National Geographic : 2017 Dec
64 national geographic • december 2017 and adolescents. Survive the perilous years of childhood, and your chances of living to old age greatly increased, McCane says. “During Jesus’ time, getting past 15 was apparently the trick.” from capernaum I head south along the Sea of Galilee to a kibbutz (a communal farm) that in 1986 was the scene of great excitement—and an emergency excavation. A severe drought had drastically lowered the lake’s water level, and as two brothers from the community hunted for an- cient coins in the mud of the exposed lake bed, they spotted the faint outline of a boat. Archae- ologists who examined the vessel found artifacts dating to the Roman era inside and next to the hull. Carbon 14 testing later confirmed the boat’s age: It was from roughly the lifetime of Jesus. Efforts to keep the discovery under wraps soon failed, and news of the “Jesus boat” sent a stampede of relic hunters scouring the lakeshore, threatening the fragile artifact. Just then the rains returned, and the lake level began to rise. The round-the-clock “rescue excavation” that ensued was an archaeological feat for the rec- ord books. A project that normally would take months to plan and execute was completed, start to finish, in just 11 days. Once exposed to air, the boat’s waterlogged timbers would quickly disin- tegrate. So archaeologists supported the remains with a fiberglass frame and polyurethane foam and floated it to safety. Today the treasured boat has pride of place in a museum on the kibbutz, near the spot where it was discovered. Measuring seven and a half feet wide and 27 feet long, it could have accommo- dated 13 men—although there’s no evidence that Jesus and his Twelve Apostles used this very vessel. To be candid, it’s not much to look at: a skeleton of planks repeatedly patched and re- paired until it was finally stripped and scuttled. “ They had to nurse this boat along until they couldn’t nurse it any longer,” says Crossan, who likens the vessel to “some of those cars you see in Havana.” But its value to historians is incalcula- ble, he says. Seeing “how hard they had to work to keep that boat afloat tells me a lot about the economics of the Sea of Galilee and the fishing at the time of Jesus.” another dramatic discoVery occurred just over a mile south of the Jesus boat, at the site of ancient Magdala, the hometown of Mary Mag- dalene, a devoted follower of Jesus. Franciscan archaeologists began excavating part of the town during the 1970s, but the northern half lay under a defunct lakeside resort called Hawaii Beach. Enter Father Juan Solana, a papal appointee charged with overseeing a pilgrimage guesthouse in Jerusalem. In 2004 Solana “felt the leading of Christ” to build a pilgrims’ retreat in Galilee, so he set about raising millions of dollars and buying up parcels of waterfront land, including the failed resort. As construction was about to begin in 2009, ar- chaeologists from the Israel An- tiquities Authority showed up to survey the site, as required by law. After a few weeks of probing the rocky soil, they were star- tled to discover the buried ruins of a synagogue from the time of Jesus—the first such structure unearthed in Galilee. The find was especially significant because it put to rest an argument made by skeptics that no synagogues existed in Galilee until decades after Jesus’ death. If those skeptics were right, their claim would shred the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus as a faithful synagogue-goer who often pro- claimed his message and performed miracles in these Jewish meeting places. As archaeologists excavated the ruins, they uncovered walls lined with benches—indicating that this was a synagogue—and a mosaic floor. At the center of the room they were astounded to find a stone about the size of a footlocker that showed the most sacred elements of the Temple in Jerusalem carved in relief. The discovery of If the skeptics were right, their claim would shred the Gospels’ portrait of Jesus as a faithful synagogue-goer.