R. Steven Notley is Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins on the New York City campus of Nyack College and chair of the college’s Biblical and Theological Studies Department. He received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University and lived for 16 years in Jerusalem, during which time he was the founding chair of the New Testament Studies program at Jerusalem University College. He is the author of many books and articles and engages in collaborative research and publication with Israeli scholars in the fields of historical geography, ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He collaborated with David Flusser on the historical biography, The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (Eerdmans 2007); with Anson Rainey on the biblical atlas, The Sacred Bridge (Carta 2005); and with Ze’ev Safrai on an annotated translation of Eusebius’ important description of Roman Palestine, Eusebius’ Onomasticon: A Triglott Edition with Notes and Commentary (Brill 2005). He rejoined Safrai for their second work, The Parables of Sages (Carta 2011), a pioneering collection and translation of the earliest rabbinic parables that provide literary and religious context for the parables of Jesus. Since 2016, he has served as the Academic Director of the El Araj Excavation Project in its search for first-century Bethsaida-Julias, the lost city of the Apostles.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXVI, November 17 – 19, 2023
Jesus and the Passover: What Can Archaeology Tell Us About the Last Supper?
Much has been written about whether or not “the Last Supper” of Jesus was a Passover meal. To a large extent how one answers this question is dependent upon their reading of the New Testament accounts. The Gospel of John clearly distinguishes between the Last Supper and the beginning of Passover, while according to Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells those gathered with him, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you” (Luke 22:15). Our predicament is not unique in the study of history where the historical sources do not always agree. Fortunately, archaeological discoveries in the last century and a careful reappraisal of the language in the accounts can greatly assist us. In this presentation we will find that there is little reason to question that Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his followers in Jerusalem on the eve of his tragic death.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXV, October 8 & 9, 2022
Byzantine Bethsaida and the House of St. Peter
The aim of this study is to investigate the historical implications of the basilica discovered at Khirbet el-A’raj (Bethsaida) in 2021. In the absence of an alternative church, since 1921 both scholarly and popular writings have redirected the Byzantine testimony for a basilica built over the house of Peter to the Octagon (as the excavator Gaudenzio Orfali called it) in Capernaum. Yet, this modern innovation stands in the face of centuries of Byzantine tradition that consistently identified Peter’s home in Bethsaida and not in Capernaum. In this presentation we will consider the most recent results from the 2022 season at Khirbet el-A’raj, the appropriation of the Byzantine tradition by the Franciscan excavators at Capernaum, and ask whether the newly excavated basilica at Bethsaida might be a better candidate for the traditional church built over the house of Peter and Andrew.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXIV, October 16 – 17, 2021
In Search of Armageddon
My lecture will challenge the ubiquitous attempts to identify the elusive name from Rev. 16:16 with Megiddo. This idea is fraught with problems, not the least of which is the fact that by the first century Megiddo had long since been lost and forgotten. Unfortunately, the conversation is generally dominated by those immersed in OT archaeology who do not take into account that the setting had changed entirely by the first century. At a minimum the article/presentation calls for some rethinking.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXIII, October 24 – 25, 2020
What Language(s) Did Jesus Speak and What Difference Does It Make?
NT scholarship perpetuates the 150 year mistaken notion that Hebrew was a dead (or mostly dead) language by the first century CE. I present evidence that Hebrew was alive and well in the first century and explore its implications for how we read the words of Jesus that have been preserved in Greek but most certainly were spoken in Hebrew.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXII, November 22 – 24, 2019
Unmasking A Case of Collusion: Who Killed Jesus and Why?
Recently R. Steven Notley wrote an article looking at what archaeology can tell us about an infamous Roman governor, “Pontius Pilate: Sadist or Saint?” (BAR July/August 2017: 41-49, 59-60). In the course of his research for the article, he realized that New Testament scholars have overlooked an important contribution from archaeology in addressing an age-old question: Who was complicit in the death of Jesus and what motivated them? In this talk he will reconsider the central figures presented in the Gospel passion narratives, the traditional view of them, and how archaeology can help to lift the veil on the tragic events that took place under the cloak of darkness. The answer is to be found through a careful reading of the diverging Gospel accounts and a fresh look at the central figures in light of recent archaeological discoveries. The results will challenge our reading of the Gospels and the traditional understanding of who were the friends and the foes of Jesus.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXI, November 16 – 18, 2018
Historical Geography of the Gospels and the Myth of Q
Over the last 150 years an unassailable assumption of New Testament scholarship has been that Mark wrote his gospel first, and that it was subsequently used by Matthew and Luke in the composition of their gospels. To explain the content common to Matthew and Luke, but not present in Mark, it is suggested that they relied upon a hypothetical literary source that no longer exists. It is commonly designated as “Q” from the German term Quelle (source). In this presentation we will demonstrate that this literary model has paid insufficient attention to the historical and geographical realia in the gospels. We will bring several examples which quite simply cannot be reconciled with New Testament scholarship’s assumption about the literary development of the Gospel tradition. A challenge to the prevailing literary model is of no small consequence. Like lenses in a camera, a change in order and perspective inevitably means a change in the image that emerges of the historical Jesus, his life, and his message.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XX, November 17 – 19, 2017
Unearthing Bethsaida-Julias: Has the City of Apostles Been Found?
For the last two seasons archaeologists and volunteers from Kinneret College (Israel) and Nyack College (New York) have excavated at el-Araj, one of the possible locations for Bethsaida mentioned in the New Testament, Josephus, and other early Jewish sources. In August, headlines around the world announced that the city of the Apostles had finally been found. What was unearthed and why is it significant? How do the excavations at el-Araj compare with the historical picture we receive of Bethsaida-Julias from the written sources? Notley will present the findings from the second season of the El-Araj Excavation Project, which may have finally found evidence for Herod Philip’s urbanization of this fishing village on the Sea of Galilee, transforming it into a Jewish polis.
Bible Fest XIX, November 18 – 20, 2016
Jesus in the Land
In this presentation we consider the contribution of recent archaeology to our understanding of events recorded in the Gospels. Jesus’ life and work were in the Land of Israel, and yet too often consideration of the physical setting for those events is all but ignored. Recent archaeological discoveries of early Roman remains at Yodfat, Migdal and Tel Rekhesh continue to challenge previous scholarly opinion about the cultural nature of the Galilee. It does not now appear to be the impoverished, uneducated, and religiously indifferent backwater assumed by previous generations of scholars. These mistaken perceptions likewise shaped assumptions regarding the historical Jesus and his place in Jewish life in the Galilee. We look at these archaeological finds and the new excavations at el-Araj (historically one of the candidates for New Testament Bethsaida), asking what they tell us about the setting for the Gospels. Recent archaeological efforts in Jerusalem have also called for a reappraisal of long-held notions. We will briefly consider what the salvage excavation from the Temple Mount can tell us about the way of the cross and the elusive lithostratos.