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"Old Nazareth"

Nazareth (næzərəθ) (נָצְרַת), Standard Hebrew Náẓərat, Tiberian Hebrew Nāṣəraṯ, (الناصرة) an-Nāṣira or an-Naseriyye is the capital and largest city in the Northern District of Israel. It also serves as an Arab capital for Israel's Arab citizens who make up the vast majority of the population there.(Review of "Beyond the Basilica: Christians and Muslims in Nazareth"[1] In the New Testament, the city is described as the childhood home of Jesus, and as such is a center of Christian pilgrimage, with many shrines commemorating biblical associations.

see also: Gennesaret (Ya-Nezareth) The etymology of Nazareth from as early as Eusebius up until the 20th century has been said to derive from netser, a "shoot" or "sprout", while the apocryphal Gospel of Phillip derives the name from Nazara meaning "truth".(GosPh 56.12; 62.8, 15; 66.14. See J. Robinson (ed.), The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Harper & Row 1977, pp. 131-151.) There is speculation and biblical indication that Nazarene meaning "of the village of Nazareth", was confused with "Nazirite," meaning a "separated" Jew who had taken a vow of holiness.

Geography & population

Modern-day Nazareth is nestled in a hollow plateau some 1,200 feet (350 m) above sea level, located between 1600 ft high hills that form the most southerly points of the Lebanon mountain range.(Palestine: A Guide by Mariam Shahin, Interlink Books.p.171) It is about 25 km from the Sea of Galilee and about 9 km west from Mount Tabor.

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Nazareth had a population of approximately 65,000 in 2005. The vast majority of its residents are Arab citizens of Israel, 31.3% of whom are Christians and 68.7% of whom are Muslims.[2] Nazareth forms a metropolitan area with the Arab local councils of Yafa an-Naseriyye to the south, Reineh, Mashhad and Kafr Kanna to the north, Iksal and the adjacent city of Nazareth Illit to the east which has a population of 40,000 Jews and Elot to the west. Together, the Nazareth metropolis area has a population of approximately 185,000 of which over 145,000 are Arabs.[3]Israeli localities with populations 1000+]


Earliest history & archaeological evidence

Archaeological research has revealed a funerary and cult center at Kfar HaHoresh, about two miles (3 km) from Nazareth, dating back roughly 9000 years (to what is known as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B era).(Goring-Morris, A.N. “The quick and the dead: the social context of Aceramic Neolithic mortuary practices as seen from Kfar HaHoresh.” In: I. Kuijt (ed.), Social Configurations of the Near Eastern Neolithic: Community Identity, Hierarchical Organization, and Ritual (1997).) The remains of some 65 individuals were found, buried under huge horizontal headstone structures, some of which consisted of up to 3 tons of locally-produced white plaster. Decorated human skulls uncovered there have led archaeologists to believe that Kfar HaHoresh was a major cult center in that remote era.(Pre-Christian Rituals at Nazareth, Archaeology: A Publication of the Archaeological Institute of America [4]

Chad Emmet authored a sociological study on modern Nazareth entitled "Beyond the Basilica: Christians and Muslims in Nazareth." This book attempts to "better understand how Christians and Muslims have managed to live together for centuries in relative peace in a region known for its ethnic and religious conflicts, and to determine to what degree they have remained segregated in religious-based quarters."(Beyond the Basilica:Christians and Muslims in Nazareth, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226207110) Emmett claims that archaeological excavations in the vicinity of the present-day Basilica of the Annunciation and St. Joseph have revealed pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1500 BCE) and ceramics, silos and grinding mills from the Iron Age (1500 to 586 BCE).(Beyond the Basilica:Christians and Muslims in Nazareth, ISBN 0226207110) However, excavations conducted prior to 1931 in the Franciscan venerated area revealed "no trace of a Greek or Roman settlement" there,(R. Tonneau, Revue Biblique XL (1931), p. 556. Reaffirmed by C. Kopp (op. cit.,1938, p. 188).) and according to studies written between 1955 and 1990, no archaeological evidence from Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic or Early Roman times have been found. (C. Kopp, “Beiträge zur Geschichte Nazareths.” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. 18 (1938), p. 188. F. Fernandez, Ceramica Comun Romana de la Galilea. Madrid: Ed. Biblia y Fe, 1983, p. 63. N. Feig, “Burial Caves in Nazareth,” ‘Atiqot 10 (1990), pp. 67-79 (Hebrew).)( B. Bagatti, “Ritrovamenti nella Nazaret evangelica.” Liber Annuus 1955, pp. 5-6, 23. B. Bagatti, “Nazareth,” Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplement VI. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1960, col. 318. Bagatti, B. Excavations in Nazareth Jerusalem: Franciscan Printing Press, vol. 1 (1969), pp. 254, 319. “Nazareth” in Encyclopedia Judaica, New York: Macmillan, 1972, col. 900.)Bagatti, the principle archaeologist at the venerated sites in Nazareth, unearthed quantities of later Roman and Byzantine artefacts, (B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth, vol. 1 (1969), pp. 272-310.) attesting to unambiguous human presence there from the 2nd century AD onward.

Emmett also claims that "homes and tombs built of stone masonry with back rooms of natural or rock-hewn caves were also found that date to the Roman era (63 BC to 324 AD)."(Beyond the Basilica:Christians and Muslims in Nazareth|author=Chad Fife Emmett,p.16, ISBN 0226207110) However, this familiar claim that the Nazarenes were troglodytes (cave dwellers) is impossible, for "the caves of Galilee are wet or damp from December to May, and can only be used during the summer and autumn."(M. Aviam, Jews, Christians and Pagans in the Galilee. Rochester: University Press, 2004, p. 90.)

Finally, Emmett claims that "In light of the archaeological data, there is speculation that Nazareth's first inhabitants could have been Canaanites, then Israelites and Galilean Jews." Indeed, the Bronze-Iron Age inhabitants must have been Canaanites (pre-Israelite inhabitants of the land), but lack of archaeological evidence from Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic or Early Roman times (see above), at least in the major excavations between 1955 and 1990, show that Israelite presence in the basin is unsubstantiated.

James Strange, an American archaeologist notes that “Nazareth is not mentioned in ancient Jewish sources earlier than the third century AD. This likely reflects its lack of prominence both in Galilee and in Judaea.” (Article “Nazareth” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.) Strange first estimates Nazareth’s population at the time of Christ to be “roughly 1,600 to 2,000 people”, and in a subsequent publication at “a maximum of about 480.” (E. Meyers & J. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis, & Early Christianity Nashville: Abingdon, 1981; Article “Nazareth” in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992.)

Some historians have argued that the absence of textual references to Nazareth in the Old Testament and the Talmud, as well as the works of Josephus, suggest that a town called 'Nazareth' did not exist in Jesus' day. (T. Cheyne, “Nazareth.” Encyclopedia Biblica. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899, Col. 3360. R. Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus. New York: Penguin Books, 1997, p. 952. F. Zindler, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew New Jersey: American Atheist Press, 2003, pp. 1-2.)

Many writers suppose that ancient Nazareth was built on the hillside, as required by scripture: [And they led Jesus] "to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong" (Lk 4:29). However, the hill in question (the Nebi Sa'in) is far too steep for ancient dwellings and averages a 14% grade in the venerated area. (B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth, Plate XI, top right.) Bagatti has shown that this area was, however, clearly used for tombs and agricultural work in the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as in later Roman times. (B. Bagatti, Excavations in Nazareth, pp. 237-310.)

In the mid-1990s, shopkeeper Elias Shama discovered tunnels under his shop near Mary’s Well in Nazareth. The tunnels were eventually recognized as a hypocaust (a space below the floor into which warm air was pumped) for a bathhouse. The surrounding site was excavated in 1997-98 by Y. Alexandre, and the archaeological remains exposed were ascertained to date from the Roman, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods. (Alexandre, Y. “Archaeological Excavations at Mary’s Well, Nazareth,” Israel Antiquities Authority bulletin, May 1, 2006.)(Is This Where Jesus Bathed?[5])(Under Nazareth, Secrets in Stone.[6])

A tablet currently at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, dating to 50 AD, was sent from Nazareth to Paris in 1878. It contains an inscription known as the "Ordinance of Caesar" that outlines the penalty of death for those who violate tombs or graves. However, it is suspected that this inscription came to Nazareth from somewhere else (possibly Sepphoris). Bagatti writes: “we are not certain that it was found in Nazareth, even though it came from Nazareth to Paris. At Nazareth there lived various vendors of antiquities who got ancient material from several places.”(Bagatti, B. Excavations in Nazareth, vol. 1 (1969), p. 249.) C. Kopp is more definite: "It must be accepted with certainty that [the Ordinance of Caesar]... was brought to the Nazareth market by outside merchants."(C. Kopp, “Beiträge zur Geschichte Nazareths.” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. 18 (1938), p. 206, n.1.) Jack Finegan describes additional archaeological evidence related to settlement in the Nazareth basin during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and adds that "Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period."(The Archaeology of the New Testament, Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1992: pages 44-46.) The critical question now under scholarly debate is when in the Roman period Nazareth came into existence, that is, whether settlement there began before or after 70 AD (the First Jewish War).(Zindler, F. "Where Jesus Never Walked," American Atheist, Winter 1996-97, p. 35. [7])

New Testament times and associations

According to the New Testament, Nazareth was the home of Joseph and Mary and the site of the Annunciation, when Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would have Jesus as her son. Nazareth is also where Jesus grew up from some point in his childhood after returning to Israel from Egypt until his public ministry began at age 30 (Mt 1:18-2:23).

In John 1:46, Nathaniel asks, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" The meaning of this cryptic question is debated. Some commentators suggest that it means Nazareth was very small and unimportant. But the question does not speak of Nazareth’s size but of its goodness. In fact, Nazareth was viewed with hostility by the evangelists, for it did not believe in Jesus and “he could do no mighty work there” (Mk 6:5). In all four gospels we read the famous saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mt 13:57; Mk 6:4; Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44). In one passage the Nazarenes even attempt to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff (Lk 4:29). Many scholars since W. Wrede (in 1901) (W. Wrede, Das Messiasgeheimnis in der Evangelien(1901), English translation, The Messianic Secret, Cambridge: J. Clarke, 1971) have noted the so-called “Messianic secret,” whereby Jesus’ true nature and mission were unseen by many, including by his inner circle of disciples (Mk 8:27-33; cf. only those to whom the Father reveals Jesus will be saved, Jn.6:65; 17:6, 9, etc.. Nazareth, being the home of those near and dear to Jesus, apparently suffered negatively in relation to this doctrine. Thus, Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” is consistent with a negative view of Nazareth in the canonical gospels, and with the fact that even Jesus’ brothers did not believe him (Jn 7:5).

Non-biblical textual references to Nazareth do not occur until around 200 AD, when Sextus Julius Africanus, cited by Eusebius (Church History 1.7.14), speaks of “Nazara” as a village in "Judea" and locates it near an as-yet unidentified “Cochaba.”) "A few of the careful, however, having obtained private records of their own, either by remembering the names or by getting them in some other way from the registers, pride themselves on preserving the memory of their noble extraction. Among these are those already mentioned, called Desposyni, on account of their connection with the family of the Saviour. Coming from Nazara and Cochaba, villages of Judea, into other parts of the world, they drew the aforesaid genealogy from memory and from the book of daily records as faithfully as possible." (Eusebius Pamphili, [8] Church History, Book I, Chapter VII,§ 14) This curious description does not fit the traditional location of Nazareth in Lower Galilee. Several possible Cochabas have been identified: one fifteen kilometers north of Nazareth (on the other side of Sepphoris); one in the region of Bashan (to the East of the Jordan River); and two near Damascus. (See J. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places. Oxford: 1993, pp. 36-38, with map). In the same passage Africanus writes of desposunoi, or relatives of Jesus, who he claims “kept the records of their descent with great care.” Later texts referring to Nazareth include one from the tenth century that writes of a certain martyr named Conon who died in Pamphylia under Decius (249-251), and declared at his trial: "I belong to the city of Nazareth in Galilee, and am a relative of Christ whom I serve, as my forefathers have done." (Clemens Kopp, Die heiligen Stätten der Evangelien [The Holy Places of the Gospels]. Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet, 1959, p. 90.) This Conon has been shown to be legendary.(Joan Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places. Oxford: 1993, p. 243.)

In 1962, a Hebrew inscription found in Caesarea, dating to the late 3rd or early 4th century, mentions Nazareth as one of the places in which the priestly family of Hapizzez was residing after Bar Kokhba's revolt (132-135 AD).(It is often supposed that the Hapizzes went to Nazareth after the First Jewish Revolt (70 AD), but R. Horsley has pointed out that "the date of resettlement may well be well into the second (or even the third) century [AD]." ( History and Society in Galilee, 1996, p. 110). It was in 131 AD that the Roman Emperor Hadrian forbade Jews to reside in Jerusalem (then Aelia Capitolina), thus forcing them elsewhere.) From the three fragments that have been found, it is possible to show that the inscription was a complete list of the twenty-four priestly courses (cf. 1 Chronicles 24:7-19; Nehemiah 11;12), with each course (or family) assigned its proper order and the name of each town or village in Galilee where it settled. An interesting aspect of this inscription is that the name for Nazareth is not spelled with the "z" sound (as one would expect from the Greek gospels but with the Hebrew tsade (thus "Nasareth" or "Natsareth").(M. Avi-Yonah. "A List of Priestly Courses from Caesarea." Israel Exploration Journal 12 (1962):138.)

Epiphanius writes in the Panarion (c. 375 AD)<ref>Pan. I.136. Panarion in Greek. The text was translated into Latin with the title Adversus Haereses.) of a certain elderly Count Joseph of Tiberias, a wealthy Jew who converted to Christianity in the time of Constantine. Count Joseph claimed that as a young man he built churches in Sepphoris and other towns that were inhabited only by Jews. Pan. 30.4.3; 30.7.1.) Nazareth is mentioned, though the wording is not clear.(Compare Pan.30.11.10 and 30.12.9. Migne Patrologia Graeco-Latina vol. 41:426-427; Williams, F. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book I. E. J. Brill 1987, pp. 128-29). In any case, Joan Taylor writes: "It is now possible to conclude that there existed in Nazareth, from the first part of the fourth century, a small and unconventional church which encompassed a cave complex."(Taylor, J. Christians and the Holy Places. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 265.) The town was Jewish until the sixth century. (Taylor 229, 266; Kopp 1938:215.)

In the 6th century, legends about Mary began to spark interest in the site among pilgrims, who founded the Church of the Annunciation at the site of a freshwater spring, today known as Mary's Well. In 570, the Anonymous of Piacenza reports travelling from Sepphoris to Nazareth and refers to the beauty of the Hebrew women there, who say that St. Mary was a relative of theirs, and records: "The house of St. Mary is a basilica." (P. Geyer, Itinera Hierosolymitana saeculi, Lipsiae: G. Freytag, 1898: page 161.)

Jerome, writing in the 5th century, says Nazareth was a viculus or mere village. The Jewish town profited from the Christian pilgrim trade which began in the fourth century, but latent anti-Christian hostility broke out in 614 AD when the Persians invaded Palestine. At that time, the Jewish residents of Nazareth helped the Persians slaughter Christians in the land. (C. Kopp, “Beiträge zur Geschichte Nazareths.” Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. 18 (1938), p. 215. Kopp is citing the Byzantine writer Eutychius (Eutychii Annales in Migne's Patrologia Graeca vol. 111 p. 1083).) When the Byzantine emperor Heraclius ejected the Persians from Palestine in 630 AD, he singled out Nazareth for special punishment. At this time the town ceased to be Jewish.

Islamic rule

The Muslim conquest of Palestine in 637 AD during the early medieval period eventually led to the First Crusade, which began an extended period of conflict. Control over Galilee and Nazareth shifted frequently during this time, with corresponding impact on the religious makeup of the population.

In 1099 AD, the Crusader Tancred captured Galilee and established his capital in Nazareth. The ancient diocese of Scythopolis was also relocated under the Archbishop of Nazareth. The town returned to Muslim control in 1187 AD following the victory of Saladin in the Battle of Hattin.

Christian control of the area resumed in 1229 AD as part of the events of the Sixth Crusade, but ended in 1263 AD with the destruction of all Christian buildings by the Sultan Baibars and the expulsion of the Christian population until Fakhr-al-Din II permitted their return in 1620 AD.


Nazareth was in the territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, near the southern border within the northernmost part.[9] The town was not a field of battle during 1948 Arab-Israeli War before the first truce on June 11, although some of the villagers had joined the loosely organized peasant resistance forces, and troops from the Arab Liberation Army had entered Nazareth. During the ten days of fighting which occurred between the first and second truce, Nazareth capitulated July 16 to Israeli troops during Operation Dekel, after little more than token resistance. The surrender was formalized in a written agreement, where the town leaders agreed to cease hostilities in return for promises from the Israeli officers, including brigade commander Ben Dunkelman, (the leader of the operation), that no harm would come to the civilians of the town. A few hours later Chaim Laskov gave order to Dunkelman to evacuate the civilian population of Nazareth. Dunkelman refused to obey these orders. In sharp contrast to the surrounding towns, the Arab inhabitants in Nazareth were therefore never forced out. (Peretz Kidron, in Blaming the Victims, Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, Verso Books, 1988, p. 86-87.Blaming the Victims, Verso Books pps 86-87)

Current events

Preparations for the Pope's visit to Nazareth in 2000 triggered highly publicized tensions related to the Basilica of the Annunciation. The 1997 permission for construction of a paved plaza to handle the expected thousands of Christian pilgrims caused Muslim protests and occupation of the proposed site, which is considered the grave of a nephew of Saladin. This site used to be the home of a school built during the Ottoman rule. The school was named al-Harbyeh (in Arabic means military), and many elderly people in Nazareth still remember it as the school site, nevertheless, the same site still contains,the Shihab-Eddin shrine, along with several shops owned by the waqf (Muslim community ownership). The school building continued to serve as a government school until it was demolished to allow for the plaza to be built.

The initial argument between the different political factions in town (represented in the local council), was on where the borders of the shrine and shops starts and where it ends. The initial government approval of subsequent plans for a large mosque to be constructed at the site led to protests from Christian leaders worldwide, which continued after the papal visit. Finally, in 2002, a special government commission permanently halted construction of the mosque. (Final Bar on Controversial Nazareth Mosque, [10], Nazareth mosque will not be built next to the Basilica of the Annunciation [11] In March 2006, public protests that followed the disruption of a Lenten prayer service by an Israeli Jew and his Christian wife and daughter, who detonated incendiary devices inside the church, (Thousands of Israeli Arabs protest attack, [12] succeeded in dismantling a temporary wall that had been erected around the public square that had been constructed but had yet to be unveiled, putting an end to the entire controversy.

On July 19, 2006 a rocket fired by the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah as part of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict killed two children in Nazareth. No holy sites were damaged.(Rocket attacks kill two Israeli Arab children, [13]>

A group of Christian businessmen declared in 2007 their plans to build the largest cross in the world (60 m high) in Nazareth as the childhood town of Jesus Christ.[14]

Religious shrines

Nazareth is home to many centuries old churches, most of which are located in the city's Old Market, (السوق القديمي, Il suq il-qadeemi)).

  • The Church of the Annunciation is the largest Christian church building in the Middle East. In Roman Catholic tradition, it marks the site where the Archangel Gabriel announced the future birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-31).
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church constructed St. Gabriel's Church at an alternative site for the Annunciation.
  • The Melkite Greek Catholic Church owns the Synagogue Church, which is located at the traditional site of the synagogue where Jesus preached (Luke 4)
  • The Church of St. Joseph's Carpentry occupies the traditional location for the workshop of Saint Joseph
  • The Mensa Christi Church, run by the Franciscan religious order, commemorates the traditional location where Jesus dined with the Apostles after his Resurrection
  • The Basilica of Jesus the Adolescent, run by the Salesian religious order, occupies a hill overlooking the city.

Contrary views

Some historians have called the city's traditional association with the life of Jesus into question, suggesting instead that what was originally a title (Nazarene) was corrupted into the name of his hometown (alternately, Nazara or Nazaret or Nazareth). Alfred Loisy, for example, in The Birth of Christianity argues that Iesous Nazarene meant not "from Nazareth", but rather that his title was "Nazarene."

  • Alternatively, there is biblical indication that Nazarene was a mistranslation of Nazarite, a person who had taken a vow of holiness and was thus 'separated out' from the masses. Matt. 2:23 says of Iesous (Jesus), "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." Not only is there no word translated ‘Nazarene’, as well as no reference to a city of 'Nazareth' in the Hebrew Scriptures, but reference bibles state that the prophecy cited in Matt. 2:23 is in reference to Judges - 13:5 concerning Samson's description as a Nazarite.

Frank Zindler, managing editor of the American Atheist Press, has asserted that Nazareth did not exist in the first century. (Zindler, F. "Where Jesus Never Walked," American Atheist, Winter 1996-97, pp. 33-42.[15]). His arguments include the following:

  • No "ancient historians or geographers mention [Nazareth] before the beginning of the fourth century [AD]." Zindler, F. "Where Jesus Never Walked," American Atheist, Winter 1996-97, p. 34.[16]
  • Nazareth is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud, nor in the Apocrypha and it does not appear in any early rabbinic literature.
  • Nazareth was not included in the list of settlements of the tribes of Zebulun (Joshua 19:10-16) which mentions twelve towns and six villages
  • Nazareth is not included among the 45 cities of Galilee that were mentioned by Josephus (37AD-100AD).
  • Nazareth is also missing from the 63 towns of Galilee mentioned in the Talmud.

Zindler's view is historically possible if Nazareth came into existence at the same time that the New Testament gospels were being written and redacted. Most scholars place that literary activity between the two Jewish Wars (70 AD-132 AD).

Sister cities

External links