Digging Deeper: Part 1
An archaeological exploration of the life of Jesus
by Alexandra Palmer
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To use primary sources to consider some of the archaeological evidence for Jesus and the Bible stories.
Preparation and materials
- Note: this is Part 1 of the assembly ‘Digging Deeper’. Part 2 is available at: https://www.assemblies.org.uk/pri/3493/digging-deeper-part-2
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Digging Deeper - Part 1A and Digging Deeper - Part 1B) and the means to display them.
- You will also need six children with pre-written sentences that state what they would like to find if they joined an archaeological dig. Examples could include finding Blackbeard’s treasure; discovering an Egyptian mummy, tomb or pyramid; and digging for Roman villas and artefacts.
- Show Slide 1 (Part 1A).
Ask the children, ‘Does anybody know what an archaeologist does?’
Explain that an archaeologist digs up objects that people made a long time ago and studies them. The slide shows some examples.
The top two photos are from Jericho, which is in Israel. Jericho is part of a well-known Bible story where the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days until the walls fell down. The top-left photo is what remains of the walls today and the top-right photo shows the oldest structure in the world: a 10,000-year-old round tower. The bottom two photos are of Roman ruins that were discovered in Israel.
- Introduce the six children who have pre-written sentences. Explain that you asked them to write down what they would like to dig for if they were archaeologists.
Invite the children to read out their answers.
- Show Slide 2.
Explain that each year, millions of people visit Israel. They go to see special sights such as David’s Waterfall (top-left photo), float in the Dead Sea (top-middle photo) and experience the country’s archaeology, such as Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is 2,700 years old (right-hand photo), or they go for religious reasons. Jewish people in particular like to visit Israel and pray at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem (bottom photo).
- Show Slide 3.
Explain where Israel is in relation to the UK. On the right-hand map, point out the water source at the top (the Sea of Galilee) and the water source at the bottom (the Dead Sea). The river that connects the two water sources is the River Jordan. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are just to the left of the Dead Sea.
Ask the children, ‘Why is Israel a special place for Christians to visit?’
Answers could include that it’s where Jesus was born, lived, died and came back to life again or it’s where stories from the Bible happened.
- Show Slide 4.
The Bible consists of 66 books, which are split into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The first book in the Old Testament is Genesis and the last one is the Book of Malachi.
Summarize the Bible stories that are pictured on the slide or ask the children to identify which Bible stories they relate to.
- Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
- Joseph and his coat of many colours, who interpreted the pharaoh’s dreams.
- Moses, the baby found in the bulrushes, who eventually led the Israelites out of Egypt.
- David and Goliath.
- Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale.
- Daniel in the lion’s den.
- Show Slide 5.
For a long time, archaeologists wondered how accurate the stories in the Bible were. They wondered whether people had inserted extra bits or taken bits out. About 70 years ago, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in some caves in Qumran, which is next to the Dead Sea. Written on the scrolls were books from the Old Testament. Archaeologists had the scrolls tested and they were found to be 2,100 years old. This means that they were written 100 years before Jesus was born. Archaeologists compared the scrolls to a copy of the Bible that had been written in the year 1000. When the scrolls and the Bible were translated, it was found that the words were exactly the same, so the text hadn’t changed for over 1,000 years!
This meant that archaeologists could be sure that the Bible had been copied out accurately over the centuries because it hadn’t changed. However, what they didn’t know was whether all of the people in the stories had actually existed.
- Show Slide 6.
A lot of archaeology in Israel backs up the stories, places and people in the Old Testament. One of the key people in the Old Testament was King David. When David was a boy, he fought the giant, Goliath. The Bible story told that he became the second king of Israel, but some archaeologists didn’t believe that he existed until they found this stone tablet, which is about 3,000 years old (top photo). The tablet is not complete, but the writing on it is about King David. Archaeologists have also discovered where he lived, which is now known as David’s city in Jerusalem (bottom photos).
- Show Slide 7.
The New Testament part of the Bible starts with stories about Jesus, such as his birth, his teachings, the parables that he told, the miracles that he performed, the people he met, his death and resurrection and his return to heaven.
- Show Slide 8.
Archaeologists have used various ways to work out the story of Jesus and the places that he visited.
- The first source of information is the Bible. Most of the New Testament was written by Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, and the apostle Paul, who knew them.
- The second source of information is the archaeology that has been discovered.
- The third source that archaeologists have used is tradition. They have considered why people have visited places and built churches at those places for nearly 2,000 years to remember Jesus.
- The last source of information is Josephus, a historian who wrote for the Romans. Some of his work is about Jesus and the beginning of Christianity. The photo shows a statue that is thought to be of Josephus.
- Show Slide 9 (Part 1B).
At the start of the nativity story, Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel in a place called Nazareth. He tells her that she is going to have God’s son. The cathedral in the photo was built in 1969 and is on the site of some other churches that were built a long time ago. According to tradition, those churches were built over the remains of Mary’s home.
- Show Slide 10.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (left-hand photo) is built over the spot thought to be where Jesus was born. There has been a church here since the early 300s. The church was built over some caves that were used as stables during Jesus’ time. (What we think of as a stable today was actually a cave.) The bottom-right photo is the spot where Jesus could have been born.
- Show Slide 11.
The shepherds’ fields, where the shepherds were looking after their flocks when they learned of Jesus’ birth, can still be seen today in Bethlehem.
- Show Slide 12.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod was the king. In the Bible, the wise men visited Herod to try to find out where Jesus had been born. If you go to Israel today, you can still see two of his palaces. One of them is called the Herodion (top-right photo), which is near Bethlehem. Herod’s men built onto an existing hill, so it doesn’t actually look much like a palace. The bottom two photos show what is inside the top of the hill.
- Show Slide 13.
Herod also had a palace in the desert at Masada. He could escape to this palace if there was any trouble or if anyone was trying to harm him.
The palace at Masada is close to the Dead Sea. It is built on a rocky outcrop that is more than 400 metres high (top-left photo). The bottom-left photo shows part of the palace and the right-hand photo is the view from the palace to the Dead Sea.
- Show Slide 14.
After the wise men’s visit, Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaped to Egypt because Herod wanted to hurt baby Jesus. A few years later, Herod died and Joseph knew that it would be safe to return home to Nazareth.
The photos show Nazareth village, which is an open-air museum built in Nazareth on the fields worked by Jesus’ friends, family and fellow villagers. Everything that you see is based on archaeological finds that suggest how Jesus would have lived as he was growing up. The top two photos show a replica of a home from Jesus’ time. The bottom three photos show the sort of carpentry tools that Joseph and Jesus would have used, somebody weaving wool to make clothes and a shepherd looking after his sheep.
- If you are only using Part 1 of this assembly, point out that the assembly will continue later in the week.
Time for reflection
Christians believe that the Bible is true. Over the years, archaeologists and others have discovered many things that back up the Bible stories and reassure us that they really are true.
It is fascinating to see the places where events that are so well-known have taken place. Christians and people from other religions often visit the places where the founders of their religions lived or visited. Sometimes, these visits are called pilgrimages.
Thank you for the love that you have for all of us.
Thank you for all the evidence that Jesus lived, died and came back to life.
Thank you for the work of historians, scientists and archaeologists.
Thank you that each of us have special skills and abilities that can be used by you.
‘We have a king who rides a donkey’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSbEEwik2hs (2.25 minutes long)