National Geographic : 2017 Dec
60 national geographic • december 2017 Jesus met the fishermen who became his first followers—Peter and Andrew casting nets, James and John mending theirs—and established his first base of operation. Commonly referred to on the Christian tour route as the “town of Jesus,” the pilgrimage site of Capernaum today is owned by the Franciscans and surrounded by a high metal fence. A sign at the gate makes clear what’s not allowed inside: dogs, guns, cigarettes, and short skirts. Direct- ly beyond the gate is an incongruously modern church mounted on eight pillars that resembles a spaceship hovering above a pile of ruins. This is St. Peter’s Memorial, consecrated in 1990 over one of the biggest discoveries made during the 20th century by archaeologists investigating the historical Jesus. From its odd perch the church offers a stun- ning view of the lake, but all eyes are drawn to the and white-haired, pauses in front of a pile of columns. “It was pretty acrimonious,” he says, recalling the decades-long dispute over the in- fluence of a hellenizing city on a young Jewish peasant. He stops at the top of a hill and waves his hands across a sprawl of neatly excavated walls. “ We had to dig through a bivouac from the 1948 war, including a live Syrian shell, to get to these houses,” he explains. “And underneath we found the mikvaot!” At least 30 mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths, dot the residential quarter of Sepphoris—the largest domestic concentration ever found by archae- ologists. Along with ceremonial stone vessels and a striking absence of pig bones (pork being shunned by kosher-keeping Jews), they offer clear evidence that even this imperial Roman city remained a very Jewish place during Jesus’ formative years. This and other insights gleaned from excava- tions across Galilee have led to a significant shift in scholarly opinion, says Craig Evans, professor of Christian origins in the School of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. “ Thanks to archaeology, there’s been a big change in thinking—from Jesus the cosmopolitan Helle- nist to Jesus the observant Jew.” When jesus was about 30 years old, he waded into the Jordan River with the Jewish firebrand John the Baptist and, according to New Testament accounts, underwent a life-changing experience. Rising from the water, he saw the Spirit of God descend on him “like a dove” and heard the voice of God proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The divine encounter launched Jesus on a preaching and healing mis- sion that began in Galilee and ended, three years later, with his execution in Jerusalem. One of his first stops was Capernaum, a fishing town on the northwest shore of a large freshwater lake called, confusingly, the Sea of Galilee. Here Scenes from the life of Christ—including his infancy, triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and Last Supper—adorn a small Coptic Orthodox chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Several Christian sects warily share the cavernous sanctuary, each laying claim to a chapel or other space. Keys to the church are entrusted to a local Muslim family. WATCH ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Modern scientists investigate ancient traditions in Secrets of Christ’s Tomb, a one-hour Explorer Special airing at 9/8c on Sunday, December 3.