Archaeological and Physical Historical Evidence Related to Jesus

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Tens of thousands of relics have been found across Israel that date to the period that Jesus is believed to have lived. According to the Washington Post: Archaeologists say the excavated items might give an indication of how Jesus lived 2,000 years ago, but they aren’t physical evidence of his existence. “He was one of more than a million people living here then, an ordinary Jew who had original ideas and attracted some followers,” said Gideon Avni, head of archaeology at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “His fame only really started after his death.” [Source: Ruth Eglash, Washington Post, March 20 2017]

Avni said it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to find proof of one ordinary person from thousands of years ago. But based on finds from hundreds of archaeological digs, he believes archaeologists can accurately reconstruct Jesus’ life from the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as his birthplace, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he is believed to have been buried after the Crucifixion.

Eugenio Alliata, a professor of Christian archaeology at the Franciscan biblical school in Jerusalem, said that what has been found to date corroborates biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and puts his existence into a real context. “We have not found any evidence of the person of Jesus, but we have found lots of things about what happened at the time he lived, such as the population and the material culture that grew because of him,” Alliata said.

Artifacts stored at the Israel Antiquities Authority warehouse also provide insight into those who followed Jesus after his death. The earliest evidence of Christianity as a movement is from the end of the 1st century, Avni said. After that, throughout the Byzantine period and during the Crusades, Christian pilgrims regularly traveled to Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Archaeologists are now using the day-to-day items and rare commodities from those ancient times to study Jesus and his teachings.

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

Important Finds Related to Jesus

ritual bath in Maon synagogue

A number of important finds related to Jesus and his time have been made in the Galilee area and Jerusalem. Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian magazine: In 1968, a skeletal heel nailed to a board by an iron spike was found in an ossuary, or bone box, inside a first-century tomb near Jerusalem. The heel, which belonged to a man named Yehochanan, helped settle a long-simmering debate about the plausibility of Gospel accounts of Jesus’s tomb burial. Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for the dregs of society, and some experts had scoffed at the idea that Romans would accord anyone so dispatched the dignity of a proper interment. More likely, Jesus’s remains, like those of other common criminals, would have been left to rot on the cross or tossed into a ditch, a fate that might have complicated the resurrection narrative. But Yehochanan’s heel offered an example of a crucified man from Jesus’s day for whom the Romans permitted Jewish burial. [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2016]

“In 1986, after a drought depleted water levels in the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a lake), two brothers walking alongshore found a submerged first-century fishing vessel with seats for 12 passengers and an oarsman. The wooden boat made headlines the world over as an example of the type Jesus and his disciples would have used to cross the lake — and from which, according to the Gospels, Jesus famously calmed a storm. Such discoveries were thrilling, but limited: one boat, one heel. And many blockbusters — notably an ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” — have been so fraught with questions of provenance and authenticity that they have produced more controversy than insight.

“The ultimate find — physical proof of Jesus himself — has also been elusory. “The sorts of evidence other historical figures leave behind are not the sort we’d expect with Jesus,” says Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University and a leading authority on Galilean history. “He wasn’t a political leader, so we don’t have coins, for example, that have his bust or name. He wasn’t a sufficiently high-profile social leader to leave behind inscriptions. In his own lifetime, he was a marginal figure and he was active in marginalized circles.”

What Jesus Clue Hunters Are Looking For

Archaeologists and religious scholars began seriously for clues to Jesus and his time period in the Holy Land about 150 years ago.Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “The 19th-century French theologian and explorer Ernest Renan called the Galilean landscape the “fifth Gospel,” a “torn, but still legible” tableau of grit and stone that gave “form” and “solidity” to the central texts about Jesus’s life — the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Renan’s somewhat romantic views were not unlike those of the tourists whose gleaming buses I got stuck behind last summer on the road to places like Nazareth and Capernaum; pilgrims have long come to these biblical lands hoping to find what Renan called “the striking agreement of the texts with the places.” [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2016]

“Modern archaeologists working here, however, are less interested in “proving” the Bible than in uncovering facts and context absent from the texts. What religion did ordinary people practice? How did Galileans respond to the arrival of Greek culture and Roman rule? How close did they feel to the priestly elites in Jerusalem? What did they do for work? What, for that matter, did they eat?

“The Gospels themselves provide only glancing answers; their purpose is spiritual inspiration, not historical documentation. As for actual firsthand accounts of Galilean life in the first century, only one survives, written by a Jewish military commander named Josephus. This has made archaeology the most fruitful source of new information about Jesus’s world. Each layer of dirt, or stratum, is like a new page, and with much of Galilee still unexcavated, many chapters of this Fifth Gospel remain unread.:

One focus of attention has been synagogues .But “synagogues, as we understand them today, did not appear anywhere in great numbers until several hundred years later. If there were any in Galilee in Jesus’s day, they were perhaps just ordinary houses that doubled as meeting places for local Jews. Some scholars argued that the “synagogues” in the New Testament were nothing more than anachronisms slipped in by the Gospels’ authors, who were writing outside Galilee decades after Jesus’s death.

Jesus-Era Historical Evidence from Galilee

synagogue in Magdala, hometown of Mary Magdalene

One of the main hunting grounds for clues about Jesus is the “evangelical triangle” of Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida — an area around the Sea of Galilee that embraces the villages where, according to the Gospels, Jesus led his followers, performed miraculous and taught. One of the most important places there is a small town Israelis still call Migdal, because it was the presumed site of Magdala, the ancient fishing city that was home to Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s most loyal followers. The Galilean Jews that lived in this area — mostly poor peasants and fishermen — were about a week’s walk from Jerusalem, close enough for regular pilgrimages to Herod the Great’s magnificent temple there. [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2016]

Important find related to Jesus have been made in Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene located on the Sea of Galilee. In the 1970s, Franciscan archaeologists began excavating part of Magdala around a closed-down lakeside resort called Hawaii Beach. Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: ““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, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority showed up to survey the site, as required by law. After a few weeks of probing the rocky soil, they were startled to discover the buried ruins of a synagogue from the time of Jesus—the first such structure unearthed in Galilee. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]

“As archaeologists continued to dig, they discovered an entire town buried less than a foot below the surface. The ruins were so well preserved that some began calling Magdala the “Israeli Pompeii.” with the "remains of storerooms, ritual baths, and an industrial area where fish may have been processed and sold. Archaeologist Dina Avshalom-Gorni told National Geographic. “I can just imagine women buying fish in the market right there,” nodding toward the foundations of stone stalls. And who knows? Maybe those women included the town’s famous native daughter, Mary of Magdala. ^|^


The ruins of Bethsaida lie atop an oval-shaped, 20-acre mound of volcanic earth. It is srrounded by the hills of the Golan, which drop through eucalyptus trees and across plains of mango and palm groves to the Sea of Galilee. Ariel Sabar wrote in Smithsonian magazine:“Bethsaida was home to as many as five apostles — far more than any other New Testament town. It was where Jesus is said to have healed the blind man and multiplied the loaves and fishes. And it was the target of his notorious curse — the “Woe” saying — in which he lashes out at Bethsaida and two other towns for their failure to repent. And yet how could it be both the wellspring of devotion and the victim of curse? The Scriptures are silent. [Source: Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian magazine, January-February 2016]

“A more practical problem for centuries of pilgrims and explorers was that no one knew where Bethsaida was. The Gospels allude to it as a “lonely place,” “across the lake,” “to the other side.” Josephus said it was in the lower Golan, above where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee. And after the third century, most likely because of a devastating earthquake, Bethsaida — Aramaic for “House of the Fisherman” — all but vanished from the historical record.“Its strange disappearance was part of the allure for Rami Arav, a Galilee-born archaeologist now at the University of Nebraska Omaha. In 1987, Arav conducted digs at three mounds near the lake’s northern shore. He concluded that only one, known as et-Tell, had ruins old enough to be biblical Bethsaida. (The State of Israel and many scholars accept his identification, though some controversy lingers.) “Arav’s dig is now one of the longest ongoing excavations in all of Israel. Over 28 summers, he and his colleagues — including Carl Savage of Drew University and Richard Freund of the University of Hartford — have uncovered a fisherman’s house used in Jesus’s day, a winemaker’s quarters from a century earlier and a city gate from Old Testament times."

But perhaps most surprising was a pagan temple. “As some scholars see it, the pagan temple may be a key to why so many of the apostles hailed from here — and why, all the same, Jesus winds up cursing the place. The early first century brought new hardships to the Land of Israel, as Rome’s tightening grip fueled bitter debates about how best to be a Jew. But the Jews of Bethsaida — unlike those at other stops on Jesus’s ministry — faced an additional indignity: Their ruler Philip, himself a Jew, had erected a temple to a Roman goddess in their very midst. “It’s ultimate chutzpah,” Freund, a Judaic studies specialist who has co-edited four books with Arav about Bethsaida, said as we sat on a picnic bench beneath the temple ruins. “It cannot but affect your spiritual life to every day go out and do your fishing, come home and try to live as a Jew, eat your kosher food, pray inside your courtyard house and then at the same time you’re seeing these plumes of smoke rising from the temple of Julia, and you’re saying, ‘Who are we? Who are we?’”

“The city’s accommodation to its pagan overlords may explain why Jesus damns the place. He’d performed some of his greatest miracles here, according to the Gospels: He’d healed a blind man; he’d fed thousands; from the top of Bethsaida, the site of the Roman temple itself, people would have been able to see him walk on water. And yet in the end, the better part of them did not repent. “Woe unto thee, Bethsaida!” Jesus rails in Matthew 11:21. “For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon” — gentile cities on the Phoenician coast that Jesus perhaps invokes for shaming purposes — “they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

“Still, some of Bethsaida’s fishermen — among them Peter, Andrew, Philip, James and John, soon to become apostles — may have gazed on that pagan temple and said, Enough. Perhaps, at just that time, a Jewish visionary came along, offering what looked like a clearer path back to the God they loved.The discovery of Jewish and pagan relics in so important a stop on Jesus’s ministry shows that “there was more diversity in Jewish life” than is sometimes acknowledged, says Savage, the author of Biblical Bethsaida, a 2011 book about the Jesus-era archaeological finds. The conventional view is that Jews had split into a small number of competing sects. “But it may be more complicated than just three or four poles.”

Historical Evidence Related to Jesus in Jerusalem

Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: In the New Testament, Jerusalem “is the setting for many of his miracles and most dramatic moments: his triumphal entry, his cleansing of the Temple, his healing miracles at the Pools of Bethesda and Siloam—both of which have been uncovered by archaeologists—his clashes with the religious authorities, his last Passover meal, his agonised prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his trial and execution, his burial and Resurrection. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]

“In Jerusalem, Jesus healed a paralyzed man at a ritual pool surrounded by five colonnades called the Pool of Bethesda, reports the Gospel of John. Many scholars doubted that the place existed until archaeologists discovered clear traces of it beneath the ruins of these centuries-old churches. ^|^

“Unlike the disparate stories of Jesus’ birth, the four Gospels reach much closer agreement in their account of his death. Following his arrival in Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus is brought before the high priest Caiaphas and charged with blasphemy and threats against the Temple. Condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, he’s crucified on a hill outside the city walls and buried in a rock-cut tomb nearby. ^|^

“An ornate ossuary, or bone box, discovered in a Jerusalem tomb is inscribed with the name Caiaphas, an infamous figure in the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ trial and execution. “If it is Caiaphas, the discovery would confirm that the people who play a role in the stories of the New Testament were real and not fictitious,” notes archaeologist Eric Cline.” ^|^

Pilate Inscription

The Pilate Inscription is an inscription found in Caesarea which first proved the existence of Pilate. The inscription is written in Latin on a slab of limestone 82 centimeters high and 65 centimeters wide. The four lines of writing are a Building Dedication withPontius Pilate as the Dedicator (praefect of Judea). It has been dated to approximately A.D. 26–37 and was discovered in Caesarea, Israel in 1961 by Antonio Frova and now is in the Israel Museum [Source: translation by K. C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman]

Pilate inscription

The inscription reads: [DIS AUGUSTI]S TIBERIEUM
[. .FECIT D]E[DICAVIT] To the honorable gods (this) Tiberium
Pontius Pilate,
Prefect of Judea,
had dedicated

According to PBS: This inscription found at “Caesarea Maritima, which refers to Pontius Pilate, is one of the most important discoveries made in the archeological work of the last two decades. Precisely because it's the first piece of hard evidence of the existence of Pontius Pilate. Now, for Pilate, of course, we have a number of literary references, both in the Jewish historian, Josephus,and also among the Christian gospels. But this is the first piece of direct evidence from an archaeological source which actually gives us his name and tells us he was there as Governor. The city of Caesarea Maratima was actually the Governor's residence. This was the capitol city, from the perspective of the Roman political administration. So, it would have been where Pontius Pilate would have lived, where he would have had his court. [Source: Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

Paula Fredriksen of Boston University told PBS: “Pontius Pilate, is one of these first round of governors posted to the province of Judea, once it was given over to Roman military governorship. And the stone that we now have from Caesarea ... is very important. It gives us three pieces of information. First, it tells us that Pontius Pilate was the Governor. Secondly, it calls him a Prefect. That's what we see in line three of the text. Thirdly, and in some ways most interestingly, the first line tells us that Pilate had built a Tibereum. What that means is, a temple for the Emperor Tiberius, as part of the Imperial Cult. Thus, here we have, at Caesarea Maritima, a Roman Governor building a temple in honor of the Roman Emperor. [Source: “Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

Place Found Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man?

In September 2023, Fox News ran the headline: “Steps where Jesus walked and healed a blind man unearthed for first time in 2,000 years”. It was a reference to excavation of the Pool of Jerusalem. According to a passage in the Gospel of John, Jesus restored the sight of a man born blind at the Pool of Siloam.

stairs where it said Jesus walked in Jerusalem

The pool was rediscovered during digging and construction work for a sewer in the autumn of 2004. Archaeologists Eli Shukron and Ronny Reich, working with the Israel Antiquities Authority, uncovered stone steps, and said these steps were likely to have been part of the Second Temple period pool. Excavations commenced and confirmed the initial supposition; the find was formally announced on August 2005. [Source: Wikipedia]

Brianna Herlihy of Fox News wrote: The pool was first built roughly 2,700 years ago as part of Jerusalem's water system in the eighth century B.C. The construction unfolded during the reign of King Hezekia as cited in the Bible in the Book of Kings II, 20:20, according to the two Israeli agencies and the City of David Foundation. According to estimates, the Pool of Siloam passed through many stages of construction and reached the size of 1.25 acres.[Source: Brianna Herlihy, Fox News, September 7, 2023]

A small section of the pool, which has been fully excavated, has been accessible to the public for several years. The vast majority of the pool is being excavated and will either be opened piecemeal or once the entire site is unearthed. Rev. Johnnie Moore, president of the Congress of Christian Leaders, told Fox News"In the Pool of Siloam, we find evidence of history preserved for us, revealed at just the right time...Theologically, it affirms Scripture, geographically it affirms scripture, and politically it affirms Israel’s unquestionable and unrivaled link to Jerusalem. Some discoveries are theoretical. This one is an undeniable. It is proof of the story of the Bible and of its people, Israel," he said.

House of Jesus's Apostles?

In 2017, archaeologists found what was described in an Israeli newspaper as the "lost home of Jesus's apostles — the home of biblical disciples Peter and Andrew.” Was that really the case? No, Steven Notley, a historical geographer at Nyack College and director of an excavation at el-Araj, a site on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee in the Jordan River delta, told National Geographic. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 4, 2017]

Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: Rather, researchers excavating at the site since 2016 believe they have zeroed in on the city described in the New Testament as the home of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip: Bethsaida. According to the Gospels, Bethsaida was the home of the earliest apostles, as well as the place where Jesus reportedly cured a blind man. While the location of Capernaum, another Galilean fishing village frequently mentioned in the Gospels, was identified in the early 20th century, the location of Bethsaida has remained contested.

So what was actually discovered that's so important? Archaeologists say they have discovered a Roman-era (first- to third-century A.D.) bathhouse at el-Araj, which may be evidence for a significant urban settlement at the site—most likely ancient Bethsaida. Writing at the end of the first century, the Jewish historian Josephus described how the small fishing village of Bethsaida became a Greco-Roman city, or polis, during the reign of Philip the Tetrarch in A.D. 30. Philip, the son of Herod the Great, renamed the city Julias in honour of the mother of Roman emperor Tiberius and was buried there after his death. "[T]he bathhouse attests to the existence of urban culture," el-Araj excavation director Mordechai Aviam of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology told the Israeli newpaper Haaretz.

But isn't there already a site called Bethsaida in the area? Yes. Since 1839, the nearby site of e-Tell has been identified as a possible location for ancient Bethsaida/Julias. The Bethsaida Excavations Project has been excavating e-Tell since 1987 and uncovered major Iron-Age (ninth-century B.C.) fortifications there, as well as several Hellenistic (second-century B.C.) and Roman-period houses with fishing equipment—including iron anchors and fishing hooks—and the remains of what may be a Roman temple.

However, many archaeologists have questioned the identification of e-Tell with the Bethsaida of the New Testament, arguing that the site is too far away (1.5 miles) from the shoreline to have been a fishing centre. In addition, some believe that the Roman remains found there during three decades of excavation are too insignificant to belong to a large, important city of the time. "While the Iron Age remains at Bethsaida are monumental and impressive, the Roman period remains are very poor, and therefore the site does not look like an urban centre," says Jodi Magness, archaeologist and National Geographic grantee. Meanwhile, Rami Arav, director of the Bethsaida Excavations Project at e-Tell, tells National Geographic that there is not enough evidence to identify el-Araj with the ancient city, noting in an that there is no evidence yet at the site for an earlier Jewish fishing village.

So why are we seeing headlines about the "House of the Apostles"? Along with the remains of a Roman-period bathhouse—including a mosaic floor, roof tiles, and vents—at el-Araj, archaeologists also uncovered later evidence for fifth-century walls and gilded-glass mosaics, which suggest the existence of a significant church there during the later Byzantine period. Such mosaics would only appear in "ornate, important churches," Notley observes.He thinks this may be the church described in an eighth-century account of Willibald, the Bavarian bishop of Eichstätt, who traveled in the region around 725 and reported that a church at Bethsaida had been built over the house of the apostle Peter and his brother Andrew.

Cave of Salome — Nurse of Baby Jesus?

Excavations of a cave in the Lachish Forest of Israel reputed to be the burial place of Salome, said in non-canonical scripture to have been nurse to the newborn Jesus, have revealed it was an important Jewish tomb and a Christian pilgrimage site, archaelogists say. Reuters reported: The Book of James, among early Christian writings called the Apochrypha which are not included in the Bible, describes Salome as doubting the account of the virgin birth. Stricken in one arm, she cradles the baby, proclaims him "a great king ... born unto Israel," and is cured. [Source: Dedi Hayoun, Reuters December 21, 2022]

Work to prepare the 2,000-year-old cave for public access unearthed a 350 square-meter (3,767-square-foot) forecourt whose stone slabs and mosaic floors are consistent with a family tomb for prominent Jews, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said. Also found were inscriptions — some in Arabic — and decorated oil lamps consistent with the site having served Christian pilgrims, including through to the ninth century after the Muslim conquest of the region, the IAA said.

The site, about 35 kilometers (22 miles) southwest of Bethlehem, has been known for generations as the Cave of Salome. Earlier excavations located Jewish relics "but the surprise was the adaptation of the cave into a Christian chapel," the IAA said. "Judging by the crosses and the dozens of inscriptions engraved on the cave walls in the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods, the chapel was dedicated to the sacred Salome."

Zvi Firer, Excavation director with the Israel Antiquities Authority, told Reuters: According to a local Christian tradition, Salome was the midwife that helped Mary, the mother of Jesus, give birth to Jesus over there in Bethlehem. She didn't believe that Mary (was) still a virgin. Because of that, her hand just froze in the air. The minute she touched Jesus' cot, her hand came back to life. From then, she became holy for Christians....We knew about the cave for at least 40 years. Everything was buried down. But now, during the excavations to open up the cave for the first time to the public, we found this big yard, one of the biggest yards in Israel, of the entrance to the burial cave. There is almost (not) any yard like that. So during the excavation, also, we found the tens of oil lamps, we saw signs of pilgrims, we saw signs of inscriptions. This is all the newest thing in archeology today in excavations of Israel."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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