I have heard for the last several months by one of the theologians/biblical scholars I listen to/read has mentioned a new book coming out which would analyze the evidence relating to the existence and time of existence of Nazareth, the small town in Galilee best known for being the town where Jesus came from (and perhaps born in according to modern scholarship). That book is just about to hit the market. The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus by Rene Salm will be on shelves (or online) come Easter Sunday (I wonder why). At this point on Amazon.com, there are two editorial reviews, one by Dr. Robert M. Price, author of many great books, including Deconstructing Jesus, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, and much more; the other is by Frank R. Zindler, a major atheist today.
I was initially excited about this book since I have heard about there being a lack of literary evidence for Nazareth (zilch in Josephus, the Talmud, the Mishnah, etc.), but that there was archaeological evidence for this. John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed in their book Excavating Jesus, for example, made a fair amount of mention to the evidence that told of the town being very small during the time of Jesus–in the tens of people if memory serves me right. (See also Chad Fife Emmett (1995). Beyond the Basilica:Christians and Muslims in Nazareth. University of Chicago Press, who on p. 16 says home in Nazareth are from the Roman period, about 63 BCE to 324 CE) So, Rene Salm has a lot of things to deal with. But who is Rene Salm? Apparently, there is nothing to suggest he is an archaeologist, or a lettered biblical scholar like Crossan. Here is what is given about him on Amazon.com:
For 30 years a scholar of early Buddhism as well as Christianity, René Salm is also a published composer of classical piano music and a linguist who commands many ancient and modern languages ranging from Aramaic, Hebrew, and Pali, to German, French, and Italian. In addition, he is a mental-health professional and concert-quality pianist. Salm resides in Eugene, Oregon, without need of car or television. The Myth Of Nazareth lays the foundation for a projected sequel — a new account of Christian origins that will investigate suppressed evidence of Gnostic, Judean, and Essene roots of Christianity.
This profile is nothing but red flags to me. What point is there in mentioning his piano abilities or that he doesn’t have a TV or car? It is also odd that this blurb does not mention knowledge of Greek of Lain, two languages that would seem to be rather useful for researching Romanized and Hellenized Judea. And Pali is not very useful at all, since it is a language in India, though it is at least Indo-European like Greek and Latin.
This figure also has nothing published in peer-reviewed literature on the subject as far as I can tell, and others have looked as well, including Rook Hawkins and Richard Carrier, both of which are very skeptical of the New Testament and the existence of a historical Jesus. This is an odd situation of Salm, since he claims to have been working on this subject for eight years, yet has not taken the time to get anything published in peer-reviewed journals. Even his book is not in any sort of hard peer-review since it printed by American Atheist Press instead of a university press or even Prometheus. This apparent avoidance of the process seems like another significant red flag. And after listening to Salm on The Infidel Guy Show recently, it seems he should have since he was making claims about the archaeologists’ ineptness in dating certain artifacts. Such a charge against those in the field is something to not be taken lightly, but to avoid that position from being scrutinized by the top minds in the field gives the impression of the man yelling in the street rather than the academic trying to persuade his peers with reason and evidence.
Now, I do not want to say that this means Salm is wrong, but in avoiding those that can better analyze his work makes me very uncomfortable about his work. It also seems to carry the flag of mission or agenda. For example, Zindler in his review of the book says “Christianity cannot survive unless this book can be refuted.” Such a statement seems to suggest that the book is good because it topples a major pillar of the Christian religion. What is also glaring to me that this statement is simply wrong. It seems that Christianity can survive just fine if the stories about Nazareth are not historical. Firstly, fundamentalists can just deny the book as they can all of modern science that points to an ancient earth with huge-scale evolution of living creatures. Secondly, liberal Christians can take the hit just fine. Bishop Shelby Spong has no problem saying the virgin birth was probably not historical and John Crossan does not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, yet both are professing Christians. Besides, modern scholars have tried to move the major events of Jesus’ life from Nazareth to other towns near-by, such as Caesarea. Plus, archaeologists such as Aviram Oshri have argued that the Bethlehem of history is not in Judea but in Galilee near Nazareth. So, either with or without much intellectual fortitude the non-existence of Nazareth does not kill Christianity.
So, one of the few things that still attaches me to the book is Dr. Price’s appraisal of the book. ” I am amazed by your work and can’t wait to see the pathetic attempts to reply!” as it says on Amazon.com. It is true that Price takes many, many radical views, including 2nd century dates for all the gospels, the inauthenticity of all the Pauline letters (a la Dutch Radicalism), and the probable non-historicity of Jesus. However, in each of these cases he has presented powerful arguments himself or his references has arguments that are hard to ignore, at least for me. Further, he had plenty of negative things to say about Caesar’s Messiah, a book claiming that the gospels are just about the Flavian emperors and was created as a Roman conspiracy, and originally about the work of Acharya S–more recently, his negative review of Acharya’s book was removed and now the two are more friendly, even working together. So, Price doesn’t just shallow everything anti-Christian he finds. Yet, Price is not an archaeologist so I don’t know if he can really have as powerful as opinion as someone in the field on the subject of the physical evidence for the town of Nazareth in the early 1st century CE.
Rook Hawkins has previously written on the subject and he has more depth into this than I am able or willing to do, both here and here. He does quote so much from Richard Carrier it becomes a bit much for one’s own person blog, but Carrier’s points are solid so I can’t really blame him for not rewriting Carrier’s statements.
So, I don’t plan on buying this book until some other historians take a look at it and give me the scoop on the quality of the book. Maybe Salm is correct, in which case it has some bearing on my own work on the Star of Bethlehem and the infancy stories of Jesus in general. If he is right, I have to make some revisions in my own book in the works; if not, they why not is also important to me.