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The Synagogue Church

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Inside Jesus' Nazareth Synagogue

This site is always part of our live Octagon Tour.

Location - Nazareth

Map Coordinates - 32.703447, 35.297089

Merged Gospels story - 33


Not far from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, this is an easy site to walk to. To get there we walk through an old Arab marketplace. In the middle of this market we come across something called the Synagogue Church.  What’s so special about this place is that it’s believed to be built on the same site as the 1st-century synagogue of Nazareth – the synagogue in which Jesus grew up, and where He spent about 27 years of His life. It is where He was taught by local elders, and where He must have met on many occasions for dialogue with local villagers. 


The Catholics Who Aren’t Catholic.

This synagogue was under the control of the Franciscans until 1771 AD, when the governor of Palestine gave this building to the people who now own this church – the Greek Catholic Church, also called the Melkites – a word that means royal. In 1887 AD, the Melkites built the church right next door to the synagogue.

The Melkite Church.

Where did the Greek Catholics, or Melkites, come from? They are not Catholics at all, but rather an offshoot of the Greek Orthodox Church. The Melkites broke away from the Greek Orthodox church in 1724, and today they comprise roughly 25% of the Christian population in Israel. 


Stepping Down.


As you look at the door of the synagogue, you are facing north, which means that the door is facing south toward Jerusalem. Most first-century synagogues faced the place where the Jews had their Temple.   


We believe that this was the actual site of Jesus’ synagogue. First, you can see that we have to descend a flight of seven stairs, or five feet to get down here.  Ancient sites are typically lower in elevation than the modern city they are in, because urban development tends to raise the level of any city over time. 


The Synagogue Interior.


This is not the actual room of the first-century synagogue. It was a church built by the Crusaders about 900 years ago over the site of Jesus’ original synagogue, and it was the first and only church ever constructed on this site. That’s why it’s called the Synagogue/Church.


This room is about half as far from Mary’s home as is the well from which she gathered water, so that means that this place was close enough to the populated areas of Nazareth to have served as a local synagogue. 


We know that Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters.  We also know that many of Jesus’ nephews and great-nephews lived in Nazareth well into the third century.  And these local Christians would probably have been aware of all the places in Nazareth that were significant to the life of Jesus, including this synagogue. This is why, in the year 570 AD, an anonymous pilgrim from Piacenza, Italy came here and reported that the local Christian community told him that this building was the synagogue where Jesus and all of the other Jewish children of His day were taught.

The Biblical Story.

One day, while Jesus was preaching in this room, He angered the attendees when He recalled two stories from their own Scriptures – that two of the prophets, Elijah and Elisha, had, at one point in their respective ministries, individually favored a Gentile over the Jews. The synagogue attendees were so angry that they took Jesus out to throw Him over a cliff. But Jesus passed through their midst without being harmed by any of them (see The Merged GospelsTM, Story 33). About 150 meters from this synagogue, just behind the old Maronite convent, that cliff is still there, and in Jesus’ time it oversaw a 60-foot sheer drop.

What Jesus was preaching about on that day was even more important, because He revealed what His true mission was.  He was quoting from Isaiah 61:1 when He said that for everyone who is poor He has good news. For those who feel imprisoned He brings freedom. He brings sight to those who are blind. And He gives comfort to all those who are brokenhearted.

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