Nazareth is the largest and capital city of the North District of Israel. Nazareth sits in the center of a natural bowl and is approximately sixteen miles from the Sea of Galilee. The city is nestled in the Nazareth range, which is the southern-most hill range in the lower Galilee.
Nazareth has a population of over 65,000, most of whom are Muslims. Christians only make about 30% of the city’s religious community. However, Nazareth’s main industry is tourism, brought by Muslims, Jews and Christians combined. Christians travel from all over the world to see the place where Jesus grew up. There are churches commemorating the Annunciation, Joseph’s carpentry shop, notable Biblical events and the life of Jesus and his apostles.
According to Luke, Nazareth was the home of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. In Matthew, the Jesus and parents resettle in Nazareth after fleeing to Egypt for two years. Nazareth is also the site where Jesus spent a great deal of his adolescence.
It has been contested through the years if Nazareth even existed during Biblical times. The Old Testament never mentions Nazareth, and Josephus Flavius (a famous and very accurate Jewish historian) never records the city. However, the New Testament makes many mentions of Nazareth, however derisive they might be.
Then, in 1962, a Hebrew inscription dating back to the early 4th century mentions Nazareth as one of the places where the priestly family of Hapizzez was residing after a political revolt. In this inscription Nazareth is not spelled with the “z” sound but with a Hebrew “tsade.” So Nazareth was spelled “N-a-t-s-a-r-e-t-h.” This early artifact, along with later archaeological discoveries, allowed for the reasonable belief that Nazareth did indeed exist at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Around the middle of the 1990s, a shopkeeper named Elias Shama found tunnels under his store near Mary’s Well. The tunnels turned out to be a hypocaust (a space made below a floor where warm air was pumped for a bathhouse.) By the late 1990s, Y. Alexandre excavated the surrounding site and uncovered remains dating back to the Crusader and Ottoman periods!
Nazareth has always been a place for Christian pilgrimage. Catholic devotees traveled the Holy Lands throughout the third and fourth century retracing the steps of the Jesus they worshipped. However, anti-Christian hostility broke out in when the Persians invaded Palestine in 614 AD. The Jews helped the Persians slaughter the Christian living in Nazareth. 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.
After much conflict, Nazareth was allotted to the Arab state in 1947. Preparations for the Pope’s visit to Nazareth in 2000 brought tension to the area. The Catholics began building a paved plaza to handle the thousands who would come to hear the Pope speak near Mount Precipice (the spot thought to location of an attempt to stone Jesus to death). This construction caused the Muslims to protest as the site is also the grave of a nephew of Saladin, a revered Muslim leader.
. . . And he (Joseph) went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)