Residential dwelling from Jesus' era unearthed in Nazareth

NAZARETH, Israel — An archaeological team, preparing for the construction of the International Marian Center of Nazareth, has unearthed a residential building believed to date back to the time of Jesus.

Traced to the Early Roman period, the dwelling was discovered in an archaeological excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority near the Church of the Annunciation.

"The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus," excavation director Yardenna Alexandre said in a news release on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

"The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period. From the few written sources that there are, we know that in the first century CE Nazareth was a small Jewish village, located inside a valley. Until now a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth; however, no settlement remains have been discovered that are attributed to this period."

The New Testament records that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived in Nazareth together with her husband Joseph. It was there that she also received the revelation by the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive a child to be born the Son of God. The New Testament mentions that Jesus himself grew up in Nazareth.

In fact, the Church of the Annunciation was erected in 1969 at the spot where Catholic leaders identified with the house belonging to Mary. It was built atop the remains of three earlier churches, Crusader Church of the Annunciation, and the oldest of the structures, which is ascribed to the Byzantine period (the fourth century CE).

In the middle of these churches is a cave that was already ascribed in antiquity to the house of Jesus' family. Many storage pits and cisterns, some of which date to the Early Roman period, were found in the compound of the Church of the Annunciation.

In light of the plans to build a museum highlighting the Virgin Mother, the Israel Antiquities Authority recently undertook a small-scale archaeological excavation close to the church, which resulted in the exposure of the structure.

In the excavation a large broad wall that dates to the Mamluk period (the 15th century CE) was exposed that was constructed on top of and "utilized" the walls of an ancinet building. This earlier building consisted of two rooms and a courtyard in which there was a rock-hewn cistern into which the rainwater was conveyed. The artifacts recovered from inside the building were few and mostly included fragments of pottery vessels from the Early Roman period (the first and second centuries CE). In addition, several fragments of chalk vessels were found, which were only used by Jews in this period because such vessels were not susceptible to becoming ritually unclean.

Another hewn pit, whose entrance was apparently camouflaged, was excavated and a few pottery shards from the Early Roman period were found inside it. The excavator, Yardenna Alexandre, said,

"Based on other excavations that I conducted in other villages in the region, this pit was probably hewn as part of the preparations by the Jews to protect themselves during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 67 CE," Alexandre said.

In previous archaeological excavations that were carried out in crowded Nazareth, a number of burial caves dating to the Early Roman period were exposed that are situated close to the inhabited area.

The "Association Mary of Nazareth" said it intends on conserving and presenting the remains of the newly discovered house inside the building planned for the "International Marian Center of Nazareth."

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