Jesus & Zippori A Key to Authenticating The Gospels

Jesus and Zippori

By Dr. Thomas S. McCall

Zippori Photo From Hebrew University

Zippori Photo From Hebrew University

 

One of the more interesting events during our trip to Israel with Zola Levitt Tours in the summer of 2011 was when we visited the Orthodox Kibbutz near the neighboring towns of Nazareth and ancient Zippori (known as Sepphoris to the Romans). The friendly group welcomed our pilgrims and provided our people with dress similar to what was worn in First Century Israel, and a demonstration of how bread was cooked by families in those days.

Zippori is revered by Orthodox Jews as the birthplace of Talmudic Judaism. After the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple and Jews were scattered over the world, Rabbi Judah Hanasi codified the “Oral Law”, which had been passed down verbally from generation to generation, as a kind of extended commentary on the Torah, the five books of Moses. His work was called the Mishnah, the core of the Talmud. He did this work in Zippori around 200 A.D. Because of this, Zippori is a favorite place to visit when the Orthodox Jewish pilgrims come to Israel. However, most Christian groups know nothing about Zippori, and do not visit it.

While our group enjoyed the festivities down the hill, I remained by the main building of the Kibbutz, sitting on a bench. When our excellent Israeli guide, Ilan, came over, I asked him if he knew the story of the connection between Jesus and Zippori. He said no, and wanted to know about it. I mentioned a book that was written a decade ago on the subject. At the time I could not remember the title, but later got the name, JESUS AND THE FORGOTTEN CITY, by Richard Batey

Ilan and I reviewed the Biblical account of Jesus’ escape as an infant from Bethlehem to Egypt with his family when Herod the Great sought to kill Him. The event that brought the Holy Family back to Israel was Herod’s death. The angel informed Joseph of the event, and told him to take his family back to Israel. Joseph took them to his home town of Nazareth, and there Joseph and Mary raised Jesus. Nazareth is based on the Hebrew term netzer, which means branch, and Matthew comments that this was the fulfillment of a prophecy, that the Messiah would be called the Nazarene, the branch of Jesse. Other events were occurring as a result of the death of Herod the Great. His kingdom was divided.

His son Archaelaus received Jerusalem and Judea, including Caesarea.  Herod Phillip received the Golan Heights, and Herod Antipas received the Galilee and Perea (an area east of the Jordan River).  According to Josephus, Antipas established two capitals: Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, and Zippori, some 4 miles from Nazareth in the hill country of Lower Galilee. Josephus said Antipas made Zippori the “ornament of the Galilee,” and that it was well fortified militarily. He further said that it took 30 years to build.

The Mona Lisa of Zippori at the traclinium & colonnaded courtyard of a spectacular Roman mansion

The Mona Lisa of Zippori at the traclinium & colonnaded courtyard of a spectacular Roman mansion

Isn’t it remarkable that at the same time the Messiah was being raised in the home of the carpenter Joseph, one of the sons of Herod the Great decided to build a splendid capital city within walking distance from the Messiah’s childhood and young manhood home?

It would appear that just as Jesus was exiled from Israel in His infancy, and God provided for the family through the valuable gifts of the wise men: gold, frankincense and myrrh, so He provided for the family through a nearby building boom where Joseph, and later Jesus, could find employment for 30 years while Antipas was constructing his capital.

Many things can be deduced from this connection of Jesus with Zippori, including His cultural exposure.

Theological liberals teach that the Gospels could not have been written by eyewitness disciples in the First Century, because Jesus and His disciples were too backward to be able discourse on kings, generals, bankers, physicians and the multitude of other subjects discussed in the Gospels. These liberal teachers think that the Gospels were written much later by people purporting to be eye witness writers. This is what is taught in the most elite professing Christian seminaries in the world. Inasmuch as they think that the Jesus of the Gospels was not the same as the Jesus who actually lived in Galilee, they are constantly “in search of the historical Jesus.”

However, if Jesus was raised living and working at the construction of a prosperous Jewish and Greco- Roman political and cultural capital, this puts an entirely different perspective on the matter. Jesus would then have been exposed to the advanced Jewish learning available in Zippori, and He would have also been exposed to the high culture of the theatre, art, and some of the finest architecture of the Roman Empire.  He would have been acquainted with what was said about the political, economic and military conversation carried on at the king’s court. Thus the Jesus of the Gospels is not mythical, but a credible description of the kind of man raised in these circumstances.

Attention should be paid to the term used to describe the trade of Joseph and Jesus, tekton. It is translated carpenter, but it can have a broader meaning, a technician, or a builder, as Strong’s Concordance notes:

Meaning:  1) a worker in wood, a carpenter, joiner, builder 1a) a ship’s carpenter or builder 2) any craftsman, or workman

It stands to reason that both men might have been heavily involved in all aspects of the construction of Zippori, and might have come in contact with many government and private dignitaries in the process of doing their work. The idea that Jesus would have known the treasurer of Herod Antipas and his family under those circumstances is not unreasonable (See Luke 8:1-3).

There are also the ancient traditions about Zippori. During Byzantine times (c. 300 – 600 AD), Christians built a church building in honor of the father and mother of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It was believed that Mary was born in Zippori, and that her father was the headmaster of the Yeshiva (Rabbinic school) there.  Another tradition is that Jesus was educated at His grandfather’s school, and there received His rabbinic training. After all, people did call him Rabbi, and this was not a term lightly used. You had to have been through rigorous training to be recognized as a rabbi. These traditions are not mentioned in Scripture, but there is a ring of truth and consistency with the Scripture to them.

Ancient Map of Galilee

Ancient Map of Galilee

All these things we mentioned to Ilan, our guide, and he seemed genuinely interested. He left me and went inside the Kibbutz building. I continued there on bench outside the building. Some minutes later an older thinner man came out of the building. I took him to be one of the leaders of the Kibbutz, perhaps the rabbi. He came up to about six feet from me and simply said, “It’s an interesting theory, but why is it that Zippori is never mentioned in the New Testament?” That was a very pertinent question, and I tried to respond succinctly, “That is correct, but Luke 8 informs us that one of the primary financial supporters of the ministry of Jesus was a woman named Johanna, the wife of Chuza, the treasurer of King Herod Antipas. How did this happen?” I thought the gentleman and I would then have a discussion about the whole question. Instead he looked very thoughtful, perhaps a little stunned, briefly nodded and turning around, returned to the building. Again, time passed, and the next thing I knew, Ilan came out of the building toward our pilgrims returning to the bus. He began telling them excitedly about the connection between Jesus and Zippori and asked me to tell the passengers about the book I had mentioned to him.  My impression was that there had been a considerable discussion in that room about this issue, maybe even looking up the passage in Luke I had indicated, and had come to the conclusion there was something to this connection between Jesus and Zippori.

Why would these dedicated rabbinic men be excited about Jesus and Zippori?  They were not particularly interested in Jesus or the New Testament. Why then?  Tourism might be involved. Tourism is the life blood of Israel. Pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the holy places in the Holy Land, but relatively few come to Zippori. If it could be established and publicized that there was a lengthy and genuine connection between Jesus and Zippori, Christian tourists would flock to Zippori as well as to Nazareth. These Orthodox settlers may well envision how this increased activity could enhance their tourist outreach.

Batey’s book has been out there for years, but only a few evangelicals have picked up on its message. I have made inquiries, and found that all of the above information has been ignored in most of the publications on Zippori. Why?  The story behind the book is instructive. Batey informs us that the book was originally designed to be a lengthy cover article for the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC magazine. They advanced him a handsome sum to produce a fully photographed and documented report on the archaeological findings about Zippori. Batey worked closely with one of the lead archaeologists there, Dr. James Strange, a professor at the University of Southern Florida, originally from Tyler, Texas.

After the extended project was completed, Batey submitted the work to the magazine. The board rejected it with no explanation. Batey was, of course, surprised, but could get no explanation for the action. He speculated that the reason was that this new view of the early life of Jesus was totally incompatible with the current view that is taught in the major elite professing Christian seminaries in America and Europe. They teach that Joseph and Jesus were menial carpenters in the sleepy village of Nazareth, and that Jesus had no exposure to the advanced cultural atmosphere of the Greco-Roman world. For this reason, some radical theologians also teach that the Gospels were not written in the First Century, but at least a century later, by more sophisticated writers who posed as the immediate disciples of Jesus, as Murdock indicates:

 Moreover, even the latest of the accepted gospel dates are not based on evidence from the historical, literary or archaeological record, and over the centuries a more “radical” school of thought has placed the creation or emergence of the canonical gospels as we have them at a much later date, more towards the end of the second century. D.M. Murdock, Stellar House Publishing.

Thus, they teach, the Jesus of the Gospels is fiction, fable, mythology, and is not historical. As a result, they are constantly looking for “the historical Jesus,” not finding Him in the four Gospel accounts. Apparently, Jewish scholarship follows the same pattern. The Israeli National Park description of the history of Zippori glosses over the time frame when Jesus lived in Nazareth close to Zippori:

 After Herod’s death (4 BCE),. . . . Zippori did not remain in ruin for long––Herod Antipas restored it so beautifully that Josephus Flavius described it as “the ornament of all Galilee.” Later, Rabbi Judah Ha-nasi moved the Sanhedrin from Bet She’arim to Zippori, where he redacted the Mishnah in 220 CE. The sages of Zippori also contributed to the Jerusalem Talmud, which was completed in the fourth century CE.

Thus most of the academic and archaeological world is convinced that there was no significance to the proximity of Nazareth and Zippori in the life and ministry of Jesus.

Then Batey’s article comes with this stunning evidence from archaeology, Josephus and intimations from the Gospels themselves that Jesus could well have been exposed to, and even participated in, one of the most advanced cultural settings in the Roman Empire.  This would mean the Gospels are a reliable First Century account of the life, teachings and ministry of Jesus. In the minds of the National Geographic board, that would be an impossible scenario, and could not be entertained. Batey thought that because of this elite mindset, the article had to be rejected and the scenario presented had to be suppressed. As a result, Batey used the material in his book, but this received little recognition. Therefore, for this past decade, the information about the connection between Jesus and Zippori has been denied, glossed over and forgotten. A top Israeli guide and a group of Jewish scholars highly invested in the history of Zippori had apparently never heard of this historical scenario. What if this group so close to Zippori began to emphasize the world of Jesus

in reference to Zippori in relation to Nazareth? What if Christians began to realize the full significance of the teachings of Jesus in light of what was going on at the time in Galilee and in Israel?

It is my prayer that the Lord might use these brief contacts and discussions on the hills of Lower Galilee to help bring many to learn more about the Jesus accurately presented in the Gospels, and believe in the incomparable Teacher, the crucified and risen Christ.

Text reprinted with permission of

Thomas S. McCall Th.D

artwork added by Daniel E Woodhead

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The Authority of Scripture Ascertained Through Evidence

 

The Judgment of Solomon by Raphael 1518-19

Frequently, authors will avoid using the Bible as history, citing it as historiographically unreliable.[1] This is apparent as we examine the various secular authors who speculate on empire collapse. They simply ignore the facts contained within the Bible. Admittedly it is primarily a theological document, which uses world history to present God’s sacred history and the methods by which He approaches humankind.  God paints Himself, which we call theology, on a canvas of human history. Therefore, just because there is minimal material other than the Bible to provide insight into ancient history, it is unwarranted that one should simply avoid the Bible by citing it as solely theological and therefore nonhistoriagraphic. The Bible has been proven by the standards of the sciences of evidence, archaeology and prophecy to be reliable. Certainly Israel’s enemies will always use the lack of empirical evidence as to its historical accuracy to deny the Jews their accurate origin and place in the story of the world. So what means are available to us to ascertain the authenticity of the Bible? There are several. They all flow from the science of evidence.

Society uses this scientific evidentiary process to identify truth. For example we use it in courts of law and forensic laboratories. The science of evidence is appropriate to utilize for a fair evaluation of the Biblical text in order to validate its authenticity and truth.

One of the chief proponents of the field of evidence was Dr. Simon Greenleaf. He was a decorated Professor of Law at the Harvard University School of Law in 1846. A known expert in the field of evidence, Greenleaf’s well-known work, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence, is considered a classic of American jurisprudence. It was a standard textbook in American law throughout the nineteenth century. However, his contribution to biblical Christianity is the authoritative treatise, The Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice that remains an accepted primer in modern Christian apologetics. [2]

Greenleaf began his book by arguing for the elimination of prejudices and allow the evidence to tell the story. This is simply placing a reliance on evidence. He stated that one should, ” follow the truth wherever it may lead us.”[3] He further stated that Christianity does not “bring irresistible evidence” but offers sufficient evidences for “the serious inquirer.” [4] He focused his book to an inquiry “to the testimony of the Four Evangelists, bringing their narratives to the tests to which other evidence is subjected in human tribunals.” His specific inquiry was concerned with testing “the veracity of these witnesses by the same rules and means” employed in human tribunals. Greenleaf argued the case by first inquiring as to the genuineness of the four gospels as ancient writings. Here he applied what is technically known in law as the “ancient documents rule.” He stated:

“Every document, apparently ancient, coming from the proper repository or custody, and bearing on its face no evident marks of forgery, the law presumes to be genuine, and devolves on the opposing party the burden of proving it to be otherwise.” [5]

Greenleaf maintained that the four gospels do not bear any marks of being forgeries and the oldest extant copies can be received into court as genuine documents. In other words unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary we must accept the gospels as fact. Frequently in an attempt to discredit the biblical accounts of Christ detractors will engineer specious arguments that have no basis. Because there is no evidence for their weak arguments they fail to persuade the critical thinker. Only those with a sloppy thought process will be persuaded to accept an argument that has no foundation.

The second step in Greenleaf’s argument is: “In matters of public and general interest, all persons must be presumed to be conversant, on the principle that individuals are presumed to be conversant with their own affairs.” [6] On the basis of this legal rule Greenleaf then briefly profiled the traditional authors of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, concerning their first hand knowledge of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, or as in the case of Mark and Luke their intimate personal links with the apostles. Greenleaf then built a cumulative case by conducting a shadow cross-examination of the oral testimony of the evangelists in their accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Greenleaf developed his case on the basis of the following tests:

“The credit due to the testimony of witnesses depends upon, firstly, their honesty; secondly, their ability; thirdly, their number and the consistency of their testimony; fourthly, the conformity of their testimony with experience; and fifthly, the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances.” [7] Greenleaf then argued that the gospel writers can be shown to be honest in their character and do not show any motives to falsify their testimony. [8] He claimed that Matthew and Luke related keen observations and meticulous details, and he concluded this demonstrated their ability. [9] Greenleaf noted that there are parallel accounts from the evangelists concerning the central events of Jesus the Christ’ life and that these accounts are not verbally identical. He maintained that discrepancies in their accounts are evidence that the writers are not guilty of collusion, and that the discrepancies in their respective accounts can be resolved or harmonized upon careful cross-examination and comparison of the details. [10] Greenleaf argued against the skeptic Scottish philosopher David Hume concerning reports of miracles. He found fault with Hume’s position about “immutable laws from the uniform course of human experience,” [11] and went on to assert that it is a fallacy because “it excludes all knowledge derived by inference or deduction from facts, confining us to what we derive from personal experience alone.” [12] Greenleaf took, as his own assumption that as God exists then such a being is capable of performing miracles. He then argued that the various miracles reported in Jesus ministry occurred in open or public contexts where friend and foe alike were witnesses. [13] Interestingly, Jesus’ miracles were specifically chosen by Him to be irrefutable by the detractors of His day. For example, he chose to heal a person who was blind since birth. No one could say the person was faking his blindness. He chose to heal a crippled person again who suffered this infirmity since birth. Perhaps His greatest miracle was raising Lazarus from the dead. He waited four days to insure that all the witnesses fully realized that Lazarus was indeed dead before Jesus raised him.

Lastly, Greenleaf examined the problem of uniform testimony among false and genuine witnesses, and found there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the accounts of the Four Evangelists.

Greenleaf summed up his argument with the following plea:

“All that Christianity asks of men on this subject, is, that they would be consistent with themselves; that they would treat its evidences as they treat the evidence of other things; and that they would try and judge its actors and witnesses, as they deal with their fellow men, when testifying to human affairs and actions, in human tribunals. Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with the surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court of justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witnesses being subjected to a rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability and truth … Either the men of Galilee were men of superlative wisdom, and extensive knowledge and experience, and of deeper skill in the arts of deception, than any and all others, before or after them, or they have truly stated the astonishing things which they saw and heard.” [14]

 

Dr. Greenleaf skillfully established the veracity of the Scriptures. Within the body of New Testament text he examined we find Jesus establishing the truth of the Old Testament (John 5:39-47 etc.). Christ’ words must also be true reasoning through Dr. Greenleaf’s methodology. Therefore, the entire chronology of the Old Testament must also be true.

We have a reliable body of truth in the Old and New Testaments. They can and must be relied upon to give us factual data related to the origin and early persecutions of the Jews. There is no logical reason not to use the Bible as reliable historiography. We refer to this entire concept of reliability of the biblical text as infallibility and its closely related concept of inerrancy. Infallibility is the subjective consequence of divine inspiration and inerrancy is the concept of the Bible being free from material errors or internal contradictions. Some may believe that these concepts are untrue but they come to those conclusions out of ignorance of the relevant data.[15]

 Evidence Through Archaeology

Archaeological evidence is another body of information and inquiry, which has produced factual data in support of the Biblical text. The following quotations from men acquainted with or conducting archaeological expeditions provide a firm basis for support of the veracity of the Biblical text through archaeology.

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.” The renowned Jewish archaeologist continued in commenting “the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact.” [16]

 

“On the whole, however, archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record.” [17]

 

“Old Testament archaeology has rediscovered whole nations, resurrected important peoples, and in a most astonishing manner filled in historical gap, adding immeasurably to the knowledge of biblical backgrounds.” [18]

 

“Archaeological and inscriptional data have established the historicity of innumerable passages and statements of the Old Testament.” [19]

 

“We pointed out that numerous passages of the Bible, which long puzzled the commentators, have readily yielded up their meaning when new light from archaeological discoveries has been focused on them. In other words, archaeology illuminates the text of the Scriptures and so makes valuable contributions to the fields of Biblical interpretation and exegesis. In addition to illuminating the Bible, archaeology has confirmed countless passages which have been rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.” [20]

 

During the excavations of Jericho (1930-1936) John Garstang found something so startling that a statement of what they found was prepared and signed by himself as well as other members of the team. In reference to these findings Garstang says:

“As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: the walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamor up and over their ruins into the city.” [21]

 

Why so unusual? Because walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards. And yet in Joshua 6:20 we hear “ . . . the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight ahead, and they took the city.”

Some archaeologists, such as Kathleen Kenyon work against any pro-biblical support for the Jews. She, as a staunch anti-Zionist, was commissioned by the Jordanian government in 1960 to examine Jericho in order to refute Albright’s work. She further refutes all of the biblical historiography according to the story of the Jews. It is no surprise that Israel’s enemies deny her history. [22] Nevertheless the preponderance of archaeological evidence supports the authenticity of the Biblical narrative.

 

Evidence Through Prophecy

The last method of evidence presented here is that of Biblical prophecy. The Old Testament has a significant number of prophecies, which have already been fulfilled. Many of them relate to the timing and circumstances surrounding the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth on earth. All of these prophecies were written hundreds of years before the birth of Christ and were well documented.  Isaiah and Micah, for example, wrote their prophecies about 700 years before Christ. Daniel wrote his about 500 years before Christ. Zechariah also wrote about 500 years before Christ too. The Psalms were written over 900 years before Christ. It is a fact that the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint was written between 200-300 B.C. which is well before the time of Jesus the Christ of Nazareth’s birth. This translation has all the prophecies within it. Therefore one cannot say that the prophecies were written after the events of which they prophesied! It is clear that these prophecies were in this verifiable translation well prior to Christ’s first advent. The following quote from Max L. Margolis validates the timing of the writing of the Septuagint:

It is in the reign of the second Ptolemy, surnamed Philadelphus (285-247 B. C.), that the translation of the Law (Pentateuch) into Greek is placed by the circumstantial narrative known as the Epistle of Aristeas which purports to be a contemporary record by one of the king’s courtiers. Nay, according to the story, the initiative proceeded from the king or rather the king’s librarian, Demetrius of Phalerum, who advised that a copy of the Law of the Jews should be deposited in the royal collection of books then already numbering upward of two hundred thousand volumes. [23]

It is quite clear that humans do not have the capacity to accurately predict the future hundreds of years in advance. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God and states that God lives outside of our time and space domain (Isa 57:15). Therefore He is able to see and write history before it happens. In fact he causes history to happen. The issue of fulfilled prophecy is additional compelling evidence that the Bible is true, accurate and verifiable as fact.

The open-minded person, seeking truth, while reading the Scriptures expectantly, will find that the Scriptures are verifiably accurate in their exposition of all things of which they speak. This includes the origin and development of the Jewish nation. It is important to this work that the Bible is recognized as trustworthy historiography.

Daniel E. Woodhead Ph.D.


[1] Cantor, Norman F. The Sacred Chain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994, 3.

[2] Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ-A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Publishing House 1998  45-46

[3] Greenleaf, Simon. Testimony of the Evangelists Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice, 1846. Reprint Newark, NJ: Soney & Sage, 1903, 1.

[4] Ibid, 2.

[5]  Ibid, 7.

[6]  Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 28.

[8] Ibid, 28-31.

[9] Ibid, 31-32.

[10] Ibid, 32-35.

[11] Ibid, 36.

[12] Ibid, 37-38.

[13] Ibid, 39-42.

[14] Ibid, pg 46-53

[15] Comfort, Philip Wesley gen ed. The Origin of the Bible. Wheaton, IL. Tyndale House Publishers. 1992  38-39

[16]Glueck Nelson. Rivers in the Desert: History of Negev. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cadahy, 1959, 31.

[17] Burrows, Millar. What Means These Stones. New York: Meridian Books, 1957,

[18] Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1954, 1.

[19] Albright, W.F. “Archaeology Confronts Biblical CriticismThe American Scholar, April 1938, 181.

[20] Free, Joseph P. Archaeology and Bible History, Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1969, 1.

[21] Garstang, John. Joshua & Judges. London: Constable, 1931, 146.

[22] Cantor, Norman F. The Sacred Chain Harper, New York: Collins Publishers, 1994, 2-3.

[23] Margolis, Max L. The Story of Bible Translations. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Society of America, 1916. 30.

 

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