Guest post from Joe Bartling
Jesus’ Boyhood Hometown: Rediscovered after 2,000 Years?
It’s a cold case like no other that Joe Bartling has ever investigated. A forensic technologist, Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), and licensed Private Investigator (PI), Joe visited Israel on five trips from 2009 to 2011. On one of those visits, Joe found himself up on the mountain of Gamla, an ancient Jewish city, that had been perched precariously on the top of a steep mountain, surrounded by 1,000-foot jagged cliffs to the valleys below. Gamla is the Aramaic word for “camel”, and the mountain looks like a camel’s hump as it juts abruptly up from the Daliyot valley below as viewed from the Sea of Galilee or the Jordan River just a few miles away. The tour guide read the account in Luke Chapter 4, where Jesus, “in the town where he was raised, got up to read in the synagogue, as was his custom on the Sabbath, and began to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah”. Looking down at the archaeological remains of a 1st Century CE synagogue, with the Sea of Galilee clearly visible just 5 miles away, the implications were profound.
Related: Gamla’s 1st Century CE Synagogue
Christian tradition has the site of Jesus’ boyhood home 38 miles away from this location, west around the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, past the nearby, and Biblically significant towns of Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Chorazin, and then another 28 miles away further towards the Mediterranean Sea. In Bartling’s mind, this location at Gamla just seemed to fit the Biblical record of Jesus’ hometown just a whole lot better than Nazareth. But not only did Gamla match the Biblical record, Bartling has discovered that it also matches up to the historical, cultural, political, geographical, and topological evidence as well.
Related: If Jesus Used Google Maps
Accustomed to working as an evidence expert on complex investigations and civil cases, such as those involving Enron, Martha Stewart, and Refco, Bartling has always faced challenges in finding evidence and facts to support the case. “There is usually no such thing as “finding the smoking gun” exemplified in episodes of CSI, or the outburst in court from the guilty party as in the old Perry Mason series”, Bartling said. “Great investigation outcomes are the result of a lot of hard work, uncovering lots and lots of evidence, sometimes sifting through thousands of documents and clues, and developing maps, timelines, scatter diagrams, and relationships between the evidence.”, he said. “In the end, if we have done our work correctly, the preponderance of the evidence supports our theory, and the evidence itself shouts out the result.”
“Today, we have lots of technology to help us gather, sort, and analyze lots of unstructured records to assist in the investigation”, said Bartling. He has been using some of the latest and most powerful software tools available today to E-Discovery and Investigation professionals, using 21st-century technologies on a 2,000-year-old case.
But rather than emails, spreadsheets, and social media posts, Bartling is using these tools to organize ancient historical documents, such as the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the writings of Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and research papers from the leading archaeologists, historians, and scholars specializing in 1st-Century BCE to 1st-Century CE history, known as the “Second Temple Period”, and also the early years of the foundations of Christianity. The pertinent documents he uses are in English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and some are inscriptions on ancient coins, stone, steles, and papyrus.
But why is this a big mystery? Wasn’t Jesus born in Bethlehem, and his family from Nazareth, just like the New Testament says? Bartling, on his first visit to Israel in 2009, became curious when told by an Israeli tour guide that the business people in today’s town of Nazareth moved the town’s location by half of a mile or so because the tour buses couldn’t turn around easily. By moving the town to a new location, the tour business could be more easily accommodated. And when asking about the archaeological remains in Nazareth, Bartling was told that there just wasn’t much there, just a few scant houses and tombs from the 1st century despite massive construction in the Nazareth area over the last 50 years. You would think something, anything would be found there indicating a town or city at Nazareth in Second Temple times. There has been no market, no cardo, no common places, such as a synagogue found in Nazareth. These types of places have been found in locations all over Israel, such as in Modi’in, Masada, Jericho, Gamla, Chorazin, Capernaum, etc. Bartling thinks that it is glaringly obvious that there was no town in the currently-identified Nazareth. There should be the remains of a 1st Century synagogue in Nazareth, according to Luke Chapter 4 in the New Testament, but it has never been found. There should be large amounts of archaeological evidence found in Nazareth, but, according to Bartling, its just not there.
Bartling says that historians have discovered no evidence of Nazareth as an existing town or village in Jewish historical writings until the 2nd Century, long after Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed and most Jews had scattered away from Jerusalem. It seems that the Gospels provide the first reference to a town named Nazareth. The Gospels included in the New Testament today were written 50-80 years or later after Jesus’ death and the writers were separated from the actual regions of Judea and the Galilee about which they wrote.
The “Jesus of Nazareth” title, according to Bartling, may be an extrapolation of “Jesus the Nazarene”, a possible mistranslation of the Hebrew title “Yeshua Ha Notzri”, as it is recorded in the Talmud. In the Talmud, the followers of Jesus were called “Ha Notzrim”, as they are today in Israel, the Hebrew word for “Christians”. The root Hebrew word נָצַר, transliterated as “natsar” (Strongs H5341), is a word used as a “watchman” or “one who guards”, such as in the messianic prophecy in Jeremiah 31: 6, “For there shall be a day when watchmen (Hebrew: NTSR) will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’”.
One of the main reasons the Gamla site has been ignored is that it has remained hidden from history and archaeologists for over 2,000 years. Gamla was destroyed in 67 CE by the Roman armies because it was a hotbed of revolutionary activity against the occupying Roman Legion. Its site was not discovered until 1968 after Israel took possession of the Golan Heights east of the Jordan River, and a surveyor stumbled upon some ancient remains of the city.
In the 1st Century, Gamla was considered a “Galilean” city, as the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus was the commander of the Galilean forces headquartered at Gamla. The New Testament records, in Acts 5:37, a speech by the respected elder rabbi Gamaliel, the failure of an aspiring Messianic leader know as “Judas the Galilean”, who “appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt.” History records that Judas the Galilean was from Gamla. So it is apparent that “Gamla” was a synonym for “Galilee” in the 1st Century. This is the same census, ordered by Quirinius, mentioned in Luke 2:2, as applying to the region of greater Syria, of which Gamla was a part, that prompted the travel of the pregnant mother and father of Jesus to Bethlehem, the city of David, where there was “no room there in the inn”.
Another interesting, but much-ignored fact, is that Jesus’ native language and that of his disciples was Aramaic. Gamla is in the ancient region known as Aram, east of the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, whereas the traditional site of Nazareth is not.
Related: Gamla is in the Ancient Region of “Aram” – Jesus Spoke “Aramaic”
Bartling has developed scores of evidence threads supporting Gamla as the boyhood hometown of Jesus and has published articles about those threads on his website, Gamla.Org. But according to Bartling, there is so much supporting material, it will need to find its way into a book, or even a documentary film.
In the meantime, Bartling continues to develop the evidence in the case, hoping one day, that this 2,000-year-old cold case will be solved, and that Gamla will be commonly known as the boyhood hometown of Jesus.