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