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Nazareth


NAZARETH

During the ministry of Jesus, Nazareth was a hilly and fertile village twelve miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. It was originally a small village comprising around 150 to 400 people when Jesus lived there. People knew each other and were related to one another as a big family. Though Hellenistic (Greek) culture was widespread in Galilee, this village remained conservative, keeping all Jewish beliefs and traditions. People spoke the Aramaic language, which was the modern version of Hebrew. Aramaic borrowed words and phrases from Babylonian and other languages. This happened because of the Jewish exile in Babylon for seven decades. Jesus also spoke Aramaic.

After the Babylonian exile, one clan from the line of David had returned from Babylon around 100 BC and established a village in Nazareth. The Davidic clan lived in this place, instead of Bethlehem or Jerusalem, because of their fear of Herod the Great, who was afraid of a king who might arise from that clan against him, who was a non-Jew.

Joseph, from Bethlehem, moved to Nazareth for economic prospects. He was a carpenter and there was no scope in Bethlehem. Nazareth was a favorable place to live for Joseph, who was an artisan. Sepphoris, where Herod Antipas reconstructed the old city as his provincial capital, was only a few miles away from Nazareth. Sepphoris was originally a city of his father, Herod the Great, that Romans destroyed after his death. Because of the demand for artisans for reconstruction of that luxurious Greek-style city, Joseph and Jesus could find work there. Mary’s father, Joachim, was from Nazareth, and her mother, Anne, was from Bethlehem. Thus, Joseph and Mary, who belonged to the clan of David, were originally from Bethlehem.

Jesus lived in Nazareth with his parents for around 27 years. The divine choice of Nazareth for Jesus’ ‘hidden years’ was another sign of his humility because that village had no stature, and it had no reference in the Old Testament or the Rabbinic literature. However, Isaiah had prophesied about 700 years before Christ that “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Isa 11:1). The root word of Nazareth is in Hebrew “netzer” meaning branch. Matthew connects this prophecy to the return of Joseph and family to Nazareth from Egypt. “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean’” (Mt 2:23).

Nazareth was such an insignificant village that when Philip introduced Jesus of Nazareth to Nathaniel, he asked: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). The only good that came out of Nazareth was the popularity of Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth or the Nazarene. The inscription Pilate posted on Jesus’ cross was: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”

Jesus used to go to the synagogue in Nazareth and it was here that his own people had rejected him k 4:16-30).

REFLECTION

The familiarity of the people in Nazareth made them consider Jesus only as a human. Even after seeing the miracles of Jesus during his public ministry, they could not accept him as the Messiah and they even tried to kill him. Our familiarity with Christian practices can lead us to undervalue the sacraments and other religious practices.

 


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