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
Nazareth (right horizon) 15 miles northwest
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.
Perspective on the World of Jesus
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Mahlon H. Smith
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