Digging Deeper: Part 2
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 2 of the assembly ‘Digging Deeper’. Part 1 is available at:https://www.assemblies.org.uk/pri/3492/digging-deeper-part-1
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Digging Deeper - Part 2A and Digging Deeper - Part 2B) and the means to display them.
- Explain to the children that this assembly follows on from the ‘Digging Deeper - Part 1’ assembly that they’ve already heard.
Last time, we explored the Old Testament stories and the story of Jesus' life from when he was born to when he started to grow up. In this assembly, we are going to continue the story of Jesus’ life and look at some more evidence about the Bible stories.
- Show Slide 1 (Part 2A).
We don’t know much about the early years of Jesus’ life. However, we do know that when Jesus was about 30, he left his role of carpenter and began his special work, which he would carry out over the next three years.
Before Jesus started this work, he knew that he had to do two things. The first thing was to ask his cousin, John the Baptist, to baptize him in the River Jordan. We don’t know the exact spot where Jesus was baptized, but the photo shows part of the River Jordan. Josephus, the historian for the Romans, whom we met in the last assembly, backs up this account because he also wrote about John the Baptist and how he baptized people in the River Jordan.
- Show Slide 2.
The second thing Jesus did was to spend 40 days in the desert, where he went through a tough time because he was tested by the Devil. God allowed this to happen because it was a time of preparation for the next three years. The photo shows the Judaean wilderness where Jesus would have spent his 40 days.
- Show Slide 3.
Jesus chose 12 people to become his disciples. He spent a lot of time with them, teaching them about God and performing amazing miracles. The disciples weren’t highly qualified people or priests who already taught about God. Instead, they were ordinary people with ordinary jobs. For example, Simon - who was renamed Peter by Jesus - Andrew, James and John were all fishermen.
Archaeologists know what the disciples’ fishing boats would have looked like because they found this boat buried in the mud in Lake Galilee (top-left photo). Special tests were done on the wood and the boat was dated to the time of Jesus. The bottom-left photo is how the disciples would have fished: by throwing their nets over the side of the boat. The bottom-right photo is Capernaum, where some of the disciples lived and where Jesus taught about God.
- Show Slide 4.
The disciple Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. After Jesus returned to heaven, Peter went on to help establish the Christian Church in the Roman Empire.
Archaeologists know a few things about Peter. First, they know where he died and was buried: St Peter’s Basilica in Rome (where the Pope lives) is said to be Peter’s burial site (left-hand photo). They also know where Peter lived in Israel, which was next to Lake Galilee in Capernaum. Not long after Peter died, a church was built over his house, and several churches have been built over the site since then (right-hand photos). The stone with no concrete on in the bottom-right photo was part of Peter’s home.
- Show Slide 5.
For three years, Jesus taught about God and the right way to live. One of the places where he taught was on the Mount of Beatitudes, which is next to Lake Galilee (top photo). Jesus also told stories called parables, which have an important message or meaning. One of the most well-known parables is that of the Good Samaritan. This is set in the Judaean wilderness, on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho (bottom photo). The meaning of the parable is that we all need to help and look after one another.
- Show Slide 6.
Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding. In Jesus’ time, wedding celebrations would normally last several days, and it wouldn’t look good if the families throwing the party ran out of food or wine. However, on one occasion, that is exactly what did happen: the wine ran out. Jesus’ mum, Mary, asked Jesus to fix the problem, so he turned water into wine.
The photo shows Lake Galilee, which is where some of Jesus’ other miracles took place. This is where he calmed a storm and walked on water. Nearby, Jesus fed 5,000 people from a few loaves and fishes.
- Show Slide 7.
Jesus also carried out healings. He made the blind see, he made the deaf hear and he healed the sick. One of Jesus’ healings took place at the Pool of Bethesda (photo). Originally, most of what you can see in the photo would have been covered by earth; the only thing visible would have been the church on the right. However, some archaeologists dug down and uncovered the pool. They knew straightaway that it was the Pool of Bethesda because there is a description of it in the New Testament.
- Show Slide 8.
Caesarea Philippi was where the Romans went to worship their gods. It’s also a place that Josephus wrote about and where Jesus took his disciples in the last couple of months before he died on the cross. While Jesus stood next to the Roman temples, he asked his disciples who they thought he was. Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah, which means God’s son. Josephus also wrote about Jesus, saying that he was a wise man who was also known as the Messiah.
- Show Slide 9.
The day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey is the day that we call Palm Sunday. He rode on a donkey across the Kidron Valley (top-left photo) and through the Golden Gate, which has now been bricked up (bottom-right photo).
In Jesus’ time, people wouldn’t have had flags and banners to wave like we do today. Instead, they used leaves from palm trees to cheer Jesus into Jerusalem. The people were excited to see him because they had heard about Jesus’ miracles. However, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, he knew that he was going to die on a cross.
- Show Slide 10.
The top photo is of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was built by the Muslims during the 600s, but in Jesus’ time, this is where the Jewish temple stood.
The bottom photo shows a model of what the temple looked like before it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. The temple was where Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, met with the priests and agreed to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He did this because he was cross with Jesus.
- Show Slide 11 (Part 2B).
Jesus and his disciples gathered together to eat the Passover meal, or Last Supper. The Passover meal is important for Jewish people because it remembers Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. The Last Supper is important for Christians, too, because it was the last meal that Jesus ate before he died on the cross. Jesus knew what was going to happen to him, so, after he had finished eating, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (photo).
- Show Slide 12.
After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the soldiers may have taken him to the Antonia Fortress. Some Christians believe that this is where Jesus’ trial took place. It was during the night of the trial that Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, denied three times that he knew Jesus. During the Last Supper, Jesus had told Peter that, before the cockerel crowed the next morning, Peter would have denied three times that he knew Jesus. When this came to pass, Peter felt shocked and terrible.
Little remains of the Antonia Fortress today, but it was built to protect and control the Jewish temple. The top-right photo is a model of the fortress; the left part of the model shows the Jewish temple. Roman soldiers lived at the fortress (the left-hand photo shows what it looks like inside). The right-hand photo is a game that the soldiers played that has been etched into the stone floor.
- Show Slide 13.
Priest Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate are people who are connected to Jesus’ trial. Both are mentioned in the Bible and by Josephus.
- Caiaphas was the high priest in charge of Jesus’ trial. Nearly 30 years ago, archaeologists discovered a box that had belonged to the priest (bottom-right photo).
- Pontius Pilate asked the people of Jerusalem if he should free the criminal Barabbas or Jesus. The crowd shouted for Barabbas, which is why Jesus ended up dying on the cross. Archaeologists found a stone tablet with writing about Pilate (left-hand photo) and, at the Herodion, they found Pontius Pilate’s ring, which has his name on it (top photo).
- Show Slide 14.
The Bible tells us that Jesus died on the cross at Golgotha, which means ‘place of the skull’. The left-hand photo shows what the skull looked like before it started to disappear. The right-hand photo is what it looks like today. But why did Jesus die on the cross?
Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross because he loved us and wanted God to forgive us for anything that we do wrong. They believe that God always wants to forgive people if they ask him for forgiveness.
- Show Slide 15.
After Jesus died, his body was taken off the cross and placed in an empty tomb. Today, we call this day Good Friday. Three days later, Jesus came back to life again, on the day that we call Easter Sunday. The Garden Tomb is close to Golgotha and could be where Jesus was buried and came back to life.
- Show Slide 16.
After Jesus came back to life, he appeared to the disciples several times over a period of 40 days. Josephus writes about the reports of Jesus’ resurrection and how he appeared to his disciples. On one occasion, Jesus cooked a breakfast of fish for the disciples after they’d been fishing all night. It was here that Jesus made it clear that he had forgiven Peter and that he still had an important plan for his life.
- Show Slide 17.
The photo shows the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, which is where Jesus returned to heaven.
Time for reflection
Remind the children that we all have skills and abilities that we will use to achieve our goals in life. Ask the children for some examples of jobs that they would like to do. Perhaps they would like to be archaeologists!
Show Slide 18.
Remind the children that Jesus chose 12 disciples at the start of his special work. They were a diverse group and all of them had different skills and qualities, but Jesus knew that they would all have an important job to do in the future. He needed a team who would work well together in delivering his message to people after he had returned to heaven.
However, Jesus never expected the disciples to do this work all on their own. Instead, God sent the Holy Spirit to help the disciples spread the good news about Jesus, which is what Christians celebrate at Pentecost.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up in front of a large crowd of people and began to teach them about Jesus. This probably happened on these stone steps at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (photos). After Peter spoke about God, 3,000 people became Christians. Peter spent the next 33 years teaching around the Roman Empire and helped to establish the Christian Church.
Show Slide 19.
Remind the children that in the ‘Digging Deeper - Part 1’ assembly, we considered that archaeologists use different 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.
We have looked at a few examples of these during the two assemblies.
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.
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)