by Nicolae Roddy
As a follow-up to my recent article “Where are the Orthodox Biblical Archaeologists?” it seems timely to present the fascinating story of the single greatest exception to the rule: Vassilios Tzaferis, the Greek Orthodox monk-turned-archaeologist who discovered the material remains of the only crucified man ever found.
Tzaferis was born to a rural peasant family on April 1, 1936, on the island of Samos, Greece. His childhood coincided with the Axis occupation during WWII, followed by the Greek civil war. In 1950, encouraged by his father and the village priest, fourteen-year old Vassilios traveled to the East Jerusalem to study theology at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He was ordained a deacon six years later, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and assigned to the Greek Orthodox community of Nazareth, in the newly established state of Israel.
Two years later, Tzaferis was ordained a priest, but his thirst for learning compelled him to seek permission to study in Athens. His request was denied, but he decided to go anyway. Unwilling to lose such a gifted young priest, Patriarch Benedictos persuaded him to stay, permitting him to enroll in a degree program in history and archaeology at Hebrew University. In a 2010 newspaper interview, Tzaferis mused how students stared in wonder at his monastic garb, a sight so out of the ordinary that even David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s foremost founder and its first prime minister, asked to see the monk who was studying archaeology (Haaretz, Oct. 29, 2010). Continue reading
by Nicolae Roddy
An unshakable question has been clinging to the bottom of my shoe for all of twenty years now. As co-director and area supervisor for the Bethsaida Archaeology Project I have been actively involved in overseeing excavations and writing reports at the site generally accepted as the ancient Galilean village where Jesus of Nazareth called his first disciples; however, as an Orthodox Christian I am at a loss to explain why over the span of two decades, almost without exception I have encountered no Orthodox Christian archaeologists working in Palestine. As Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority confirms, “Indeed, the involvement of Orthodox Christians in the archaeology of the Holy Land has been limited.”
It should be clear that I am not talking about ecclesiastical oversight of pilgrimage and touristic sites on the part of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, or the Russian Orthodox Church’s Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society. I am also not discounting the work of Orthodox biblical scholars who incorporate archaeological findings in their scholarship. I am referring to dedicated professionals and institutions who not only dig in the field, but publish archaeological reports and deliver their findings at professional conferences. Moreover, having led volunteers from Mexico, Germany, Austria, France, and Poland, apart from sponsoring two Romanian Orthodox volunteers from an archaeology class I teach at the University of Bucharest, I have never had a volunteer from an Orthodox-majority nation (although I realize that economic factors may be at play). It appears that Orthodox Christians worldwide exhibit significantly less interest in the material culture of the biblical world than western Christians. Having queried Orthodox clergy and laity on the topic, I find attitudes toward biblical archaeology to be largely positive or at least neutral, their collective response summed up along the lines of “generally interested, but not terribly so.” Continue reading