovers above it.
I know that the attention to the 1st century ruins makes sense, as it allows Christian pilgrims to view sites relevant to the Christian faith. As a Christian myself, these sites are important to me. However, it seems strange to me that the focus of so many of the archaeological sites in this area is on the 1st century. Another example comes to mind: Today we visited the Museum in Nazareth, which displays a reconstructed 1st century village, creating a setting somewhat like where Jesus might have lived. One of the central features of this village is a wine press that our tour guide said probably dated back to the 1st century. When our group was back on the bus, our TA Ben Gordon explained that dating wine presses with pottery sherds is notoriously difficult (the method that the tour guide explained experts used to date the wine press). Pottery sherds might have fallen into the press or been intentionally moved there to level out the press at a later time. However, it makes sense that a recreation of the Nazareth Village would err on the side of proclaiming an archaeological find to date back to the 1st century, as it allows their guides to proclaim to tourists and pilgrims that Jesus “most likely looked upon and may have even used this wine press”. While I appreciate the opportunity to piece together some semblance of an understanding of 1st century life and I am thankful to be told when a particular archaeological find may have been present in the time of Jesus, this experience and others have made me sensitive for the price that archaeologists, curators, and other scholars may pay to make such statements. Certainly the significance of artifacts in the Galilee region increases when a find can be dated back to the 1st century, but I find myself wondering how many pieces have been dating incorrectly in an overeagerness to make finds relevant to Christian pilgrims and interested tourists.