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In his 1993 book on The Roman Near East published by Harvard University Press, Fergus Millar—now emeritus professor of ancient history at Oxford University—wrote:

The Gospels provide an extremely vivid, and in geographical terms quite extensive, view of what the area of Jewish settlement was in Jesus’ time.

Not everyone believes or knows that, though.

Simon Gathercole—Reader in New Testament Studies and Director of Studies at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University—recently gave a lecture at Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas, on “The Journeys of Jesus and Jewish Geography.”

Here is a description:

The Gospels in the New Testament contain a remarkable amount of geographical information, especially in the quantity of references to areas, towns, and villages that Jesus (and John the Baptist) visited.

Are these genuine or fictitious?

Some Jesus skeptics have doubted the existence of places like Nazareth and Capernaum.

Even many New Testament scholars are unaware of the evidence for Gospel sites.

Strikingly, however, a huge proportion of the place-names in the Gospels are paralleled in Jewish literature outside the New Testament, even down to some of the small villages.

This illustrated lecture will examine the historical evidence, some already known, some presented for the first time, for the places in the Gospel.  It will show how this evidence has clear implications for the reliability of the Gospel narratives.

You can watch the lecture below (and view the slides here):

Gathercole finds attestations of the places in the canonical Gospels in three locations: (1) Old Testament, (2) Josephus, (3) Rabbinic literature.

OT
Jerusalem
Jericho
Tyre
Sidon
Bethlehem
Ephraim
Arimathaea

Josephus
Cana
Capernaum
Gadara
Caesarea
Philippi
Bethsaida
Tiberia
Emmaus

Rabbis
Bethphage
Sychar
Gennesaret
Naim/n
Chorazin
Magdala
Gergesa
Nazareth

Unattested
Magadan
Dalmanutha
Bethany
Aenon
Salim

He closes by comparing the Gospels with both Josephus and Apocrypha.

  • Gospels: 22 out of 27 places attested = 81%
  • Josephus: 35 out of 44 places attested = 80%

Apocryphal Gospels:

  • absence of geographical detail
  • mistakes of geographical detail

See also Peter Williams’s Lanier lecture on new evidence that the Gospels were based on eyewitness testimony:


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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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