Speaking FRANK-ly About Jesus 4: Seven More of Nineteen Reasons to Conclude that Nazareth is Geographical Fiction
Frank Zindler’s blog dedicated to the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth never existed.
I hope that by now my readers are placing their orders for René Salm’s new block-buster, NazarethGate: Quack Archeology, Holy Hoaxes, and the Invented Town of Jesus. It’s likely to be the most important book ever published by American Atheist Press.
In my previous posting, I presented a dozen reasons for concluding that Nazareth was not inhabited at the turn of the era when it should have been the home town of St. Joseph, St. Mary, and Whatsizname their kid. Here are the remaining seven of the nineteen reasons promised.
TECHNICALITY ALERT! Although I have made great effort to make these points as clear as possible, some of them remain fairly difficult and technical. I beg my readers to endure to the end.
13. The wily church father Eusebius (260/265–339/340 CE), like Origen, lived at Caesarea and had occasion to concern himself with Nazareth. Even so, he almost certainly never visited the site himself, even though he mentions it in his Onomasticon. When one reads the Greek text concerning Nazareth, it sort of makes sense—until one tries to map out Eusebius’ directions onto a map of Roman-era Galilee. I claim it cannot be done. (It is just possible, however, that the present-day town received its name as a result of the work of Eusebius!)
14. Like many other holy places of the New Testament, Nazareth seems to have been “discovered” by Constantine’s mother St. Helena—with the aid of willing-to-please, enterprising tour guides!
15. Origen (c. 184–c. 254 CE) could not decide if the place should be called Nazareth or Nazara, and the MSS of Luke show a stunning uncertainty as to the correct spelling of the name. Should we prefer Nazara, Nazaret, Nazareth, Nazarat, or Nazared—or possibly other variants found in other gospels and Church Fathers? How could a town—if its existence and location were known to Origen or “Luke”—be named so uncertainly? Origen could simply have walked over to the place and asked the residents the name of their town. If, however, the name is a made-up product, derived from some abstract term, the wild contradictions in spelling (Nazara vs. Nazare/d/t/th) are easily understandable.
16. Nazareth is found only once in Mark (Mk. 1:9), the oldest of the canonical gospels—the Greek text of which was copied almost completely (and enhanced!) by the authors of Matthew and Luke. (Don’t be fooled by the King James Version and other translations in which the name Nazareth appears numerous times: these all mistranslate Greek words that should be translated as Nazarene or Nazorean.) This seems clearly to be an interpolation, as the word Iêsous in that same verse is written without the definite article.
In over 80 other places where it is grammatically possible for the word to take the definite article, Mark refers to “the Jesus”—as though the name were a title and should have its literal meaning, “the Savior.” If one ignores the last twelve verses that were added some time in the fourth century CE, the Gospel of Mark has 666 verses in modern parsings of the text. The probability that Mark’s only mention of “Nazareth” would happen by accident to appear in the only verse in which “Jesus” occurs without a definite article is extremely low—about one in two hundred thousand!17. If Mark’s use of “Nazareth” in 1:9 were in fact original with whomever the first author of that gospel may have been, it is extremely strange that he never uses the name again when describing events that later, copycat gospels say took place in Nazareth or use the name with relation to Jesus’ origins! For example, in Matt. 4:12, right after the temptation, at the beginning of his ministry, we read: “Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazara, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim.” But in Mark 1:14 we read merely, “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. 16 Now as he walked by the Sea of Galilee…” The author of Matthew’s gospel clearly has added geographical details—not only Nazareth (Nazara), but Capernaum as well—to the text he took from Mark!
18. As we have already seen, Nazareth is absent from the oldest strata of the New Testament—the Pauline Epistles and the Gospel of Mark. Nazareth make its first appearance (as Nazara) in Matt. 4:13 or (as Nazareth) in Matt. 21:11. The latest and only remaining Matthaean mention of the town (as Nazaret) is in Matt. 2:23—in the birth legend, the latest stratum in the compositional history of that gospel. (Even those secular scholars who believe in the archaeological reality of “Nazareth” agree that the contradictory Matthaean and Lukan birth legends are just that—legends, not history.)
19. Marcion of Sinope (c. 85–c. 160 CE), the creator of the first “New Testament,” used only the Gospel of Luke for his Evangelikon. (The other part of his bible, the Apostolicon, only contained ten of the allegedly Pauline epistles.) Marcion’s “Luke” did not contain the birth legend, which appears not to have been invented yet at that early date. (As you may predict, Orthodox apologists claim Marcion removed the nativity story because it disagreed with his theology!)
Why is this relevant to Nazareth? Four of the five places where Nazareth appears in the late Gospel of Luke are in the nativity tale! The only remaining occurrence of Nazareth in Luke is in Luke 4:16—the verse that begins the incredible story about the synagogue congregation trying to hurl Jesus off the Nazara cliff!
To argue that such obviously fictional use of the place name may nevertheless have veridical significance is almost as convincing as saying that Frank Baum’s use of the place name “Oz” has geographical significance—even though the stories of the wizard who supposedly held sway there are agreed by everyone to be fictional.
20. Oops! It appears that I can’t read my own notes and I have miscounted! I actually have 22 reasons, not just 19, for concluding that “Nazareth” is a fictive place of the New Testament. One more posting will be needed!
Dr. Frank Zindler is the past interim President of American Atheists, a member of the American Atheists board of directors, the chief editor of American Atheists Press, and an esteemed academic and activist.