CANA, Israel – Among the roots of ancient olive trees, archaeologists have found pieces of large stone jars of the type the Gospel says Jesus used when he turned water into wine at a Jewish wedding in the Galilee village of Cana (search).
They believe these could have been the same kind of vessels the Bible says Jesus used in his first miracle, and that the site where they were found could be the location of biblical Cana. But Bible scholars caution it'll be hard to obtain conclusive proof — especially since experts disagree on exactly where Cana was located.
Christian theologians attach great significance to the water-to-wine miracle at Cana. The act was not only Jesus' first miracle, but it also came at a crucial point in the early days of his public ministry — when his reputation was growing, he had just selected his disciples and was under pressure to demonstrate his divinity.
The shards were found during a salvage dig in modern-day Cana, between Nazareth and Capernaum. Israeli archaeologist Yardena Alexander (search) believes the Arab town was built near the ancient village. The jar pieces date to the Roman period, when Jesus traveled in the Galilee.
"All indications from the archaeological excavations suggest that the site of the wedding was (modern-day) Cana, the site that we have been investigating," said Alexander, as she cleaned the site of mud from winter rains.
However, American archaeologists excavating a rival site several miles to the north have also found pieces of stone jars from the time of Jesus, and believe they have found biblical Cana.
Another expert, archaeologist Shimon Gibson (search), cast doubt on the find at modern Cana, since such vessels are not rare and it would be impossible to link a particular set of vessels to the miracle.
"Just the existence of stone vessels is not enough to prove that this is a biblical site," and more excavations are needed, he said.
Based on the shards, Alexander believes the vessels found at her site were 12 to 16 inches in diameter — or large enough to be the same type of jars described in the Gospel of John.
Other evidence that might link the site to the biblical account includes the presence of a Jewish ritual bath at the house, which shows it was a Jewish community. Locally produced pottery was used at the simple house, showing it could have been from the poor village described in the Scriptures.
Stephen Pfann, a Bible scholar in Jerusalem, said that while the American dig has generally been accepted by scholars as the true site, the shards found in modern-day Cana raise new questions.
"I think there is ample evidence that both sites are from the first century, and we need more information to correctly identify either site," Pfann said.
Alexander has been digging in modern Cana since 1999.
The current find came in a last-ditch "salvage dig" before a house is built on the site. A Christian Arab family financed part of the excavation, in accordance with Israeli law, before construction can begin.
Alexander believes that with more substantial investment, the site could became a major tourist attraction and pilgrimage destination.
"We're really working very hard to save some of this site because what we do have here is a village of Jesus," she said. "And it was here that he carried out the first miracle."