There were probably not three magi and they were not kings. The tradition of three comes from the mention of three gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Notably, the magi visit Jesus in a house not an inn or stable and their visit is as late as two years after the birth. Notably absent from these biblical accounts is Mary riding a donkey and animals gathered around the baby Jesus. Animals begin to appear in nativity art in the fourth century AD, possibly because biblical commentators at the time used Isaiah 3 as part of their anti-Jewish polemic to claim that animals understood the significance of Jesus in a way that Jews did not.
When Christians today gather around a crib or set up a nativity scene in their homes they continue a tradition that began in the 12th century with Francis of Assisi. He brought a crib and animals into church so that everyone worshipping could feel part of the story. Thus a popular pietistic tradition was born.
Later art showing the adoration of the baby Jesus reflects a similar devotional spirituality.
What do Christian writings tell us?
If we pare back the story to its biblical and historical core - removing the stable, the animals, the cherub-like angels, and the inn - with what are we left? The Jesus of history was a child of a Jewish family living under a foreign regime. He was born into an extended family living away from home and his family fled from a king who sought to kill him because he posed a political threat. The Jesus story, in its historical context, is one of human terror and divine mercy, of human abuse and divine love.
It is a story that claims God became human in the form of one who is vulnerable, poor and displaced in order to unveil the injustice of tyrannical power. Word of the miracle spread quickly, and by evening a suffering crowd had gathered at her door. Jesus healed the sick and delivered people possessed by demons. Roman crucifixion took many forms. Accounts of large crowds coming to Jesus for healing are consistent with what archaeology reveals about first-century Palestine, where diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis were rife.
According to a study of burials in Roman Palestine by archaeologist Byron McCane, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the surveyed graves held the remains of children and adolescents. Survive the perilous years of childhood, and your chances of living to old age greatly increased, McCane says. From Capernaum I head south along the Sea of Galilee to a kibbutz a communal farm that in was the scene of great excitement—and an emergency excavation. Archaeologists who examined the vessel found artifacts dating to the Roman era inside and next to the hull. Just then the rains returned, and the lake level began to rise.
A project that normally would take months to plan and execute was completed, start to finish, in just 11 days. So archaeologists supported the remains with a fiberglass frame and polyurethane foam and floated it to safety. Today the treasured boat has pride of place in a museum on the kibbutz, near the spot where it was discovered. Another dramatic discovery occurred just over a mile south of the Jesus boat, at the site of ancient Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus.
Franciscan archaeologists began excavating part of the town during the s, but the northern half lay under a defunct lakeside resort called Hawaii Beach. Enter Father Juan Solana, a papal appointee charged with overseeing a pilgrimage guesthouse in Jerusalem. As construction was about to begin in , archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority showed up to survey the site, as required by law. After a few weeks of probing the rocky soil, they were startled to discover the buried ruins of a synagogue from the time of Jesus—the first such structure unearthed in Galilee. As archaeologists excavated the ruins, they uncovered walls lined with benches—indicating that this was a synagogue—and a mosaic floor.
At the center of the room they were astounded to find a stone about the size of a footlocker that showed the most sacred elements of the Temple in Jerusalem carved in relief. As archaeologists continued to dig, they discovered an entire town buried less than a foot below the surface.
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Archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni walks me through the site, pointing out the remains of storerooms, ritual baths, and an industrial area where fish may have been processed and sold. And who knows? Father Solana comes over to greet us, and I ask him what he tells visitors who want to know whether Jesus ever walked these streets. In the New Testament, the ancient city is the setting for many of his miracles and most dramatic moments: his triumphal entry, his cleansing of the Temple, his healing miracles at the Pools of Bethesda and Siloam—both of which have been uncovered by archaeologists—his clashes with the religious authorities, his last Passover meal, his agonized prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial and execution, his burial and Resurrection.
Following his arrival in Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus is brought before the high priest Caiaphas and charged with blasphemy and threats against the Temple.
The Bible Says Jesus Was Real. What Other Proof Exists? - HISTORY
The traditional location of that tomb, in what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is considered the holiest site in Christianity. In I made several trips to the church to document the historic restoration of the Edicule, the shrine that houses the reputed tomb of Jesus. Now, during Easter week, I return to see it in all its soot-scrubbed, reinforced glory. Standing shoulder to shoulder with holiday pilgrims waiting to enter the tiny shrine, I recall the nights spent inside the empty church with the conservation team, coming upon darkened nooks etched with centuries of graffiti and burials of crusader kings.
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I marvel at the many archaeological discoveries made in Jerusalem and elsewhere over the years that lend credibility to the Scriptures and traditions surrounding the death of Jesus, including an ornate ossuary that may contain the bones of Caiaphas, an inscription attesting to the rule of Pontius Pilate, and a heel bone driven through with an iron crucifixion nail, found in the Jerusalem burial of a Jewish man named Yehohanan. Just yards from the tomb of Christ are other rock-hewn tombs of the period, affirming that this church, destroyed and rebuilt twice, was indeed constructed over a Jewish burial ground.
I was overwhelmed by all the questions of history I hoped this brief and spectacular moment of exposure would eventually answer. Today, on my Easter visit, I find myself inside the tomb again, squeezed alongside three kerchiefed Russian women. The marble is back in place, protecting the burial bed from their kisses and all the rosaries and prayer cards rubbed endlessly on its time-polished surface. The youngest woman whispers entreaties for Jesus to heal her son Yevgeni, who has leukemia. A priest standing outside the entrance loudly reminds us that our time is up, that other pilgrims are waiting.
The Bible Says Jesus Was Real. What Other Proof Exists?
Reluctantly, the women stand up and file out, and I follow. That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts. But for true believers, their faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough. Read Caption. The shrine attracted global attention in when restorers uncovered remnants of an ancient tomb behind its ornate walls.
By Kristin Romey. Photographs by Simon Norfolk. How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived? What do Christian writings tell us? What did non-Christian authors say about Jesus? Did ancient writers discuss the existence of Jesus? How controversial is the existence of Jesus now? Is there any archaeological evidence for Jesus? Topics Christianity Unanswered questions.
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