Richard Carrier on the Existence of Nazareth and the Movie Zeitgeist

Carrier argues that Nazareth probably existed in the time of Jesus and that the movie Zeitgeist is "absolute garbage." Don't fall for the arguments to the contrary, especially when it comes to that movie.

Amenhotep had commented:
Current "Nazareth" only seems to have acquired this title following the visit of the Empress Helena, and probably wasn't even inhabited at the time of Jesus (IIRC it's not even mentioned in Josephus, despite his extensive coverage of events in the region).
Carrier responded:
Josephus says there were hundreds of cities in Galilee. He names only a fraction. The last argument is therefore a non sequitur (typical of Nazareth ahistoricity nonsense circulating on the web, don't fall for this stuff). The first argument is refuted by an inscription of the 3rd or 4th century A.D. establishing the existence of Nazareth as a haven for refugee priests after the Jewish War (and that can only mean the first war, since the temple was then destroyed and unmanned, not later). This inscription was erected by Jews (not Christians) decades before Helena, and certainly reflects data from the 1st century (I can't imagine where else it would have come from).

Your middle claim could be true (some peer reviewed discussions of late seem to concede the possibility that there is no definite evidence of an early 1st-century Nazareth), though there is a difference between not having evidence and the town not being there. Personally, I find it hard to believe the town would suddenly appear and get that name just in time to take in priests after the first Jewish War (entailing a narrow window between 36 and 66 A.D. for its founding or renaming, but if it could happen then, why not earlier?).I know Salm has arguments against all this, but they don't seem that strong to me (in his book, in fact, all he has are mere possibilities, and some quotations of Schürer, a long-dead historian whose assertions were often vague and speculative and whose work has been rendered largely obsolete by more recent scholarship on the 1st century and Judaism). I leave it to the experts to debate the matter. Until there is a consensus against an early 1st century Nazareth, we should be skeptical of claims to the contrary.
Amenhotep had commented:
There is of course the slight issue that Nazareth is not built on a hill with a cliff, making it tricky for the locals to throw Jesus off anything, without trudging a mile *outside* the town to the traditional site.
Carrier responded:
Another example of an ill-informed argument that you may be falling victim to. The Mishnah establishes that what this narrative would mean by a "brow" is a gallows ramp that must be built for the purpose if no natural one was available. And it didn't need to be very high, just enough for an uncontrolled fall to be commonly lethal. Nazareth is also in fact built on a hill, making such a ramp even easier to assemble. Yes, the "traditional" site is far away and totally implausible (it's not even traversable). But that's ignorant Christian pilgrims for you, not having any idea of Jewish law or practice, and having wild fantasies in their heads about what the Gospel stories were about. In reality, for town stoning Jesus would have been led to the town gallows ramp, and Nazareth could easily have had one, and we would have no reason to expect any evidence of it to survive.

About the movie Zeitgeist, Carrier wrote:
Zeitgeist: The Movie...has been thoroughly debunked as absolute garbage by several knowledgeable commentators...I wouldn't recommend Zeitgeist at all.

Carrier also linked to Jim Lippard's blog which contains the best critiques of that movie, so be sure to check it out.

First posted 4/14/09


Anonymous said...

It seems that true scholarship regarding the origins of Christianity will never be obtained. Any secular progress in the understanding of the myth will be deterred by Christian apologists. The point of science and archeology is that different points are brought into perspective and it is ok to disagree and built upon the works of others. That is why we have a field of Quantum Mechanics right now, because proposed theories survived the scrutiny of peer scientists. However, the field Christian History is flawed by the huge bias of the believer. It is like putting a bunch of Mormons or Muslims to critically investigate the history of their own religions. Guess what, they will find that Smith really had a revelation and that angels wrote the Koran!!!!!!

Brad Haggard said...


Are you calling Carrier an apologist?

Anonymous said...

No, I was just taking in general. What I was trying to say is that it should be ok for skeptics to scrutinize other skeptic’s idea and build upon them. The problem is that when a skeptic does it, apologists are the ones who take advantage of disagreement in their favor, trying to twist the arguments to reaffirm believers.

Amenhotep said...

Oh pants - I post a couple of comments on Richard Carrier's blog, and suddenly I'm *famous*! ;-)

I actually really appreciate Richard's replies, and I certainly don't regard it as a slapdown. For the record, what I have read of "Zeitgeist" makes me think it is a load of pants.

For even more of the record, I am not arguing that there never was a Nazareth, just that *this* Nazareth might not be *it*. I don't think Richard addressed that issue. I am also not sure that the Nazareth/Genessaret/Nazarene malarkey has been adequately cleared up to allow us to conclude that the modern town of Nazareth was the place mentioned in the gospels (maybe it's not even relevant!), or was even called "Nazareth" back then.

I haven't posted this back on Richard's website yet - I'd like him to expand, but maybe I should just read his book... that would be the sensible thing to do.

If any of you are interested, I've been having a revealing debate with some apologists for biblical inerrancy over on the BBC Blog of William Crawley (I'm Heliopolitan). It seems that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Schroedinger's Donkey, which exists in a superposition of states, being one or two and both at the same time. I'm suggesting that we can accept the essential narrative of the gospels and *still* show that Christianity is based on mistakes.

I hope that, since I've had a mention, I can rely on the indulgences of DC to blatantly promote this discussion, and hope to see a couple of you over there to give me some support :-)

Keep it up - this is a great blog.

James B said...

I enjoyed Amenhotep/Carrier post. Reginald Finley interviewed Rene Salm claiming no archeological evidence of Nazareth early first century. Interesting.
The commentary link for Zeitgeist brings up a good point. Mentioned writers Harpur, Acharya S developing claims based on few questionable 19th cen. writers. Seems the challange is to weed the books with credible research from those that feed on conspiracy mania. Let the buyer beware.

Erlend said...

James, exactly I couldn't agree more. We need to be true skeptics about everything. Test it all against the cold hard facts.

AIGBusted said...

The claim that Nazareth did not exist may be in for some (more) trouble:

Erlend said...

Aslo they have just discovered a Jewish house from the 1st century C.E. in Nazareth:

Shane said...

Amenhotep here again.

This is a really interesting find (although it proves nothing of course! ;-)

Incidentally, I'm just back from Nazareth, having done a sponsored cycle ride to raise money for the Nazareth Hospital (which definitely DOES exist, and gave me some excellent medical training back in 1993.

You can see some escapades from my visit at my blog and if you fancy helping this really excellent hospital to train some really excellent nurses from right across the religious/political divide in Israel, my sponsorship page is at

Cycling up to Nazareth via Cana was quite good fun, if a slightly tough climb in spots.

I hope, John, you don't mind the shameless plug :-)

-Shane (previously Amenhotep)

Camus Dude said...

In this podcast with Luke from Common Sense Atheism, Robert Price says that all the archeological evidence points to the fact that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Jesus.

I wonder if Carrier and Price have ever discussed this issue together?