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Exploring the Ancient Site of Yodefat

Marc Turnage, the executive director of the AG Center for Holy Lands Studies, examines the Ancient site of Yodefat and what it reveals about the time period that Jesus walked the earth.

Marc Turnage, the executive director of the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies, provides a monthly column that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. This month he examines the ancient site of Yodefat and what it reveals about the time period that Jesus walked the earth.

Yodefat lies in the hills three miles north of Nazareth, Jesus' hometown across the Beit Neatofa Valley, an easy day's walk. The primary industries of Yodefat were textiles and pottery manufacturing. The inhabitants of Yodefat herded sheep and goats for the purpose of converting their wool into fabrics and textiles. Archeologists at Yodefat discovered a number of loom weights, which indicates that an industry of textiles came from Yodefat, throughout Galilee.

Yodefat provides an important window into the world of Jesus and the gospels. During the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73), the first century Jewish historian Josephus relates that he commanded the Jewish forces in Galilee. He fortified villages throughout Galilee including Yodefat. The Roman army laid siege to Yodefat building a siege ramp for soldiers to crossover the wall of Yodefat. As the Roman forces besieged Yodefat, Josephus and some of his men hid in a cave. He convinced them to commit suicide rather than surrender to Rome. When the moment came for his death, however, he changed his mind and surrendered to Rome. He was taken to the camp of the general Vespasian. Roman forces destroyed Yodefat. It was never rebuilt.

Yodefat provides a time capsule into the Galilean world of Jesus and the gospels. Archaeological excavations at Yodefat show the social strata of a Galilean village. A home with beautifully painted frescoes was discovered similar to first century priestly homes discovered in Jerusalem. The finds of Yodefat also indicate the presence of both merchant and artisan classes, who owned and distributed, manufactured and produced textiles and pottery, within this Galilean village. We can also assume the presence of poor people as well, but they do not leave remains within the archaeological record.

The excavations Yodefat speak to the religious life of first century Galileans. While a synagogue has not yet been discovered, archaeologists uncovered Jewish ritual immersion pools (mikva'ot). Stone vessels, which indicate a concern for Jewish ritual purity laws. The animal bones discovered at Yodefat show a distinct avoidance of pigs in accordance with Jewish law. The archaeology of Yodefat indicates that the people living in this village were Jews concerned with observance of Jewish law.

These were the Galileans to whom Jesus taught, healed, and ministered. Yodefat was destroyed a little over 30 years after Jesus' crucifixion. When we touch the site of Yodefat, we touch the Galilee of Jesus and his disciples. The pottery that litters the ground of Yodefat is the kind of pottery used by Mary in Nazareth. Yodefat's close proximity to Nazareth suggests that Jesus would have known this Galilean village, and likely visited it. And it offers a view of the hills and valleys that Jesus and his disciples traveled.