Introduction to Nazareth
This city is always part of our live Octagon Tour.
Nazareth was the town in which Jesus grew up. He moved there when His parents came up from Egypt. At the time Jesus was about two years old (or younger). He likely lived with His mother and stepfather until the death of Joseph, and then tarried in His mother’s house until His entire family moved to Capernaum about the time that he was 30 years old (although there is some doubt that Mary and some or all of His brothers migrated to Capernaum).
Nazareth today is the capital and largest city in the North District of Israel. It is the most important city for Israel’s Arab citizens who make up the majority of its population.
Nazareth is built on a hill, and Luke 4:29 specifically states that the edge of it was actually like a cliff (called “the brow of the hill on which their city had been built”). Urban sprawl and dense development have mostly erased the sheer drop of this ancient brow (which was at least 60 feet high at the time of Jesus).
Encompassing all local adjacent villages, modern Nazareth has a current population of about 185,000.
The reality is that Nazareth was not an important city up until the resurrection of Christ. The ancient caravan route from the Mediterranean coast eastward to Capernaum and beyond to Damascus and Mesopotamia, called "Via Maris" by the Romans, passed six miles to the south.
Because Nazareth clung to the inside of a natural bowl in the rolling hills high above the Jezreel Valley, it wasn't readily accessible. Only winding footpaths on an upward incline from the valley brought travelers to this small village.
Why is Nazareth so famous?
There are many reasons. This is the site of the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel to Mary. It is the place of Joseph’s workshop. It is where Jesus spent most of his life with His brothers and sisters, and it’s where He was educated in a nearby synagogue, which is also the place where He preached, out of which He would be eventually escorted by an angry mob. And there is a cliff here where this angry mob tried to kill Jesus. There is a lot that took place in Nazareth.
Commentaries written before the 21st century suggest that Nazareth was a small community. However, Roman ruins have been discovered stretching over a third of a mile from the Church of the Annunciation, lending strong archeological support to the notion that Nazareth in the first century was much larger than previously assumed. The Church of the Annunciation probably sits on the southern end of the ancient city.
Did Nazareth exist in the first century?
Some zealous critics try very hard to prove that the Gospels are not historically accurate, and one of their arguments is that Nazareth did not exist in the first century, because the first-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, didn’t mention it, nor is it mentioned in the Old Testament, nor did any Jewish rabbis write about it in the second century. However, this argument is completely discredited when you realize several things.
Archeologists have now unearthed five separate sites revealing first-century dwellings in Nazareth (and even ruins dating back to the time of King David).
There are four independent first-century historians who all talk about Nazareth a total of 29 times. These historians all wrote biographies about Jesus, and we know them today as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These books were not part of the Bible when they were written, and so they have to be regarded as separate histories before their canonization. All of these books were written within one generation after Jesus lived, and they support the claim that Nazareth was, in fact, a first-century village.
There was a Hebrew inscription found in Caesarea dating to the late 3rd or early 4th century mentioning a priestly family who lived in Nazareth immediately after the year 135 AD.
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, history records that many of His nephews and great-nephews remained here in Nazareth, protecting the memory of those sacred things that took place in this town.
So the idea that Nazareth was not a first-century village is an overly zealous theory by amateur Bible critics that is not scientific, and one that has been generally dismissed by the academic community.