Hezekiah’s Tunnel Explained

One of the most exciting “adventures” to experience in Jerusalem is to walk through what is known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. It is also called the Siloah Tunnel

Hezekiah's Tunnel

A cut-away of the City of David revealing the path of Hezekiah’s Tunnel

In a few places, the Bible mentions about the chiseling of this tunnel (2 Kings 19-20, 2 Chr. 32, Isaiah 36-37). In the wider context, in 705 King Sennacherib from Assyria took reign. In preparation for his southern advance, Hezekiah carved out of the bedrock a 1,720 foot tunnel. The purpose for doing so was to allow the waters from the Gihon Spring (the source of water for the City of David) to flow south to the inside part of the city. So with two team of rock cutters starting at opposite ends, the tunnel was carved.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Hezekiah’s Tunnel in the City of David. The tunnel is 1,720 feet long and was built at the end of the 8th century BC.

We even have an inscription (the Siloam Inscription) that tells us how it was precisely done. This inscription was discovered in 1880 and still today is housed on display in the Istanbul Museum. It describes how the the two teams of rock cutters met in the middle of the tunnel. They literally heard each other’s picks and axes until they broke through. Amazing!

The video below is yet another one that features Dr. Ronnie Reich. He is an Israeli archaeologist who excavated over 10 years at the City of David. He shares some interesting perspectives on the tunnel.

Also, a shorter video was produced by the City of David Foundation.

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The Conquering of Jerusalem … Another Theory

In the last blog (entitled David’s Conquering of Jerusalem), I offered a wonderful video on how David conquered Jebus, the Canaanite city later called Jerusalem. Archaeologists are continuing to discover how the city was taken by David back in the 10th century BC.

City of David or Jebus

A model of the City of David. It was called Jebus when David conquered it (2 Samuel 5)

The story of how it was conquered is mentioned in 2 Samuel 5. As I mentioned, the “old theory” was that Joab climbed up a vertical tunnel  (called Warren’s Shaft today). However, with new excavations over the last 10 years or so, this theory is no longer held. The “water shaft” used by Joab that day was probably another part of the Canaanite water system about 30 feet away.

So in this follow-up blog, I share with you another video. You will enjoy hearing Dr. Ronnie Reich, Israeli archaeologist, share his views about this water system.

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David’s Conquering of Jerusalem

Biblical archaeology has uncovered many things pertaining to the history of ancient Jerusalem. Without one exception, archaeology has confirmed the historicity of the Bible!  While newer archaeological discoveries may cause us to reexamine prior excavations and even cause us to reinterpret what was previously found, the stories of the Bible still stand on their own!

Warren's Shaft

Warren’s Shaft discovered in the 19th century (credit: Bible Places)

The excavations at the City of David in Jerusalem have been going on since the 19th century. In more recent years, particularly in the late 1970s and 80s, the excavations on the eastern slope of the City of David (called “Area G”) have shed a lot of light on both Canaanite and Israelite Jerusalem. A little further south the water system of the city was discovered. Part of this water system was first discovered by Charles Warren, an early 19th century explorer. This water system was later excavated in the early 80s as well.

Warren's Shaft

One of our groups looking down Warren’s Shaft in the City of David

Specifically, it was Warren who explored a 52 vertical tunnel (now called Warren’s Shaft) that was believed to be the “water shaft” mentioned in 2 Samuel 5. Whether it was this shaft or another part of the water system we cannot be certain. Yet for sure, some “water shaft” (tsinnor in Hebrew) was used in the 2 Samuel 5 story and it played an important role in how the city (then called Jebus) was conquered. By the way, when I was an archaeology student in Jerusalem in 1981-82, I had the chance to climb Warren’s Shaft. It was an amazing experience to think I climbed up the same shaft that Joab did close to 3,000 years ago!

Charles Warren

Charles Warren who first discovered the shaft in the 19th century

As I mentioned above, with newer excavations at the Gihon Spring taking place in the last few years, archaeological theories have now changed regarding what specific part of the water system was used in the conquering of Jebus by David and his men. With these new discoveries, the “old” theory that contends that Warren’s Shaft was what was climbed by Joab is generally no longer held. Yet, some still believe it was used.

Water system of City of David

The water system of ancient City of David. Warren’s Shaft is listed as the “vertical shaft”

The following video (first appearing on the Israel News Network HERE) uses this “old theory” to illustrate how the city was conquered from the inside out. Whether Joab and the rest of David’s men used Warren’s Shaft or a part of the newly-revealed Canaanite water system further south, the truth of the matter is that the city was taken and established by David as the capital of His kingdom!

The video is illustrated very well!  I think you will enjoy it.

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Stone Jars & Cana

It is always very interesting and exciting to learn of new discoveries that connect us with the Bible. While we must begin with a starting point that contends that the Bible is historically accurate and trustworthy, the role of archaeology is to simply reveal the truth of the Bible. What archaeology does is this – it connects us with the stories from the Bible This seems to be the case once again from a recent discovery in the region of the Lower Galilee between the biblical cities of Nazareth and Cana.

stone jar found near Cana

2,000 year-old stone jar (credit: Times of Israel)

As we know from John 2, Jesus’ first miracle happened during a Jewish wedding taking place in Cana. The miracle was the changing the water into wine. For ceremonial purposes, stone jars were used at this wedding. What makes this recent archaeological discovery so exciting is that it is believed that the place where these stone jars were made (e.g. stone factory) may have been found in this precise area between Nazareth and Cana! While we of course can’t say for sure that the stone jars used in the John 2 story were actually made here, nonetheless it is a good possibility they were made here in this soft chalk limestone cave!

Excavation site of Cana stone jars

The excavation site near Cana (credit IAA)

As shared in at helloChristian.com, this stone-jar workshop was only discovered by chance as the construction of a sports centre got underway in the area. About this “accidental” discovery, Amanda Borschel-Dan at the Times of Israel writes, “A man-made chalkstone quarry cave was recently discovered between Nazareth and the village of Kana. What is unique in this excavation is the additional find of a stoneware workshop — one of only four in Israel.”

stone vessels near Cana

Stone vessels (credit: IAA)

This dig is being done by Ariel University located in Samaria. Dr. Yonatan Adler, senior lecturer at Ariel University and director of excavations for the Israel Antiquities Authority says, “The production waste indicates that this workshop produced mainly handled mugs and bowls of various sizes. The finished products were marketed throughout the region here in Galilee, and our finds provide striking evidence that Jews here were scrupulous regarding the purity laws.”

Below is a video that describes the excavation in fuller detail.


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Discovery of Canaanite Body at Tel Gezer

In a recent Haaretz article published about two weeks ago, skeletons of bodies were discovered at ancient Gezer. Having participated in last year’s excavation at Tel Gezer, I am excited to hear this news.

Skeleton at Gezer

One of the skeletons found at Tel Gezer. This body was apparently crushed by falling stones (Credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

Often times when bones are discovered at an archaeological site in Israel, such an uncovering potentially puts into place certain steps that requires the dig to slow down and verify what has been found. To be honest, finding bones, particularly human bones, can potentially bring a dig to a halt in that area of excavation because it forces the archaeologist to report the finding of bones to certain authorities who then, in turn, come and evaluate the find. For the religious Jew, finding human bones requires special attention and respect for the deceased, even a proper burial, although the bones may date back to biblical times. In this case at Gezer, it appears that these human bones belonged to ancient Canaanites who lost their lives during the time of the Egyptian destruction of the city in the 13th century BC.  What makes this so interesting is how this find of skeletons matches up well with both other archaeological records as well as with the Bible.

Merneptah Stele

The Merneptah Stele that records that the Egyptian Pharaoh “seized Gezer.” (credit: Webscribe, Wikimedia Commons)

The ancient city of Gezer is mentioned a few times in Egyptian records. Apparently, the Egyptians had great interest in controlling Gezer and this most strategic region of Israel. Located along the Aijalon Valley, Gezer served as the primary fortified city that guarded the south-north route from Egypt. In the 15th century BC, Thutmose III captured the city (this is recorded on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Luxor). Later in the 14th-13th centuries BC, Gezer is actually mentioned in the Amarna Letters. These were a series of about 350 tablets written in cuneiform (the diplomatic language of the day) that preserved the conversation of what was going on in Canaan. The Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II actually addresses the Gezer king by name – a Canaanite named Milkilu. These Amarna Letters are actually displayed at the Egyptian Museum. Dr. Ortiz comments, “We know from the Amarna Tablets that the [Canaanite] kings of Gezer were major players in the region during the 14th century B.C.E. Egypt would have been keen on the great agricultural land in the vicinity.

Canaanite body

The uncovering of one of the bodies (credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

But where the find of these skeletons comes into play relates to what is mentioned on the Merneptah Stele (also displayed at the Egyptian Museum). Gezer was again taken by the Egyptians. According to this stone stele, Merneptah (the son of Ramses II and the 4th Pharoah of the 19th Dynasty) seized Gezer.” This accounts for the destruction level found in the 10th season of excavating here at Gezer.

According to the Bible, Gezer was initially captured by Joshua, for the city makes the list of 31 cities taken in the Conquest (see Joshua 12). However, like a few other cities, the Canaanites were apparently able to maintain control over the city (Judges 1:29). Thus, the three skeletons found here (2 adults and one child) were probably Canaanites who were killed in the Merneptah destruction of the city.

Canaanite Body Gezer

More excavation of the Canaanite body in Room 1 (Credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

Furthermore, “the skeletal remains had been reduced mostly to powdery charred dust. The adult was lying on its back with arms above its head. The child, who was wearing earrings, was next to the adult, to the left. This room was filled with ash and collapsed mud brick,” says Ortiz. “We can only guess what they were doing in the building on the eve of destruction. Were they hiding? Were they fleeing the Egyptian soldiers? Did they go back into the building to retrieve valuables?

Gezer dig

The rooms where the bodies were uncovered (credit: Tandy Institute of Archaeology)

In a second room, the excavators found the remains of a particularly intriguing rectangular room with a supporting wall and two pillars in its center. The article continues, “In this room, which had been finely plastered, a third body was found, also telling a tale of gruesome death. This person, 1.72 centimeters tall, was found beneath a jumble of collapsed stones that ironically helped to preserve the skeletal remains.” Ortiz added, “This individual attests to the violent nature of the destruction, as it is clear he experienced the trauma of the event,

To read this full article about this exciting new discovery, go HERE.

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The 2,000 Year-Old Street in Jerusalem

lot of ancient ruins have been uncovered in Jerusalem. Specifically, much has been found relating to the world of Herodian Jerusalem, or in other words, Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. This is one of the reasons why seeing and experiencing Jerusalem first hand is so very exciting!

Drainage channel Jerusalem

The drainage channel that runs under the Herodian street above.

On each and every tour I lead, people always have the option to walk up through what is now called the drainage channelThis is located under the street where the man is standing in the video below. I just took my June 2017 group through this channel, enabling us to see the bottom of the Herodian pavement above us. It is quite remarkable!

Jerusalem drainage channel

What the Herodian street probably looked like, with the drainage channel below

While the video below is in Hebrew, it is sub-titled in English. It displays the newest excavations taking place in the City of DavidThis excavation is taking place 12 months a year and what is being revealed  is quite stunning!  The aggressiveness of the approach to uncover was much as possible is amazing to see and witness first hand. Each time we go here, something new is unearthed!

Watch the video below.

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Silver Shekel Coin

Ancient shekel coin

Ancient silver shekel coin found in the drainage channel in Jerusalem in 2008. This was probably minted in Tyre. It weighs 13 grams and was minted in 22 AD.

How many of you keep lose change in your pocket?  For me, it’s usually annoying. I especially don’t like pennies, although I do have a few large jars of them under my bed somewhere. I suppose I should see how much these jars are worth one of these days! But in today’s culture of debit cards, some people don’t deal with cash and lose change in their pockets at all. However, times were different in the days of the Bible. Having coins in one’s pocket or pouch was common. If you were a Jew going to the Temple in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus, it was important to have a possession of coins, especially one kind of coin … the half shekel coin!

According to the Bible in the days of Moses, “Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the Lord. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.” (Exodus 30:15).

The major weight of metal mentioned in the Bible was the shekel, as its name, which means simply “weight,” testifies. Since the shekel was the definite weight, an expression such as “1,000 silver” (Genesis 20:16) can be explained as 1,000 shekels of silver, and the name of the weight is omitted since it is self-explanatory. The fundamental nature of the shekel can also be seen in the fact that all weights which the Bible explains are explained only in terms of the shekel. Thus in the days of the Old Testament, the shekel was used as a bartering material, not a minted coin. Jeremiah bought a plot of land and weighed his payment (silver) on scales (Jeremiah 32:9).

However eventually the shekel was minted as a coin as early as the Persian period. Hundred of years later during the time of the Hasmoneans (137 BC), the Jews minted their own coins. By the time of Herod the Great (37-4 BC) and later his sons (Herod Archelaus – 4 BC – 6 AD; Herod Antipas -4 BC – 39 AD; and Herod Philip I – 4 BC – 34 AD), coins were in wide use.

According to the Talmud, the collection of the half shekel coin occurred every year on the first day of the month of Adar when the “heralding of the shekelim” took place, that is to say the beginning of the collection of the money and it ended on the first day of the month of Nissan, when there was new budget in the temple and the purchase of public sacrifices was renewed.

It was most likely a shekel minted in Tyre that Jesus and Peter used to pay the Temple head tax (a half shekel each, see Matthew 17:27). Moreover, 30 Tyrian silver coins probably were given as payment to Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:15). This annual half shekel head-tax was donated in shekels and half shekels from the Tyre mint where they were struck from the year 125 BCE until the outbreak of the Great Revolt in 66 CE. Incidentally, one of these coins was found in the Herodian drainage channel in Jerusalem in March, 2018. It must have been dropped by someone walking on the street above and fell through either a crack in the street or through one of many man holes discovered (go HERE for the full article of this discovery).

half shekel coin

Newly minted half-shekel coin. To date, over 200,000 coins have been purchased as donations in building the 3rd Temple.

This brings us up to today. According to Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz (in a Breaking Israel News article), “While the Temple was standing, every Jewish man was required to give one half-shekel weight of silver, approximately eight grams of silver (worth about $4 today), as a mandatory tax to support the Temple. Each man was obligated to give the same amount, regardless of his economic condition. The coins, once deposited in the Temple courtyard, were hekdesh (sanctified) and not permitted to be used for any other purpose.”  The giving of this coin towards the expense and upkeep of the Tabernacle (and eventually Temple in Jerusalem) was considered a mitvah (command).” This command was instituted from before the First Temple Period all the way through the days of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD despite the Temple being destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans.

However, a special 1/2 shekel coin has been minted in preparation for the building of the 3rd Temple. This coin is different than the common 1/2 shekel coin in circulation today (worth only about 12.5 cents). But through the vision of Reuven Prager, this mitzvah is being reinstated. To date, 200,000 coins have been purchased. They are deposited into the Otzar Hamikdash (“Treasury of the Temple”), an organization established to oversee the financing of the new Temple.

Follow this link to the full article:  HERE

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Cave 12 Found at Qumran

Cave 12 Qumran

Fragments of six jars, parchment, and papyrus was found in Cave 12 (photo credit: Dr. Randall Price)

The whole world of biblical scholarship changed in 1947 when the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran. Before these 2,000 year old texts of Scripture were found, the oldest Hebrew Bible texts scholars had dated to only around 1,000 AD. Yet God miraculously preserved these texts for the world to see and study them.

Between 1947 and 1956, 11 caves were found in this area of Qumran. Between 750 – 950 texts (depending on how you count them) were found. About 25% of the texts of copies of Hebrew Scriptures, all 39 books of the OT except for Esther. About 27% of the scrolls were common Judaism texts. About 38% were sectarian documents of the community of Essene community. And about 11% of the scrolls were too fragmentary to place in a category.

Qumran Cave 12

The opening to Cave 12 (photo credit: Dr. Randall Price)

Seven scrolls were found in Cave 1 – Two Isaiah Scrolls, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the War Scroll, the text of the Community Rules, and a commentary on Habakkuk (the Pesher Habakkuk). I always provide an option to hike to this famous “Cave 1” on all the trip I lead.

However, it was just announced that a twelfth cave was just found. This “Cave 12” is located high on the western cliffs overlooking the archaeological site of Qumran. This is quite exciting!

Inside this cave, pieces of six 2000 year-old jars were found. Also small fragments of parchment and papyrus were discovered as well as at least one linen used for wrapping scrolls. The jars are identical to those found in other caves. Apparently the cave was looted in the 1950s, with pick-axe heads found inside the cave.

Randall Price in Cave 12

Dr. Randall Price in Cave 12 (photo credit: Dr. Randall Price)

Dr. Randall Price, professor at Liberty University, is one of a few who led this latest expedition. Another archaeologist who was part of the dig was Oren Gutfield of Hebrew University. His comments reflect the significance of this discovery, “This exciting excavation is the closest we’ve come to discovering new Dead Sea scrolls in 60 years. Until now, it was accepted that Dead Sea scrolls were found only in 11 caves at Qumran, but now there is no doubt that this is the 12th cave.”

Several articles were written about this latest discovery of Cave 12.  Stay tuned…. more to come I’m sure!

The Logos Academic Blog

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The 2016 Gezer Dig in Review

silver medallion gezer

Cleaning by the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed an embossed, eight-pointed star and a crescent shape on the cult pendant discovered at Gezer. Researchers believe the star represents the fertility goddess Ishtar and the crescent shape symbolizes the moon god, Sin. (Credit: Baptist Press; Photo by IAA)

The biblical site of Gezer is one of my favorite archaeological sites. We will be stopping by the site next week once again on the next tour I lead. The ruins of Gezer date from the Middle Bronze Period (around 2,100 – 1500 BC or so, give or take 50 years depending on what scholarship chronology you use) to the Iron Age I & II (also called Israelite – 1200- 586 BC). The site is located along the Ajalon Valley in a region called the Shephelah (lowlands) of Judah. I had the chance to dig here this past June. You can read my “personal” take on it HERE.

The location of the ancient city of Gezer made it one of the more strategically held cities through the Middle Bronze and Iron Age periods. Founded on the crossroads of the primary south-north route (called the Via Maris) and a west-east route (from the MEd Sea to Jericho and the Jordan River Valley to the east), it is no wonder why not only the Canaanites and Egyptians were interested in controlling the city but also Solomon. In fact, Israel’s third king refortified the city, along with Jerusalem to the east and Megiddo and Hazor to the north (see 1 Kings 9:15).

Aerial view of Gezer

An aerial view of Tel Gezer (credit: Ferrell Jenkins)

In this blog, I want to share with you an update of the exciting archaeological finds from last summer’s excavation. While I wrote about it already (see link above), this is a more thorough summary of last summer’s dig.

Among the many interesting finds, the most significant was the silver medallion. The Baptist Press reported:

The silver pendant was discovered, along with a cache of other items, in the complex of rooms associated with the wall. The cache of items had been wrapped in a linen cloth and placed in a clay “container” made of two bowls. The container was then hidden in the foundation of one of the rooms.

location of gezer

The strategic location of Gezer (credit: Bible Atlas)

Dr. Dan Warner, one of Gezer’s archaeologists, believes that the cache represents a “foundation deposit” meant to bless the room. “Finding a foundation deposit like this one in what appears to be a public storeroom is rare,” Warner said. “Surely it had a religious function; an offering to gods to make sure the structure would remain standing.”

The pendant includes a disk embossed with an eight-pointed star and prominent crescent shape. Irit Ziffer from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) believes the star disk represents the Canaanite fertility goddess Ishtar and the crescent symbolizes the Mesopotamian moon god Sin. It was very neat to see this medallion firsthand as it was carefully extracted from the dig.


Tel Gezer Canaanite Water system

Although this medallion was the most important discovery, the primary focus of the dig in June (the July team focused on Iron Age ruins) was the Middle Bronze water system. Throughout the last few seasons, a massive effort has been on-going to extract all the debris from the water tunnel. One hundred years ago, Macalister, one of the first pioneer archaeologists in Israel, cleaned it out, but since then it has filled back up with mud and massive stones (probably form the tower or wall above). The task is to once again clear it out again.

Click HERE to read the full article.

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Has the House of Jesus in Nazareth Been Found?

house of Jesus in Nazareth

Is this the house of Jesus in Nazareth? Archaeologist Ken Dark suggests it could be! (photo: Ken Dark)

Has the house of Jesus in Nazareth been found? I just came across an article the other day that suggests it has been found…. well, maybe! How is that for an answer!  It’s really the best I can do.

Now in the age of archaeological forgeries and church traditions, to answer this question requires great care. For to answer “yes” to this question holds the precarious potential for followers of Jesus to worship the place where Jesus potentially spent many years of His young life. But to answer “no” to this question may cause someone to begin to doubt the relationship we see between biblical archaeology and the Bible. To answer “no” may even cause the skeptic to doubt the historicity of the Gospel account.

Well, for sure archaeologists have uncovered in recent years the remains of 1st century stone structures. While the walls of what appears to be house structures have been dated to the time of Jesus primarily by the type of pottery found, we just can’t be sure to label this particular house as the very dwelling place of Jesus during His childhood years. However, I must admit that it is fascinating to think that it could be the house. But I think that is as far as we should go.

map of Nazareth

Map of Nazareth

According to archaeologist Ken Dark (of the University of Reading), the rock-hewn courthouse found argues that although the evidence can’t prove Jesus grew up in the house, it does suggest it’s possible. In Dark’s own words, “It is always very hard to link archaeological evidence to specific people.

All throughout Israel, there has been many places “venerated” as traditional locations associated with Jesus. The three examples that come to mind around the Sea of Galilee are these: The site of Tabgha – the location of the Feeding of the 5000; The site Peter Primacy – the location where Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection (John 21); and the site of Peter’s house in Capernaum (Mark 1). None really hold any archaeological weight, if you will. That doesn’t mean these “traditions” couldn’t be the very location of where the stories form the Gospels took place, but we just can’t be certain. We also have “traditional” sites for Jesus’ birth (Church of Nativity in Bethlehem), death & resurrection (Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem). So to identify this ancient 1st century house in Nazareth as the house of Jesus is quite intriguing!

Now if you hear a bit of skepticism within me, it’s only because there’s a big difference between identifying a stone house structure as a 1st century dwelling dating to the time of Jesus (which it for sure is!) and suggesting it could be the house of Jesus!  Saying this, I do appreciate Dark’s reluctance to say that this is actually the house of Jesus with definitive assertion.

According to the excavation report produced by the Nazareth Archaeological Project, the dig (that first started in 2006) “revealed a first-century ‘courtyard house’ that was partially hewn from naturally occurring rock and partially constructed with rock-built walls. Many of the home’s original features are still intact, including doors and windows. Also found at the site were tombs, a cistern and, later, a Byzantine church.” The presence of Byzantine ruins on top of the 1st century site does indicate that at the very least Christians in this Late Roman Period seemed to believe that this area was special for some reason. As the article states, “The remains combined with the description found in the seventh-century pilgrim account De Locus Sanctis point to the courtyard house found beneath the convent as what may have been regarded as Jesus’ home in Nazareth.”  While this adds some value to the statement that this was the house of Jesus, once again, it is only a tradition.

Nazareth in Israel

The city of Nazareth today

Today, a few other “traditional” sites are located in this general vicinity of the archaeological dig. This includes the Catholic Church called the Church of Annunciation (where Mary was visited by the angel in Luke 1) and a Greek Orthodox Church called the Church of the Well (where the town’s water source was originally located). Today, Nazareth is a city of about 100,000 people (Arabs and Jews).

Either way you want to look at this, I must admit that the archaeological discoveries and revelations are indeed intriguing! Just keep in mind that if archaeology does come up with definitive proof that this was the house of Jesus while growing up, we worship the Person and not the place. 

To read the Biblical Archaeology Review article HERE.

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