NAZARETH, Israel — Just in time for Christmas, archaeologists on Monday unveiled what may have been the home of one of Jesus' childhood neighbors.
The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.
Archaeologists and present-day residents of Nazareth imagined Jesus as a youngster, playing with other children not far from the spot where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would give birth to the boy.
Today the ornate Basilica of the Annunciation marks that spot, and Nazareth is the largest Arab city in northern Israel, with about 65,000 residents. Muslims now outnumber Christians two to one.
The archaeological find shows how different it was 2000 years ago: There were no Christians or Muslims, the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem, and tiny Nazareth stood near a battleground between Roman rulers and Jewish guerrillas.
The Jews of Nazareth dug camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority. But the hamlet was so far off the beaten path that the caves were apparently not needed, she said.
"This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends. "It's a logical suggestion."
The discovery so close to Christmas pleased local Christians.
"They say if the people do not speak, the stones will speak," said the Rev. Jack Karam of the nearby basilica.
Alexandre said workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling last summer, but it became clear only this month that it was a structure from the days of Jesus.