Nazareth is an ancient town in Northern Israel. It is the capital of the northern region of the country, and the largest Arab city in Israel. |
The town is not mentioned in the Old Testament, nor in Josephus nor in the Talmud, and there are no indications that it was settled during prehistoric times.
During the Biblical period Japhia was the important town of the area and attracted all the notice of historians, whereas the area that would become the village of Nazareth around the second century was used as a graveyard or burial area. No remains of habitations contemporary with Jesus have turned up, though excavations in 1955 revealed pre-Christian human remains, which would have made the immediate area uninhabitable to observant Jews. In 1961, a Hebrew inscription found in Caesarea mentions Nazareth as one of the villages in which the priestly divisions were residing after the Jewish revolt.
It is evident from John i. 46 that Nazareth was an obscure place; it was assumed in Judaea that 'nothing good' could possibly come out of the Graeco-Jewish area of Galilee. It is needless to say that the people of Judea had never heard of Nazareth - from this we understand the reason that Pontius Pilate decorates the cross with the sign "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" (John 19:19) - meaning that the "King of the Jews" is from "nowhere." Epiphanius, who died in 402, says that until the time of Constantine (4th century), Nazareth was inhabited only by Jews, which seems to imply that in his own day some Christians lived there. In the 6th century, legends about Mary began to spark pilgrim interest in the site, founding the Church of the Annunciation and associating a well with Mary.
According to the New Testament Nazareth was the home of Joseph and Mary and the site of the Annunciation, when Mary was told that she would bear the son of God. Nazareth is also assumed to be where Jesus grew up from his infancy to manhood. However, some historians have called this into question, suggesting instead that it is based on a mistranslation of Greek sources. Such historians argue that Iesou Nazarene was not "from Nazareth", but rather that his title was "Nazarene."
Nazareth is situated among the southern ridges of the Lebanon Mountains, on the steep slope of a hill, about 14 miles from the Sea of Galilee and about 6 west from Mount Tabor. The modern city lies lower down upon the hill than the ancient one. The main road for traffic between Egypt and the interior of Asia passed by Nazareth near the foot of Tabor, and thence northward to Damascus. It has a population of 60,000. The majority of Nazarenes are Israeli Arabs, about 35-40% of which are Christians and the rest are Muslims. The Israeli government built a new city since the 1950s called Natzrat Illit "Upper Nazareth", and populated it with a Jewish majority.
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