02 Oct Nazareth
Nazareth (/ˈnæzərəθ/; Arabic: النَّاصِرَة, an-Nāṣira; Hebrew: נָצְרַת, Natzrat; Aramaic: ܢܨܪܬ, Naṣrath) is the largest city in the Northern District of Israel. Nazareth is known as “the Arab capital of Israel”. In 2018 its population was 77,064. The inhabitants are predominantly Arab citizens of Israel, of whom 69% are Muslim and 30.9% Christian. Nazareth Illit (lit. “Upper Nazareth”), declared a separate city in June 1974, is built alongside old Nazareth, and had a Jewish population of 40,312 in 2014.
In the New Testament, the town is described as the childhood home of Jesus, and as such is a center of Christian pilgrimage, with many shrines commemorating biblical events.
Archaeological researchers[who?] have revealed that a funerary and cult center at Kfar HaHoresh, about two miles (3.2 km) from current Nazareth, dates back roughly 9000 years to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B era. 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 identify Kfar HaHoresh as a major cult centre in that era.
Bronze and Iron Age
In 1620 the Catholic Church purchased an area in the Nazareth basin measuring approximately 100 m × 150 m (328.08 ft × 492.13 ft) on the side of the hill known as the Nebi Sa’in. The Franciscan priest Bellarmino Bagatti, “Director of Christian Archaeology”, carried out extensive excavation of this “Venerated Area” from 1955 to 1965. Fr. Bagatti uncovered pottery dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1500 BC) and ceramics, silos and grinding mills from the Iron Age (1500 to 586 BC) which indicated substantial settlement in the Nazareth basin at that time. However, lack of archaeological evidence for Nazareth from Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Hellenistic or Early Roman times, at least in the major excavations between 1955 and 1990, shows that the settlement apparently came to an abrupt end about 720 BC, when the Assyrians destroyed many towns in the area.
According to the Gospel of Luke, Nazareth was the home village of Mary as well as the site of the Annunciation (when the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would give birth to Jesus). According to the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph and Mary resettled in Nazareth after returning from the flight from Bethlehem to Egypt. According to the Bible, Jesus grew up in Nazareth from some point in his childhood. However, some modern scholars also regard Nazareth as the birthplace of Jesus.
A Hebrew inscription found in Caesarea dating to the late 3rd or early 4th century mentions Nazareth as the home of the priestly Hapizzez/Hafizaz family after the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 AD). From the three fragments that have been found, the inscription seems to be a list of the twenty-four priestly courses (cf. Books of Chronicles – 1 Chronicles 24:7–19 and Book of Nehemiah – 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. Nazareth is not spelled with the “z” sound but with the Hebrew tsade (thus “Nasareth” or “Natsareth”). Eleazar Kalir (a Hebrew Galilean poet variously dated from the 6th to 10th century) mentions a locality clearly in the Nazareth region bearing the name Nazareth נצרת (in this case vocalized “Nitzrat”), which was home to the descendants of the 18th Kohen family Happitzetz (הפצץ), for at least several centuries after the Bar Kochva revolt.
Although it is mentioned in the New Testament gospels, there are no extant non-biblical references to Nazareth until around 200 CE, 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”. In the same passage Africanus writes of desposunoi – relatives of Jesus – who he claims kept the records of their descent with great care. Ken Dark describes the view that Nazareth did not exist in Jesus’s time as “archaeologically unsupportable”.
James F. Strange, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Southern Florida, notes: “Nazareth is not mentioned in ancient Jewish sources earlier than the third century CE. This likely reflects its lack of prominence both in Galilee and in Judaea.” Strange originally calculated the population of Nazareth at the time of Christ as “roughly 1,600 to 2,000 people” but, in a subsequent publication that followed more than a decade of additional research, revised this figure down to “a maximum of about 480.” In 2009, Israeli archaeologist Yardenna Alexandre excavated archaeological remains in Nazareth that date to the time of Jesus in the early Roman period. Alexandre told reporters, “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth.”
Other sources state that during Jesus’ time, Nazareth had a population of 400 and one public bath, which was important for civic and religious purposes, as a mikva.
A tablet at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, dating to 50 CE, 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.” 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.” Princeton University archaeologist Jack Finnegan describes additional archaeological evidence related to settlement in the Nazareth basin during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and states that “Nazareth was a strongly Jewish settlement in the Roman period.”
Epiphanius in his Panarion (c. 375 CE) numbers Nazareth among the cities devoid of a non-Jewish population. Epiphanius, writing of Joseph of Tiberias, a wealthy Roman Jew who converted to Christianity in the time of Constantine, says he claimed to have received an imperial rescript to build Christian churches in Jewish towns and villages where no gentiles or Samaritans dwell, naming Tiberias, Diocaesarea, Sepphoris, Nazareth and Capernaum. From this scarce notice, it has been concluded that a small church which encompassed a cave complex might have been located in Nazareth in the early 4th century,” although the town was Jewish until the 7th century CE.
The Christian monk and Bible translator Jerome, writing at the beginning of the 5th century, says Nazareth was a viculus or mere village.
In the 6th century, religious narrations from local Christians about the Virgin Mary began to spark interest in the site among pilgrims, who founded the first church at the location of the current Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation at the site of a freshwater spring, today known as Mary’s Well. Around 570, the Anonymous of Piacenza reports travelling from Sepphoris to Nazareth. There he records seeing in the Jewish synagogue the books from which Jesus learnt his letters, and a bench where he sat. According to him, Christians could lift it, but Jews could not, since it disallowed them from dragging it outside. Writing of the beauty of the Hebrew women there, he records them saying St. Mary was a relative of theirs, and notes that, “The house of St. Mary is a basilica.” Constantine the Great that churches be built in Jewish cities, and Nazareth was one of the places designated for this purpose, although construction of churches apparently only started decades after Constantine’s death, i.e. after 352.
Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that previous to the erection of the Byzantine-period church at the site of Mary’s house in the mid-5th century, Judeo-Christians had built there a synagogue-church, kleaving behind Judeo-Christian symbols. Until being expelled in c. 630, Jews probably kept on using their older synagogue, while the Judeo-Christian needed to build their own, probably at the site of Mary’s house.
The Jewish town profited from the Christian pilgrim trade which began in the 4th century, but latent anti-Christian hostility broke out in 614 AD when the Persians invaded Palestine. The Christian Byzantine author Eutychius claimed that Jewish people of Nazareth helped the Persians carry out their slaughter of the Christians. When the Byzantine or Eastern Roman emperor Heraclius ejected the Persians in 629-630 AD, he expelled the Jews from the village, turning it all-Christian.
Early Muslim period
The Arab Muslim invasion of 638 had no immediate impact on the Christians of Nazareth and their churches, since Bishop Arculf remembered seeing there around 670 CE two churches, one at the house of Joseph where Jesus had lived as a child, and one at the house of Mary where she received the Annunciation – but no synagogue, which had possibly been transformed into a mosque. The 721 iconoclastic edict of Caliph Yazid II apparently led to the destruction of the former church, so that Willibald found during his pilgrimage in 724-26 only one church there, the one dedicated to St. Mary, which Christians had to save through repeated payments from destruction by the “pagan Saracens” (Muslim Arabs). The ruins of St. Joseph’s remained untouched for a very long time, while the Church St. Mary is repeatedly mentioned throughout the following centuries, including by an Arab geographer in 943.
In 1099, the Crusader Tancred captured Galilee and established his capital in Nazareth. He was the ruler of the Principality of Galilee, which was established, at least in name, in 1099, as a vassal of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Later, in 1115, Nazareth was created as a seigneury within the principality. A Martin of Nazareth, who probably acted as viscount of Nazareth, is documented in 1115 and in 1130/1131. Nazareth was the original site of the Latin Patriarch, also established by Tancred. The ancient diocese of Scythopolis was relocated under the Archbishop of Nazareth, as one of the four archdioceses in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. When the town returned to Muslim control in 1187 following the victory of Saladin in the Battle of Hattin, the remaining Crusaders and European clergy were forced to leave town. Frederick II managed to negotiate safe passage for pilgrims from Acre in 1229, and in 1251, Louis IX, the king of France, attended mass in the grotto, accompanied by his wife.