Claim of biblical bathhouse refuted

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

JERUSALEM -- An ancient bathhouse unearthed beneath a Nazareth souvenir shop dates back to Crusader times and is not, as the shop owner believes, a Roman bath which may have been used by Jesus, archaeologists and Bible scholars said Tuesday.

In 1993, Christian Arab businessman Elias Shama bought the shop, which lies a few paces from a well where Eastern Orthodox churches believe the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus.

"We bought the place in a very terrible condition and we wanted to fix it up," he said in a phone interview.

What emerged after years of labor was a vaulted and tiled room, with underfloor heating.

Archaeologist Tzvi Shacham, of the Tel Aviv Antiquities Museum, says all the evidence indicates the bath, like the neighboring Greek Orthodox Church of St. Gabriel, was built during the Crusader period, at least a millennium after Christ.

He based his conclusion on an examination of the site and said finds above and below it date from the Crusader period.

Stephen Pfann, president of the Jerusalem-based University of the Holy Land, said the Roman part of Nazareth covered a small area where the modern Basilica of the Annunciation now stands, and it never extended as far as the well and Shama's shop.

"It's clearly not going to be Roman," he said.

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