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Nazareth


NAZARETH

The root word of Nazareth is in Hebrew “netzer” meaning branch. Jesus, from Nazareth, was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1. “From the stump of Jesse a shoot will come forth; from his roots, a branch will grow and bear fruit.” 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).

During the ministry of Jesus, Nazareth was a small, hilly, and fertile village 18 km southwest of the Sea of Galilee. It was a village forming around 150 to 400 people when Jesus lived there. People knew each other and lived as a community with many related to one another. Though Hellenistic (Greek) culture was widespread in Galilee, this village remained conservative, keeping all Jewish beliefs and traditions. Aramaic borrowed words and phrases from Babylonian and other languages. This happened because of the Jewish exile in Babylon for seven decades. People spoke the Aramaic language that was the modern version of Hebrew. Jesus also spoke Aramaic.

There is a tradition that after the Babylonian exile, one clan from the line of David had returned around 100 BC from Babylon and established a village in Nazareth. The Davidic clan lived here instead of Bethlehem or Jerusalem because of their fear of Herod the Great. Herod, a non-Jew, was afraid of a king who might arise from that clan against him. Thus, Joseph and Mary, who belonged to the clan of David and from Bethlehem, were living in Nazareth.

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. That was why Nathaniel asked Philip, “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.”

Before coming to his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus preached for a year in Galilee that included Nazareth. But he did not enter there because he knew that his own people would reject him. Instead, he moved to Capernaum and returned later in the synagogue of Nazareth. The people there rejected him and attempted to kill him by throwing him off a cliff (Lk 4:29).

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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