Questions Surrounding Jesus’ Birth/Part 6

By: Dr. John Ankerberg with various Scholars; ©{{{copyright}}}
The Church of the Nativity

Ed. note: This article is based upon the transcript from programs produced by the John Ankerberg Show. Additional material has been added for this print version.

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The Church of the Nativity

Dr. John Ankerberg: Christians all across the world look to Bethlehem as the place where Jesus was born. But in the ABC Special, Peter Jennings visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and said that this sanctuary revealed a lot about the enthusiasm of fourth century Christians but not very much about the life of Jesus. We talked with Jewish archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkay, and asked what scholars have discovered about this site.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay:[1] Following the Six Days War some archeologists have studied the site of the Church of Nativity and found out that it is right on top of the ancient mound or ancient tell of early Bethlehem. Bethlehem of First Temple Period of the Davidic Dynasty’s time, and Bethlehem of the time of Jesus was built right on the site where today the complex of the Church of Nativity is built. Excavations by the Italian scholar, the late Father Bellarmino Bagatti revealed under the complex of the church a series of caves. Most of the caves were dwellings of antiquity. So it is very much plausible that we deal in the case of the Church of Nativity where the real site which existed in the time of Jesus.
Dr. Claire Pfann:[2] The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem has strong evidence to support it as being the place of the birth of Jesus. Tradition has held it as the birthplace of Jesus for all these centuries, a tradition that was probably kept alive by the Jewish Christians in the land from the time of the Resurrection of Jesus as they searched back into His origins.
Certainly, the church lies on the heart of ancient first century Bethlehem, that small Jewish village of extended patriarchal homes. And if we look at the archaeology of that type hillside, we would see, if we could just lift that church off, the kind of archaeological pattern that would characterize Bethlehem in the first century.
We could see, for example, the caves built into the cliffs and how the homes were built on a multi-level type of terrace plan. We could understand how the people lived in courtyard homes where they would walk into the courtyard. There could be an oven. People could bake. Going off of the courtyard would be a cave or a basement in which olive oil could be stored and grains and animals could be tied up overnight for protection against the weather and bandits. The family rooms would be extending off another doorway off the courtyard. There would be a common room where eating would take place and children might sleep. There might be another room or two for the grownups and for guests. It was in such a patriarchal home that Mary and Joseph probably came shortly before the birth of Jesus and in which they were embraced by an extended family as they waited for the birth of this child.

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  1. Dr. Gabriel Barkay: Archaeologist and former professor of archaeology at Tel-Aviv University. He is a lecturer at the Jerusalem University College. He was awarded the Israel Prize for archaeology last year and is regarded as the foremost authority on the necropoli of Jerusalem (e.g. he excavated the Ketef Hinnom tombs where the silver amulet—oldest biblical inscription–was found.) He is an expert on tombs and burial practices during the time of Jesus.
  2. Mrs. Claire Pfann: Faculty member, Center for the Study of Early Christianity, 1988-present. Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, University of the Holy Land, 1998-present. Contributor, The Comprehensive Concordance to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Production Editor, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert XXVII . Contributor, The Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible. Contributor, Hebrew University Bible Project: “The Alignment of the Aramaic and Greek Texts of Ezra and Daniel.” An expert on Jewish birth practices and culture of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus.

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