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The gospels say that Jesus's home village was Nazareth. A book by Rene Salm claims that according to archaeological evidence, the village of Nazareth didn't become inhabited until after the time when Jesus lived. Googling for opinions about Salm's work turns up a description of a book review by archaeologist Ken Dark, but I haven't been able to access the actual review. Is Salm's claim right? Wrong? Debatable?

[EDITS]

The summary on the book's amazon page makes a claim that seems to differ from the claim rebutted in the 2020 paper by Y. Alexandre referred to by the accepted answer. In Alexandre's characterization, Salm's claim involves first displacing the village from the town currently known as Nazareth, and then showing that the site he favors was uninhabited at the time in question.

Related: Did Jesus live?

References

  • K. Dark, review of Salm, Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society [BAIAS] (Vol. 26, 2008)

  • Rene Salm, The Myth Of Nazareth: The Invented Town Of Jesus, American Atheist Press, 2008

  • R. Salm, Response to 'Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997-2002): Final Report', with replies to Salm from S.J. Pfann, Y. Rapuano and K. Dark ( wayback )

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Comments around the question of the existence of historical Jesus are not helping in improving the question. If you have relevant, reliable sources on the topic, please add an answer to the question Did Jesus live? instead. – tim Jan 27 at 15:37
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    It is very hard to archeologically prove that there wasn't a settlement anywhere, as long as it was above water and such. – Stian Yttervik Jan 29 at 9:10
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There's a 2020 article "The Settlement History of Nazareth in the Iron Age and Early Roman Period" that reviews the results from a small-scale excavation (120 square meters) in a location of what is today's Nazareth. As with many old settlements, the archaeological record is treated as forming different strata. For the purpose of this question, Stratum II is most relevant, as it covers the Late Hellenistic–Early Roman periods (first century BCE to second century CE). But it's noteworthy that there is evidence also for an Iron Age settlement from Stratum III, which precedes Stratum II by a few centuries (9th to 8th century BCE).

According to the article, there is archaeological evidence from Stratum II that the location was settled:

In Stratum II, the remains of a building consisting of a few small rooms were exposed [...] The walls were mostly poorly preserved due to later building activities, but it seems that the rooms were part of a single house that may have extended beyond the excavation limits.

The authors directly address Salm's claims, and conclude that his position is not compatible with their own and also previous archaeological findings (my emphasis):

The earliest literary mention of Nazareth is in the New Testament as the childhood home of Jesus (Matthew 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–38, 56). The identification of the Early Roman village with present-day Nazareth was challenged by Rene Salm, who proposed that ancient Nazareth must have been situated inside present-day Yafi‘a (Salm 2008; 2015) and claimed that the identification of the Early Roman village inside modern Nazareth is a religious hoax. However, the numerous archaeological remains exposed so far in the boundaries of the old center of Nazareth clearly testify to a Jewish village of the Early Roman period at this site (Fig. 2). The present excavation joins the previous findings and supports this understanding. It is true that remains of the same period have also been exposed in present-day Yafi‘a (Alexandre 2012b). However, this fact does not justify transferring the identification of Early Roman Nazareth there, which ignores the archaeological findings in present-day Nazareth and disregards the long-existing tradition that links the modern city with the New Testament location. In the Early Roman period, Nazareth and Yafi‘a were two separate small villages located on separate hills 3 km apart (Fig. 1).

Thus, it seems that Salm's claim is not in line with the historical evidence.

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    Inasmuch as Salm is being published by the American Atheist Press, it is perhaps also worth noting that whether the village currently known as Nazareth existed and had the same name during the first century C.E. is of no particular significance with respect to religious claims about Jesus of Nazareth. At least, not by itself. Sometimes settlements are destroyed / abandoned and rebuilt elsewhere. Sometimes names change. – John Bollinger Jan 27 at 15:47
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    @BenCrowell My understanding is that he's more the sum total of that current among academicians, and that the Christ Myth theory is considered untenable fringe by almost all scholars in Bible studies and Ancient History (of course, this says nothing about the validity of the religious claims). Frankly I'd be highly skeptical of anything that Price endorses.. – Denis Nardin Jan 27 at 18:55
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    >> and conclude that they are not in agreement with their findings. It may be worth changing 'their' to 'Salim's'. For a second I thought the article's authors had done a backflip. – mcalex Jan 28 at 3:52
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    @BenCrowell The Jesus Seminar does not represent the scholarly range of views on the subject. It is mostly composed of laymen and heavily criticized by real scholars. – user76284 Jan 28 at 5:45
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    One additional point here: even if Salm's claim is accurate, it's important to note he's not claiming there was no Nazareth, but only the Nazareth of that time was located about a mile to the East. One whole mile. – Joel Coehoorn Jan 28 at 16:22

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