Continuing our journey on Day 5, we will travel north of the Valley of Jezreel to the town of Jesus’ youth, Nazareth. The town is situated between the Sea of Galilee (15 miles east) and the Mediterranean (20 miles west). This city is where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus. After His birth in Bethlehem, they returned to Nazareth as their home. Scripture refers to Nazareth as the village where Joseph and Mary resided and raised Jesus. When Jesus first set foot to begin in His ministry in the flesh on earth, He left Nazareth to visit the towns of Galilee. When He returned there and spoke in the synagogue, He was met with a harsh reaction. Many people identified Christ as coming from Nazareth, to which some gave a less than favorable reaction (“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”).
Matthew 4:15 quotes Isaiah 9:1 as a prophecy fulfilled, referring to “Galilee of the Gentiles.” It is important to note here that Jesus spent His childhood in a city within a region that did not have a closed-minded Judaizing command that held foreigners with contempt. This will be a decisive factor for Christianity to reach the world as opposed to being isolated from those outside of Judaism.
Scripture states that prophecy was being fulfilled in Jesus being a “Nazarene.” Most proposals are agreeably problematic though. Some have related this to a wordplay being used by Matthew in relation to Isaiah 11:1. This would mean that Matthew is using “Nazarene” as the Hebrew word “nēşer,” which would mean “branch” or “root.” Another take is that the word is connected with an earlier Hebrew name of “Nazara,” which would refer to the entire district of the land. In this case, it would mean “Galilean.” Nevertheless, in Acts 24:5, an attorney by the name of Tertullus levies charges against Paul by saying he is a “ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes.” While it carries a slightly different spelling, it is clearly a derogatory name used by Jews towards Christians.
During the Herodian and pre-Herodian periods, Nazareth was approximately the size of a 60 acre plot of land with an estimated population of 480 persons (1stc AD). The village has been understood to be purely Jewish as late as the 4thc AD. When the failure of the First Jewish Revolt occurred in Jerusalem, 24 divisions of priests fled northward from the temple. One of the priest’s families named Hapizez settled in Nazareth. This priestly “character” in Nazareth carried deep into the 3rdc AD according to the Midrash Qoholeth.
Nazareth classically is referred to as a “tiny village” with no mention of a church from the records of Eusebius and Jerome. However, during the Constantinian period, at least two main churches were built: The Church of Gabriel and the Church of Annunciation. Some caves in the area were set apart as shrines to Mary and Jesus. During 679-704 AD, Muslim conquest held the Church of Annunciation hostage and demanded a very large ransom from the Christians, to which they paid.
When excavations ensued in the late 19th and early 20thc, several interesting artifacts were recovered from the general region and caves discovered beneath the Church of Annunciation. A Neanderthal skull was also unearthed near Nazareth in 1934. Caves were discovered that were adorned with painted plaster, a cross, and inscribed prayers to Jesus in Greek language. These caves are adjoined to a building that has been identified as a Jewish-Christian synagogue. Excavations also revealed that under the beautiful mosaic floors therein, from an earlier period, was a Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) with seven steps leading down into the water.
Today, Nazareth is the largest Arabic city in Israel with a 69% Muslim and 30.9% Christian population of 210,000 people. Nazareth has a thriving high-tech industry, thus earning the title, “Silicon Valley of the Arab Community.”
- Matthew 2:23; 21:11
- Mark 1:9
- Luke 1:26; 2:4, 39, 51; 4:16, 28-30;
- John 1:45, 46
- Acts 24:5