Nazareth

Hometown of Jesus according to the Gospels (Mark 1:9; Matt 2:23, 21:11; Luke 1:26, 2:4; John 1:45-46), situated about 20 miles east of the Mediterranean & 15 miles west of Lake Gennesareth, less than 5 miles west of Mt. Tabor, the highest point in southern Galilee. Built on the southeastern slope of a ridge at 1300 feet above sea level, with a commanding view of the broad valley of Jezre'el to the south, Nazareth probably gained its Hebrew name as a lookout or "watchtower" for the defense of Galilee [from natzar: "to watch" or "to guard"]. 

view from Megiddo across valley of Jezreel 
toward Nazareth (right horizon) 15 miles northwest 

Tombs & agricultural evidence (silos, cisterns, olive & wine presses) provide concrete evidence that the site was inhabited from the early days of Israelite occupation of the land (12th c. BCE). But the ancient settlement was never large, since it had only one spring. The 1st c. village, whose population was less than 500, was overshadowed by the fortified town of Japha just one mile south---described by Josephus as the "largest village in Galilee" (Vita 230)---and the city of Sepphoris, just 3.5 miles to the northwest. 

Nazareth itself was not a site of historic or major strategic importance &, thus, did not merit notice in any ancient text apart from the gospel references to it as the place of Jesus' origin. The earliest non-Christian reference is an inscription discovered in the synagogue of Caesarea Maritima that names Nazareth as one of the places in Galilee where the priestly families of Judea migrated after the Hadrianic war (135 CE). But Nazareth remained a small Jewish village until the
4th c.
CE when Constantine constructed a church that became a center for Christian pilgrimages. It was elevated to the status of city in the 7th c. CE. Since the 17th c. the Franciscans have developed it into the largest Christian center in the land of Israel.

For further recent information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:

  • Rousseau, John J. & Rami Arav. Jesus & His World. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) pp. 248-251.

  • Horsley, Richard A. Archaeology, History & Society in Galilee. (Valley Forge PA: Trinity Press International, 1996) pp. 107-112.

Other resources on line:

Perspective on the World of Jesus

Copyright 1999-2008 by Mahlon H. Smith
All rights reserved.

an American Theological Library Association Selected Religion Website
OCLC catalog no.: 62046512

Reader  since May 1999 on Web Counter.