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Reinterpreting Roman-period and Byzantine Nazareth

20th March 2008

Jointly with the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society

Ken Dark, Research Centre for Late Antique & Byzantine Studies, University of Reading

Lecture abstract

This lecture reports on work by the Nazareth Archaeological Project between 2004 and 2007. This project, supported by the Palestine Exploration Fund, aims to re-examine Nazareth and its hinterland in the Roman and Byzantine periods, through intensive fieldwalking survey of the countryside between Nazareth and Sepphoris (Zippori) and new work on the Sisters of Nazareth convent site in the centre of the present city.

Survey in the countryside located a densely settled Roman-period and Byzantine landscape of previously unrecognised small farms and hamlets. Roman-period material from these settlements shows a cultural boundary between more ‘romanised’ sites nearer Sepphoris and those closer to Nazareth, perhaps reflecting a more rigorous adherence to Jewish purity law closer to Nazareth and, if so, providing new evidence for the role of religion in Jewish resistance to Roman imperialism.

By contrast, the Sisters of Nazareth site has been known since the 1880s and subject to a series of unscientific excavations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, the archaeological value of the site has remained unrealised, perhaps because it has never been published nor studied in detail by a professional archaeologist. Work in 2006-7 has shown that the convent cellars contain well-preserved Roman-period, Byzantine and Crusader evidence, including what may be a first-century domestic structure, early Roman-period Jewish burials and, perhaps, a Byzantine cave church. Above these – and adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation – once stood a large, but previously unrecognised, Byzantine and Crusader church, the identity of which will be discussed in the lecture.

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